International Labour Organization

Measuring

Empowerment

Methods

Participatory qualitative research, focus groups, literature review, data visualizaion

Motivation

Women’s empowerment has been a long-standing goal spearheaded by the United Nations supported by governments and the international development community. The International Labour Organization (ILO) needed an evaluation tool for its development projects and programs which aimed to empower women workers. However, women’s empowerment had been ambiguously defined by scholars and thought leaders, and no definition had elicited the perspectives of low-income working women. Furthermore, extensive research demonstrated income and economic status do not directly determine the empowerment of women workers, especially since access to economic resources does not inherently imply control.

Challenge

Evaluation Tool Objectives

To elicit women’s and men’s own understanding and perspectives of women’s empowerment.

To serve as an exercise in which participants self-reflect, self-assess, and engage in critical thinking for identifying and defining changes, actions, strategies, and pathways towards achieving women’s empowerment. 

To help identify strategic needs, constraints and challenges, and opportunities for promoting women’s empowerment, which will help provide invaluable feedback for strategic planning of project and programme designs that encompass goals and objectives related to employment promotion for gender equality.

To obtain intended beneficiaries’ participation in project and programme design; and thus embed personal ownership over project and programme outcomes.

To determine relevant indicators in a participatory manner through intended beneficiaries themselves which can assist development agencies and organizations in developing action plans, projects, and programming activities with the aim of promoting women’s empowerment through access to employment.

Goal

Inclusively define and measure women's empowerment that is achieved through work.

Methods

Motivation

Women’s empowerment has been a long-standing goal spearheaded by the United Nations supported by governments and the international development community. The International Labour Organization (ILO) needed an evaluation tool for its development projects and programs which aimed to empower women workers. However, women’s empowerment had been ambiguously defined by scholars and thought leaders, and no definition had elicited the perspectives of low-income working women. Furthermore, extensive research demonstrated income and economic status do not directly determine the empowerment of women workers, especially since access to economic resources does not inherently imply control.

Challenge

The ILO sought to have an evaluation tool developed for use by their program managers and other civil society and development organizations for assessing the extent that projects and efforts in enhancing access to employment for women is actually leading to “empowerment.” 

Evaluation Tool Objectives

To elicit women’s and men’s own understanding and perspectives of women’s empowerment.

To serve as an exercise in which participants self-reflect, self-assess, and engage in critical thinking for identifying and defining changes, actions, strategies, and pathways towards achieving women’s empowerment. 

To help identify strategic needs, constraints and challenges, and opportunities for promoting women’s empowerment, which will help provide invaluable feedback for strategic planning of project and programme designs that encompass goals and objectives related to employment promotion for gender equality.

To obtain intended beneficiaries’ participation in project and programme design; and thus embed personal ownership over project and programme outcomes.

To determine relevant indicators in a participatory manner through intended beneficiaries themselves which can assist development agencies and organizations in developing action plans, projects, and programming activities with the aim of promoting women’s empowerment through access to employment.

 
 

Literature Review

I reviewed:

  • Journal articles and research studies on various issues related to South Asian women’s workforce participation and the rising trend of self-employment among women workers; 
     

  • ILO policy briefs and working papers on gender and employment policies;
     

  • Evaluations of the Government of India’s various employment policies and schemes which include women beneficiaries; and
     

  • Research on participatory impact assessments

Facilitator and Notetaker Guidelines

The tool included imperative guidelines on the facilitator’s attitude, presentation of questions, and how to maintain a tone of openness and neutrality. Guidelines on how to capture details, phrases, and quotes in the observation notes were also provided. Cultural considerations on mixed-gender interactions were also discussed. 

Selection of

Participants  Guidelines 

Age – 20 – 60 years old

Gender – women-only or men-only workshops to eliminate bias and influence of power or domination over women’s voices.

Participants should share similar attributes, such as caste, class, and income levels. They should have the same occupation.

Participants should be selected as typical, ordinary representatives of their community, thus the selection of community leaders and/or other influential persons is strongly discouraged as the purpose of the tool is to measure the average woman/man’s perception of empowerment among themselves, their wives and sisters.

No other members from the same household should participate in the same workshop.

Participatory Workshop Structure

01

Segment

Introduction of the purpose of the focus group and collection of demographic data.

02

Segment

Drawing of vision/ideal of an empowered woman. The tool begins with a visioning exercise which serves as an “icebreaker” while encouraging participants to focus and begin thinking on the subject of women’s empowerment. (15 minutes)

03

Segment

Identification of the factors of women’s empowerment according to what the participants have represented in their drawings. (30 minutes) 

Ex. Key Factor Table

04

Segment

Rating each factor identified by participants and key stakeholders for an importance level in contributing to the advancement or achievement and maintenance of empowerment. 

For each factor workshop participants were asked  “How important this key factor or component is to your overall vision or ideal of an empowered woman. You need to think about whether or not your vision or ideal of an empowered will change if this key factor is not met or missing.

 

Like can a woman still be empowered if she does not have __X__?

Based on these answers give an importance rating using the following symbols and categories:

Not important

Some importance

Very important

-

+

++

05

Segment

Self-assessment by individual participants of their present satisfaction level of each factor in their own lives. (Segment 4 & 5 to occur simultaneously: 30 – 35 minutes).

 

Participants assess a current level of satisfaction in their own life with each key factor using the following symbols.

