Women’s economic and social empowerment is an accepted part of development programming, yet many questions remain about how or if these programs also put women at risk. Understanding the risks and benefits of economic empowerment programming is crucial in designing programs that maximize benefits and minimize harm. Can increasing a woman’s access to resources also increase her control over those resources in the household? Can increased economic empowerment influence how much abuse she experiences at home? Can improving communication between couples help women safely assert more control over the economic resources they contribute to the household?
The International Rescue Committee seeks to determine what is the most effective way to support women’s empowerment in conflict-affected settings. Drawing on extensive field experience, the IRC designed a program in Burundi that actively involved both women and men in an economic program and a discussion series around household finances. IRC’s EA$E (Economic And Social Empowerment for women) program ultimately aims to increase women’s decision-making in the home and decrease intimate partner violence (IPV). The IRC partnered with Professor Radha Iyengar from the London School of Economics to rigorously examine if adding a discussion series for couples was more effective in increasing decision-making and reducing violence, rather than just an economic program on its own.
Results of the evaluation show that adding the discussion series resulted in significant reduction in the incidence of partner violence. The discussion series also positively affected attitudes towards violence against women, as well as brought about relatively significant and positive changes in household decision-making and negotiation between couples.