Making Growth Work for Women in Low-Income Countries

The overarching goal of this project was to conduct rigorous research on economic development and women’s empowerment to inform local and national public policy in low and middle income countries. From September 2016 until March 2018, the Urban Institute led an international consortium of research institutions including the Centre for Public Policy Alternatives in Nigeria, and the Leadership for Environment and Development in Pakistan. This cross-center project involved researchers from four Urban Institute centers including the Center on International Development and Governance, Center on Labor, Human Services and Population, Income and Benefits Policy Center and the Justice Policy Center.

 Studies have found that gender gaps in accessing economic opportunities, including employment and entrepreneurship, restricts overall economic growth rates. There is also growing evidence that businesses supporting female workers through reduced gender discrimination and family-friend policies attract more talented employees and could become more competitive. Women’s greater control over economic resources has also shown to improve human the well-being of children measured by educational attainment and reduced mortality rates.

 This project focused heavily on policymaking, particularly ways in which evidence makes its way into policy processes. Research looked both into ways in which broad-based development policies (e.g. supporting improved public service delivery) and women-specific policies (e.g. preventing harassment in urban public spaces) support women’s economic empowerment in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

 The overarching research questions explored in this project include:

  • How do different aspects of economic growth (e.g. sectoral composition, export growth, trade liberalization) affect women’s economic empowerment?
  • How do the social processes and infrastructure that typically accompany economic growth (e.g. family change, education, urbanization, access to health providers, transportation, and labor market densification) affect women’s economic empowerment?
  • Are there important differences across countries in how economic growth affects women’s economic empowerment?
  • Are there important differences in how economic growth affects women’s economic empowerment across different domains (e.g. labor force participation, household decision making, and gender-based violence)?
  • What are the barriers to, and enablers of, women’s movement into more productive sector of the economy?

This project’s unique implementation approach featured a close partnership with two leading national think-tanks in Nigeria and Pakistan and active policy engagement with government counterparts throughout the project’s lifecycle. Extensive collaboration between researchers enabled useful cross-fertilization of ideas through monthly webinars, peer reviews of intermediary products and sharing lessons from fieldwork. Urban Institute hosted a 2-week study tour for international partners, featuring training sessions in research qualitative and quantitative methods, policy communications and management of research institutions. Participants also visited leading Washington DC based policy institutions working on relevant topics, sharing project ideas and early findings to expand their professional network