Women’s Empowerment in Action: Evidence from a Randomized Control Trial in Africa
A combination of vocational and life skill training improves adolescent girls’ income-generating opportunities and social empowerment while reducing early childbearing and desired fertility rates.
Developing countries face enormous challenges that arise from rapid population growth and a young age structure, in which an increasing proportion of adolescents need to be trained and prepared effectively before entering the labor market. While labor market challenges apply to both girls and boys, adolescent girls face additional constraints due to restrictive social norms and expectations. Teenage marriage, early childbirth, and family duties often limit girls’ incentives and opportunities to invest in their education and health early in their lives, which in turn adversely impacts their chances for employment and labor market participation. This study examines the impact of the Empowerment and Livelihood for Adolescents (ELA) program in Uganda, which aimed to empower adolescent girls by providing 1) vocational training to start small-scale income-generating activities, and 2) life skills training and information on sex, reproduction, and marriage. Implemented by BRAC Uganda, communities were randomly assigned to either the treatment group, in which girls in these communities received the program through locally established “adolescent development clubs,” or the control group.
The program led to significant improvements in girls’ entrepreneurial skills, increased girls’ knowledge of and control over their bodies in terms of childbearing, relationship quality, and sexual intercourse, and changed girls’ aspirations of marriage and childbearing.
- The intervention increased the likelihood that adolescent girls engaged in income-generating activities by 72%, which was mainly driven by an increased engagement in self-employment. Importantly, these gains in employment and work did not come at the expense of girls’ enrollment in schools.
- The intervention improved girls’ relationship quality and sense of autonomy over their bodies. Teen fertility rates were found to be 26% lower among girls in treatment communities than among girls in control communities over a two-year period. Similarly, girls in intervention communities were 6.9 percentage points less likely to be married or cohabiting two years later.
- The share of adolescent girls who report having sex unwillingly was 6 percentage points lower in treatment communities than in control communities.
- The program had an impact on girls’ beliefs and expectations regarding age of marriage and desired fertility. Girls in intervention communities reported wanting to delay marriage and have fewer children. Desired fertility among girls in intervention communities was 7% lower than desired fertility among girls in control communities.
In short, these results suggest that a combination of vocational and life skill training can empower women at an earlier age by increasing income-generating opportunities, encouraging labor market participation, decreasing fertility and early marriages, and changing social norms for adolescent girls.
This study focused on adolescent girls from selected rural and urban areas in Uganda. From a pool of ten branch offices operated by BRAC Uganda, the researchers selected at least fifteen localities per branch that shared the potential to host an Empowerment and Livelihood for Adolescents (ELA) program. From this list, ten communities from each branch were randomly assigned to the treatment group, and five communities were randomly assigned to the control group, with 100 treatment communities and 50 control communities selected in total. In each treatment community, BRAC Uganda established Adolescent Development Clubs, where eligible girls could attend courses on income-generating activities and attend sessions on topics related to sexual and reproductive health. Trainings, courses, and sessions were provided by professionals, counselors, and local mentors, and attendance was voluntary. A total of 4,888 adolescent girls aged 14 to 20 were tracked and followed in treatment and control communities over a period of two years. Surveys were conducted at baseline and two years after the program was initiated.