Re-measuring Women's Empowerment in Urban Poor Settlements

Feb 17, 2015

In 2013 UPPR undertook a study to measure the empowerment of women involved in community structures set up with the support of the project. The study was based upon a participatory methodology whereby women explained what empowerment meant to them and identified which aspects were most important. This information was used to build a participatory women’s empowerment index. The index was used to collect data with a sample of women, both community leaders and regular members, to establish the current empowerment status of women in poor urban settlements.

The study used a sample of 909 community leaders and members in 12 towns. This study found that leaders achieved the highest empowerment scores and that members of savings and credit groups were also more likely to achieve higher scores. Building on the insights of this study, UPPR undertook a follow-up study in 2014 with a sample of 2,700 women in 22 towns and cities.

Following discussions with the women on the necessary scoring against the index to determine empowerment, thresholds were assigned. On a scale from 0 to 100: 80 - 100 is considered ’high empowerment’; 60—79 ’good progress on empowerment’ has been made; 40—59 ‘Moderate progress on empowerment’ has been made; 20—39 ‘limited progress on empowerment’ has been made; and 0—19 is considered ‘low empowerment’.

Of all the women interviewed in 2014, 54.5 per cent scored at least 60, and 10.8 per cent scored less than 40 on the index. From the sample, 76.6 per cent were primary group members and 23.4 per cent were leaders of those community groups. Of the leaders, 76.4 percent scored 80 or more on the index compared to just 11.2 percent of regular primary group members that are member of community saving groups. This is in contrast with only 1 per cent of those group members that do not save marking over 80 on the index. Instead, 29.4 per cent of non-savers scored less than 40 on the index. 

This is consistent with the findings from the 2013 study. Leaders typically have some advantages at the outset, such as good literacy. This may be indicative of wider advantages already experienced by the women, such as higher status within the community. However leadership also provides unique opportunities within poor urban communities. Designing and managing poverty reduction activities, including funds, will confer status on leaders. These as well as chairing meetings also puts women at the centre of organisational activities and help them to develop new skills. Furthermore this responsibility creates opportunities for women to meet with local officials as well as attending events organised through UPPR, such as training. Ensuring women who are interested in becoming leaders get the opportunity to do so is key as it can create a significant empowerment boost within the community.

Overall the study demonstrates that the majority of women are making at least moderate progress towards empowerment but that engaging non-savers in community activities and creating space for new leaders to emerge are key challenges for the future.

UPPR is currently elaborating a full detailed report and will be made available in the project’s website by March 2015. 

In 2015 UPPR will pilot a new approach to collecting women’s empowerment data through a mobile phone app that has been specially designed by a United Nations Online Volunteer that has been collaborating with the project’s Research, Evaluation, and Learning Unit. This has the potential to become part of a system that allows easier and quicker collection of data within the community, as well as the delivery of realtime results. This could support community members and the project in tracking changes over time and using findings to make decisions on future activities. 

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