Strengthening the economic security of girls and their families

Poverty plays a major role in the continued existence of child marriage. That’s why one of the six strategies Her Choice applies in the field addresses strengthening the economic security of girls and their families: creating and supporting women’s self-help groups with training and access to (financial) resources.

Her Choice aims to create child marriage free communities. We do so not only by strengthening girls’ knowledge and creating more conducive environments, but also by empowering girls and their families economically. Sustainable improvement of the economic position of girls and their families forms one of our key areas of attention.

Her Choice qualitative research findings show that poverty is directly related to child marriage: poor families tend to marry their daughters at a younger age in order to get a higher bride price (in African countries), or to have to pay lower dowry (in Asian countries), or/and to have one mouth less to feed.  In addition, poverty of the family is a reason why girls (and boys) drop out of school at secondary level, and consequently, by lack of alternative life path, marry early.

Approach to economic empowerment

Since poverty is known to be one of the major drivers of child marriage, community programs to improve the economic security of women and girls are crucial within Her Choice. Nine out of the ten programme countries have been supporting creation or strengthening of existing self help groups (SHGs) of women to initiate income generating activities (IGAs). Such activities include jewelry making, tailoring, production of organic fertilizer and pesticides, processing and conservation of local products, livestock breeding and tree plantation.

Members of SHGs have also been trained in financial management, entrepreneurship, development of small enterprises and marketing of products, and some SHGs have been given small seed-money. Members have been shown the benefits of reinvesting in their group and have received recognition when they succeeded to save. Finally, SHGs have been encouraged to initiate a basic mutual help system to meet the social needs of their members.

Community-led banks

Her Choice alliance member The Hunger Project aims to increase the economic security of families to guide communities from dependency to self-reliance. The Hunger Project supports communities, and especially women, to take self-reliant actions so they can meet their own basic needs, improve their communities and build better futures for themselves and their children:

  • Community-led banks, established by and with the communities, provide sustainable access to microcredit. In the past, these banks were set up with outside funding, but currently set-up is done with savings from the community itself. This process requires more time, but is much more sustainable in the long term. The banks are fully owned by the community and the management is always done by women.
  • Women saving groups jointly establish their own saving programme. Through the community-led programmes, the groups build their skills on income-generating activities, entrepreneurial skills, and in some cases a vocational skill training. The women saving groups support girls to go to school and act as watchdog in the community to ensure that no girls drop out.

Both strategies strengthen the economic security of girls and their families. This reduces the risks of child marriage because of poverty and increases the opportunity for girls and boys to finish their education. The additional income is used to pay school fees and materials, and the women SHGs financially support girls whose parents refuse or cannot afford to pay school fees.

Additionally, local partner The Hunger Project Bangladesh has provided Participatory Action Research workshops, regular reflection meetings and skill building training to empower marginalised women to organise themselves in SHGs. Local partner The Hunger Project Ethiopia has scaled up activities of its rural microcredit bank, which mobilises saving, provides loans and capacity building on income generating activities through community based workshops and peer education. The Hunger Project Uganda provided capacity building on economic skills and enterprises to young mothers, survivors of child marriage, school drop outs and girls heading families.

Progress towards results

The Midline Study (conducted in 2018) showed that the activities mentioned above resulted in an increased family income for a higher share of households. Implementing partners report that the savings of SHGs have increased and the economic security and economic status of participating households has improved in general. Also, during interviews, a high share of heads of households indicated that their household income has increased as a result of the IGA activities women were involved in (notably in Senegal +47.42% in the treatment areas compared to 42.86% in the control areas; Uganda + 24.3% in the treatment areas compared to 28.7% in the control areas; Burkina Faso + 29.6% in the treatment areas compared to 20.5% in the control areas). Apart from sufficient food for the family, also school fees could be paid and educational materials purchased, by which the school attendance of girls increased.

Additionally, extra income has been invested in development of living standard and livelihood variation, in order to assure a better future. Increases in mean economic status (on a scale of 1-4) were noted in Bangladesh (2,5 to 2,8) Benin (2,2 to 2,6) Ghana (2,6 to 3) and Ethiopia (2,2 to 2,7). The Hunger Project Bangladesh reports for example that women from SHGs are able to effectively manage their savings, which have increased compared to the previous year. The Hunger Project Ethiopia states that attitudinal change of communities towards community-led rural banks and saving is promising. The Ethiopian ngo ESD (local partner of ICDI and recently also of Stichting Kinderpostzegels Nederland) reports that, as a result of SHG activities, group members’ household income has enhanced.

In implementation areas in Ghana, teachers report about a positive change in behaviour of parents towards the provision of school needs for their wards. Women who were engaged in community meetings also reported of some financial relief in catering for their children and family. Apart from money for their daily expenses they also managed to have savings at the Microfinance banks.

Furthermore, school directors in Mali confirm that the poorer mothers demonstrate a good management of their income as a result of their participation in income generating activities, which also reflected in parents being able to accomplished pay the school fees of their daughters. In addition, women are able to sustain these activities also without  future support from the programme.

Challenges

Albeit many positive effects of income generation activities for women, some challenges remain to the roll out of activities in this strategy.

  • Improving the economic security of girls and their families requires improvement of the status of women within the communities, which is still low in some communities across programme countries. The community needs to accept the involvement of women in decision-making processes so they can freely contract a loan and start income generating activities (Benin).
  • The success of the income generating activities depends on the time investment of women. Considering their already charged daily programme, they will have to reduce the time devoted to household chores. This implicates that the men become more involved in the household tasks or they find alternative solutions like the acquisition of equipment that helps to reduce the time for household tasks (Burkina Faso).
  • If we want to generate a change in gender norms, we should focus more on families, and involve men and women together in income generation activities.