Standing before a new crop of graduate students, professor Benjamin Crookston assigned a “challenge paper” to those sitting in his introductory class to the public health master’s program. After listing four relevant issues, he asked the class to select one, research the topic, and identify ways to address the issue. After careful review, the class chose to address male engagement in female economic empowerment. With Crookston’s help, these six BYU graduate students worked with the Grameen Foundation to create an evidence review on the issue.
The Grameen Foundation enables people in poverty, particularly women, to rise above their situation. The foundation uses a human-centered, digital-finance approach and farming solutions to help impoverished people in developing countries. The foundation also trains women to become community agents, teaching others in their community how to access the resources. Jenna Smith (’21), a teaching assistant for Crookston’s course and a current intern for the Grameen Foundation, says, “Grameen has really focused their core efforts on empowering women as a means to bring communities out of poverty.”
Emily Aleson (’22) and Rachel Ricks (’23) researched how men can increase women’s intra-household bargaining power. They found that giving women more influence in decision-making improves the health of women and children within their households. “Women’s income, assets, and education are all important aspects of strengthening women’s bargaining power,” Aleson says. For example, she and Ricks reviewed a study that took place in sub-Saharan Africa, examining links between women’s bargaining power and children’s school outcomes. The study found that giving mothers more influence in decision-making reduced the chance of grade repetition for their children, especially their daughters.
"The more that I have seen people in really complex situations that aren’t easily resolved by simple solutions, the more I’ve realized that multifaceted solutions are necessary."
Emma Sheranian (’22) and Mary Taylor (’22) discussed interventions to improve male engagement with female empowerment in India. Sheranian gives the important context that India is a developing country with a historically patriarchal society. Infant mortality rates in India are the second highest in the world, and the female infant mortality rate is much higher than the male rate. Only fifty-three percent of women in India have a bank or savings account, and only fifty-four percent are literate. Sheranian and Taylor identified three solutions to these issues: education, economic empowerment, and advocacy. Particularly, they found that gender education can help change traditional male attitudes from a young age. Sheranian stresses the importance of education, especially for men, to create gender equity. She says, “The research shows that when you educate men about gender, they are more likely to give women more decision-making power or autonomy to decide things about their own life.”
Shannon Barham (’21) and Charisse Schenk (’22) examined ways that men in developing nations were involved in female empowerment at the household and community levels. Barham says men are often invited to women’s economic empowerment programs only as an afterthought, which is a largely ineffective strategy. She and Schenk found that the most successful programs intentionally incorporated men as a supportive branch of empowering women to achieve their economic goals. Barham also states that programs using gender-transformative approaches, which encourage both men and women to question and directly address inequitable gender norms and power dynamics, “opened the doorway to a change in mindset for the men and women involved.”
Barham and others think that questioning societal norms and recognizing internalized beliefs about gender can facilitate men and women working together toward women’s economic empowerment. “It’s important that women have a voice because they have a big impact on children, families, and society as a whole,” Ricks says.
In all three projects, microfinancing—or giving small loans to individuals who would not otherwise have access to a bank—was found to be quite effective. The studies concluded that microfinancing is an effective way to empower women in their careers or even to simply increase their economic participation because it propels them toward self-sufficiency.
*To read the finished review, go to grameenfoundation.org and search for “Evidence Review on the Role of Male Engagement in Women’s Economic Empowerment Programs.”