Female Empowerment: Impact of a Commitment Savings Product in the Philippines
Increasing women’s control over assets and encouraging them to set goals leads to increased decision-making for women in households.
Women’s empowerment is becoming a more widely sought policy goal, both as an end in and of itself and a means to achieve other development goals. Previous research shows that women who receive microfinance funds tend to invest in education, housing, and nutrition. It has been assumed that such income transfers to women increase female empowerment. In this paper, authors evaluate this assumption and seek to establish a causal relationship between income transfers to women alone and female empowerment (i.e., increase in status, bargaining and decision making power in the household). Specifically, they examine whether having financial control over a commitment savings product (accessible only by the person whose name is on the account and according to pre-determined savings goals) increases women’s decision making power and female empowerment.
Commitment savings products positively affect household decision-making power for women, women’s self-perception of savings behavior, and consumption decisions that favor women’s preferences.
- The women who were initially less empowered in this study experienced the largest gains in decision-making ability and bargaining power. They experienced increased financial savings and control over assets, whereas no change was detected among women who exhibited above average decision-making power at the beginning of the study.
- Married women reported the strongest improvements in decision-making power, measured as the control they exerted over important financial decisions made in their households like expensive purchases, giving assistance to family members, or number of children. The marketing intervention where individuals only received information on saving money had a smaller, but significant, positive effect with regard to decision-making power among women.
- Purchases of female-oriented durables such as washing machines, sewing machines, electric irons, and kitchen appliances represent another measure of female empowerment/decision making power. Purchases of these items increased in households where female participants exhibited below average decision-making power at the beginning of the study and received the commitment savings product.
- There was no change in the purchase of female-oriented durables in households in which women initially exhibited above average decision-making power or women who received the marketing intervention rather than the savings commitment device. In households where men received either the savings or the marketing intervention, there was no change in purchases of female-oriented durable goods.
- Increasing women’s control over assets through commitment savings products leads to larger gains in women’s decision-making power than just targeting women through marketing, although both are important influences.
In short, women can increase their decision-making and bargaining power within households through increased control over assets. These findings are particularly acute for married women who are the least empowered relative to other women.
This study randomly assigned 3125 clients of a rural bank, the Green Bank of Caraga in the Philippines, to three groups: one group received the option to open a commitment savings account accessible only by the individual client, in which the bank account would not mature until a pre-specified goal is reached; the second group received one-on-one marketing about the importance of saving for a goal; the third group, the control, received no new bank account or targeted marketing. Baseline and follow-up surveys analyzed household decision-making power through decisions over purchases related to female-oriented durables, expensive items, market goods, assistance to family members, schooling of children, use of family planning, and recreational and personal use of money.