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Gender, livelihood capabilities and women’s economic empowerment: reviewing evidence over the life course

Kabeer, Naila ORCID: 0000-0001-7769-9540 (2018) Gender, livelihood capabilities and women’s economic empowerment: reviewing evidence over the life course. . Gender and Adolescence: Global Evidence (GAGE), London, UK.

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This paper reviews the evaluation literature on policies and programmes designed to promote women’s livelihood capabilities across the life course to elicit lessons for the agenda of women’s economic empowerment. It aims to answer this key question: what capabilities need to be prioritised to help girls make a successful transition to an independent and fulfilled adult life? Empowerment encompasses many domains of women’s lives, but this paper focuses on the economic domain and women’s livelihoods. This is because the evidence shows that many of the deprivations and deficits that women experience as adults could have been averted had there been greater investment in their economic capabilities earlier in life. As capabilities cannot be measured directly, the paper focuses on changes in agency and achieved outcomes as proxy measures of impact. As there are few longitudinal studies available for our geographical areas of focus (low- and middle-income countries in Latin America, Asia and Africa), we use a ‘reverse’ life-course analysis for the paper, exploring the evidence on promoting economic capabilities among older women (60+), moving on to women of working age groups (20–59), and then to adolescent girls (10–19). We use a three-dimensional theory of change which links women’s and girls’ access to resources at various stages of their lives to their capacity to exercise strategic forms of agency in order to achieve valued outcomes. The theory pays particular attention to the gendered ‘structures of constraint’ that may prevent women and girls accessing resources and translating those resources into improvements in their livelihood outcomes. We distinguish between two broad categories of constraint: those rooted in the informal and intrinsically gendered institutions of family, kinship and community and those embodied and enacted in the formal and purportedly impersonal domains of states, markets and civil society. Though these gendered structures of constraint may initially be enforced within the family and community, they are frequently reproduced and reinforced within the public domains of states, markets and civil society. The theory explores the geographical, intersectional and life-course variations in how women and girls experience these structures of constraint. In this summary, we crystallise our key findings and revisit our theory of change to ground it more firmly in the empirical evidence, before presenting some brief conclusions.

Item Type: Monograph (Working Paper)
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2018 Gage CC BY-NC-SA 4.0
Divisions: International Development
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
Date Deposited: 22 Oct 2018 09:33
Last Modified: 15 Sep 2023 23:45

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