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Last edited: December 24, 2013

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  • In order to increase the likelihood of success, programs should attempt to either replicate positive models of entrepreneurship already operating in the area or integrate women into existing income-generating schemes (Chynoweth & Patrick, 2007).   Strategies should take into account non-traditional (i.e. male dominated) income-generating options as well as those that are more typical to women.

  • Whether creating new programming or integrating women into existing income-generating programs, special consideration should be given to the following: 
    • Empowerment.  Include education on human rights and violence against women in existing skills training and job placement programs (Krause-Vilmar, 2011). 
    • Solidarity and mutual support.  Create and facilitate spaces where women and girls can share ideas and resources and boost self-confidence (Krause-Vilmar, 2011). 
    • Childcare.  For many women and girls, childcare becomes a major obstacle to engaging in livelihoods programmes.  A programme providing childcare gives women and girls more time to devote to economic activities and trainings.  To the extent possible, agencies should increase support for day care services so that working women and girls have a safe place for their children (Heller & Timoney, 2009).
    • Time-saving strategies.  Explore and invest in labor-saving technologies that assist women in efficiency and productivity (Krause-Vilmar, 2011).
    • The option of working from home.  Many women are unable to leave or travel any distance due to risk, restrictions on their mobility or other responsibilities (Heller & Timoney, 2009).
    • Women’s control over productive assets.  Many women lack legal access to land, or cannot access water or other natural resources in order to engage in agricultural income-generating projects.  Advocating for women’s access to and control over ‘natural capital’ reduces their dependency on others, thereby decreasing their risk of exposure to exploitation and/or abuse (FAO & Dimitra Project, 2010).
    • Women and girls’ control over their income.  Even when women are able to earn income, they may be prevented from accessing and controlling their earnings, either because they don’t know how to manage their income, or because their money is automatically given to their husbands or other male family members.   Livelihoods programmes can help women and girls set up bank accounts and provide financial literacy training so they can effectively manage and control their earnings (Krause-Vilmar, 2011).  Saving in groups can also be helpful (see Katz et. al., 2012.)
    • Adequate income. Many women may still resort to transactional sex and other risky alternatives if these are seen as more lucrative and readily available than income-generating projects.  The money earned from livelihoods programs must be sufficiently reliable and remunerative to ensure women are not compelled to engage in dangerous alternatives. 
    • Diversify income streams. Many women and their families must rely on multiple income streams in order to meet household expenses. Programmes should promote multiple livelihoods strategies to help ensure adequate income (Child Protection in Crisis, 2012, draft).
  • Engaging men is critical to building a supportive environment for women’s livelihoods programs.  Many approaches to empowering women unintentionally alienate men, resulting in an increase in violence against women entrepreneurs.  Involving men can mitigate potential backlash by lowering the chance that men will be threatened by women’s economic empowerment (Ray & Heller, 2009).
    • Gender dialogues and mixed-gender discussion groups are a creative way of involving men and reducing the risks of violence against women. Dialogues focusing on household economics and decision-making can be helpful in addressing underlying power and gender dynamics in a non-threatening way (Ray & Heller, 2009).
    • Engaging male community leaders in support of women’s participation in income-generating activities can enhance women’s safety and acceptance in the community.
    • Engaging men as clients and participants in the same or parallel programmes can reduce harassment of women and perceptions of special treatment.
  • Improving organizational capacity helps ensure livelihoods programmes are working within an empowerment model.  Programme administrators and managers of economic programmes should have expertise and experience in women’s empowerment. Qualified specialists in violence against women, who understand gender and the ethical considerations in working with survivors should be consulted in the design and implementation of economic programs. Mentorship and project site visits are also useful to build the organizational and technical capacity of local partners.

Case Study:  The Women’s Protection and Empowerment (WPE) Program

This programme of the International Rescue Committee (IRC) works to empower women socially and economically through the EA$E (Economic and Social Empowerment) Program.  The EA$E Program seeks to promote safer gender dynamics in the household by increasing women’s decision making in the home.  It does this through three components of empowerment:

1)    Access to financial services through VSLA.  Using the model of Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLA), groups of 15-30 women come together to save money collectively and contribute to a common fund.  This common fund is then used to give small loans to individual members, which they pay back at a modest interest rate.  Over time VSLAs contribute to women’s income and create a space of social and economic support.

2)    Gender dialogues – Talking about Talking Discussion Series.  Preliminary research has shown that adding space for gender dialogues – in addition to economic programs for women – can be helpful in reducing Intimate Partner Violence (IPV).  The EA$E Program facilitates an ongoing discussion series for VSLA members and their spouses.  These dialogues focus on household finances and economic decision-making, while also incorporating deeper issues of power imbalance, women’s value in the home and alternatives to violence.  These dialogues address underlying attitudes towards violence against women, decision-making and relationship dynamics that economic programs on their own do not address.  At the same time, participants are able to address these topics in a non-threatening way by making the improvement of household well-being – rather than intimate partner violence – the main focus of these discussions. 

3)    Business training.  VSLA members are trained in practical business skills that help them effectively use loans, explore profitable business opportunities, and expand small-scale business activities.

The EA$E program is operating in nine countries throughout Africa and conducts ongoing rigorous impact evaluations.  Initial measures in the pilot program in Burundi showed that integrating the discussion series along with economic empowerment led to a decrease in IPV levels and acceptance of violence, and an increase in women’s involvement in decision-making and use of negotiation skills between spouses.

For more information, see:

International Rescue Committee (n.d.). Economic and Social Empowerment (EA$E) Program for Women. Brochure.

International Rescue Committee (n.d.). “Getting Down to Business: Women’s Social and Economic Empowerment in Burundi.” New York: IRC.