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Empowering Young Women in Malawi: A Mixed Methods Approach

Development Challenge

In developing countries, gender inequality continues to negatively affect women’s educational, economic and health outcomes.  In sub-Saharan Africa, women are less likely to attend school, have fewer job opportunities, and struggle to make optimal reproductive choices. Cash transfer programs –conditional and unconditional – have become widespread and will likely continue expanding in the future. Policymakers have emphasized that cash transfer programs have the potential to improve gender equality by empowering women, build human capital and promote development. However, there is little evidence on whether cash transfer programs have long-term impacts on recipients’ self-esteem and feeling of empowerment, and how those changes affect decision making.


In Zomba District in the Southern region of Malawi, cash transfer programs have had important, positive short-term effects for school age young women. In 2008 and 2009, 1,225 school aged girls were randomly assigned to receive either a conditional (based on school attendance) or unconditional transfer; the comparison group received no cash transfers.  Short-term impacts include better educational and health outcomes, including impacts on marriage, fertility, HIV and sexual behavior. Specifically, 27.7 percent of initial school dropouts in the comparison group got married compared to only 16.4 percent of initial dropouts in the conditional transfer treatment group. Moreover, among the same group those in the conditional cash transfer treatment group were 5.1 percentage points less likely to get pregnant compared to those in the comparison group. This indicates cash transfers may be an effective way to sustainably build human capital and promote development. 

Evaluation Strategy

Researchers are using a mixed-methods approach to determine whether and how cash transfers have changed participants’ self-esteem and future aspirations. Researchers are following up with participants again to identify the long-term effects of the transfers, specifically whether the cash transfers empowered program participants and led to changes in their self-esteem and aspirations, and if this was the channel through which the income affected reproductive decision making. In addition to administering surveys, researchers will conduct focus groups and semi-structured in-depth interviews with approximately 50 randomly sampled core respondents. This qualitative work will be driven by the quantitative analysis of the survey data, and will focus on understanding causal pathways through which the cash transfer impacted various outcomes.

Results and Policy Implications

Project ongoing, results forthcoming