|Women’s enterprises boost income, household communication|
The Women INcome Generation Support (WINGS) Program, collaboration between AVSI Uganda as implementers and researchers from Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) being managed by AVSI-USA, is an innovative 3-year program of economic assistance and social support to 1,500 of the young women who, with their children, were most severely affected by conflict in northern Uganda. Funding is provided by private U.S. donors and by the World Bank.
The purpose of the WINGS study was to understand precisely what kind of post‐conflict aid works in the sector of economic strengthening and psychosocial recovery, how much, and why. The program provided beneficiaries with business skills training, a grant of approximately $150, and follow‐up support through home visit, and was accompanied by a randomized control trial impact evaluation.
As noted in the final policy report or shorter policy note from IPA, the program showed great promise in terms of economic improvements for women involved (income doubled), there was little impact on empowerment, psychological well‐being, or social integration according to the indicators measures. Having observed this in the first 18-month phase of the project, the researchers and implementers asked themselves if women’s empowerment might not actually come through approaches that seek to strengthen couples and families, rather than invest solely in women.
To put this to the test, in the 2nd phase the program was designed to offer the standard package of trainings to one group as individuals, and the other groups participated in W+, a variant which involved participation of household partners (usually a male spouse) in business training, in addition to sessions on joint decision-making and communication skills.
The results were positive: women in the W+ program reported better relationships skills and showed a decrease in symptoms of depression. Partners who participated listened and contributed more to the business than the partners of women in the standard program. The W+ group reported a significant (9%) decline in symptoms of anxiety.
It’s possible that three years may be too short of a time frame to register a statistical change in psychosocial well-being or empowerment for the women, and other studies, for example of a BRAC program in Bangladesh, suggest that gains in income may also be much more significant at year 4 than at year 2. Because of this, we support efforts to continue studies that can be look at results of micro-business programs over a longer term. We are encouraged by the stories like the one below, which indicate to us that the relationships strengthened in the process of economic strengthening are just as valuable, especially in terms of permanence over time, than the new income that is brought into the household.
Meet Lamwaka Pillimena and Ojok Charles
Married in 2000, they have 3 children and fled their homes in the North due to violence in 2003. They lived in a camp for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) until 2007 when they returned to their home with nothing. Here is how Lamwaka describes her experience in the WINGS project:
“I was selected for this project by the community. I attended the training also with Ojok...This has been such a good thing for us to be involved in the project together. We were given the grant, and then we started selling g-nuts, then beans and simsim, and now we are selling sorghum again. We change items from time to time because of the demand from customers or the season. We buy the goods from within the village then sell them to businessmen who take them to sell in Kotido district.”
And in Ojok’s words:
“We are doing well because of the mutual understanding between my wife and I. We have bought 2 oxen and an ox-plough, and a new mattress we are sleeping well on each night. Going to the training together really helped. If one of us goes astray the other guides the thoughts back. We are working in a way that each is involved in the decision making process…Working together has increased the amount we have been able to earn. I have no doubts about this. I travel by bicycle to buy sorghum while Pillimena remains here to buy from whoever comes to the home to sell.
Our household was so unstable before. We had no money, but most of all we had no knowledge of business skills. This really opened our eyes to knowing business. If we work hard now we can solve much.”