Not happy

Happy, but improvement is desired

Very happy

 

☺☺

06

Segment

Discussion of qualitative, open-ended questions which emphasize ‘how’ and ‘why’ and engage participants in critical thinking on work and women’s empowerment, including determining what and how life changes towards achieving and maintaining women’s empowerment can be made. (30 minutes)

Do you feel more or less empowered because you are working? Why?

What are the benefits of work?

What are the disadvantages or life difficulties you face because of work?

Does women’s work strengthen or weaken relations between husband and wife, like does women’s work help create a more equal balance of rights and responsibilities in the relationship and harmony between husband and wife or does it instead put stress and pressure on the relationship? [Follow-up question] Please explain why and how this happens?

Which household and caregiving tasks performed by women workers is the most difficult? Why? 

What should be done to change these negative aspects of work, so that you can get closer towards achieving your vision of empowerment [happiness and success]? How should these changes be made?

 

What is one big change that would help you overcome or put an end to some of the problems and barriers in your life which prevent you from achieving empowerment?

 

What needs to be done to help make this change happen? How can these things be done? What actions and steps need to be taken? 

 

Do your working female family members have control over the income they earn? How much control do they have over how the money they earn is spent: none, complete control or partial control, like over a certain percentage?

Coding

Categorizing and Averaging

Each factor is then categorized, with no factor appearing in more than one category. 

Average Importance and Satisfaction Ratings

Women Brassworkers - Workshop Participants in Moradabad

 
 

Pilot Study

The participatory tool for evaluating women’s empowerment was piloted across 4 workshops conducted among men and women workers in Northern India. The groups of workers represented in these workshops were female domestic workers in New Delhi, female brassworkers and unionized male brassworkers in Moradabad, and male tourist guides and porters in Shimla, a popular mountain town (a.k.a. hill station) with a high level of tourism.

 

The purpose of the study was to primarily test the tool in various settings to determine its adaptability, usefulness, and ease of application, and to learn how well it engages participants in critically reflecting on women’s empowerment as well as what kinds of insights and findings are obtained through it.

Sample Visioning Drawings of Workshop Participants

Categories and Factors of Women’s Empowerment 

The following lists are examples of various factors identified by women domestic workers and male porters and tourist guides that relate to a category of empowerment.

Results from Participant-Identified Factors of Empowerment

A diagram showing the results of the satisfaction and importance ratings of categories of empowerment that were identified by workshop participants was produced for each of the four pilot workshops. The diagrams created from the domestic workers and porters and tourist guides workshops are shown below. The numbers shown in the inner rings of the diagrams represents the number of self-identified factors that form the category.  

Comparisions

Notably there are differences in both the elements or components of women’s empowerment that were identified by men and women workshop participants as well as differences in perceptions of levels of satisfaction experienced by women for each component. 

Earning money and using one’s mind were commonly reported by participants in all four workshops as the benefits of women’s workforce participation. Issues pertaining to work-family life balance were also common themes of discussion on the disadvantages of women’s workforce participation. Childcare was cited in all four workshop as the most difficult household responsibility for working women to manage.

A lack of confidence, education, skills and problem-solving capabilities were described by all groups as the biggest challenges to improving women’s levels of empowerment. Participants in all four workshop stated unions, as well as women-only collectives and organizations were beneficial for women to be members of. These associations were praised for providing women with a platform to unite and raise their voices and concerns, exchange information and ideas, enhance their problem-solving capabilities, and build their self-confidence. 

Lessons Learned

The opening visioning exercise of the tool was challenging for some participants as they did not feel they could adequately express their ideas through drawing and some had to be encouraged to overcome any fears and insecurities they had regarding their ability to draw. However, despite any initial reluctance to illustrate their ideas of an empowered woman, the visioning exercise proved vital for engaging participants in critical thinking on a topic that most stated they had not before reflected on and/or discussed with others. 

 

Workshop participants commented that it felt good to participate in the because it showed them that other people were interested in their daily struggles and aspirations. They also stated their participation increased their confidence and motivation to become more successful and empowered. Thus, implementation of the tool itself can be an activity for advancing women’s empowerment.   

Other lessons learned through the participatory evaluation tool’s application included a surprising insight on the issue of mobility, which has been proposed by academicians and development experts as an essential factor for women’s empowerment. However, workshop participants (in both men and women groups) referred to it as a by-product of education, rather than as a critical and/or separate issue related to women’s empowerment. 

 

While the tool is designed to measure women’s empowerment through work, men workshop participants observed there were no questions which pertained to their empowerment and suggested that women’s empowerment is also contingent or somewhat dependent upon the empowerment of male family members in the household because family harmony, success and happiness is equally affected by men’s employment, work conditions and pay, or lack thereof.

Future adaptations of the tool could add the following questions to the qualitative questionnaire:

How does a man’s success and happiness affect the empowerment [happiness and success] of his wife/mother/or daughter? 

Does a man’s employment and work affect the empowerment [happiness and success] of his wife/mother/or daughter? If yes, how?

Finally, in each of the four workshops, all of the participant-identified factors were assigned an average rating of being ‘highly important’ elements in their vision/idea of an empowered woman and there was little variance among the participants’ individual importance ratings. These results; therefore, suggest the importance rating exercise on participant –identified factors of women’s empowerment could be removed from the tool.

Final Outcome

Upon the success of the pilot study, the participatory tool for measuring women’s empowerment was subsequently adopted by other ILO programme country offices, such as Bangladesh.

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