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Empowering Adolescent Girls in Bangladesh

Faculty: Erica Field (Department of Economics, FAS, Harvard University)

Project supported by the Nike Foundation, the Empowerment Lab, and Save the Children (US)


Background
Under the Female Secondary School Stipend system run by the Bangladeshi government, adolescent girls have unusually high levels of personal income from a conditional cash transfer program designed to delay adolescent marriage and encourage schooling (approx. $100 per year).  Yet fewer than 20 percent of girls reported saving any of this money.

Summary of Research

The study evaluates the impact of a program to encourage adolescent girls in rural Bangladesh to form self-help groups for savings and borrowing, in which they put aside regular amounts of income into a savings pool with peers from the same village. The "Safe Savings" project assists adolescent girls in managing financial resources given their inexperience in resource management and no access to formal savings institutions.

The EL component of the project takes place in the context of a larger female adolescent empowerment program being implemented by Save the Children with local NGOs in 460 villages in rural Bangladesh. The Kishoree Konta program seeks to empower adolescent girls by promoting health, education, life skills, and livelihood readiness among 47,000 girls between the ages of 10 and 17 in five sub-districts of southern Bangladesh. In 2008, the Safe Savings component was introduced in 77 villages. After receiving financial competency sessions, girls are introduced to the idea of a group savings scheme and given the chance to form self-help groups. The design of Safe Savings was adapted from the VSLA (Village Savings and Loan Association) model currently used by more than 1 million poor people in 22 countries.

In particular, the new EL funding allowed the Bangladeshi Safe Savings program to reach an additional 77 groups of 10-20 girls in the treatment villages who were excluded from the initial effort. In addition to reaching more girls, the EL grant doubled the sample size to generate more powerful outcomes and to maintain a stronger presence in the villages over time. During summer 2010, researchers are tracking program outcomes associated with female empowerment, including education, control over money, and borrowing and savings behavior.

Implications & Impacts

Adolescent girls in rural Bangladesh face high rates of teen marriage and school dropout. Few girls have control over the most basic choices in their lives. Self-help groups are considered an important tool by which women in developing countries gain and maintain control over household resources. Yet, there is little research on the effect of increased financial autonomy for unmarried girls or the use of self-help groups to improve financial literacy.

This study seeks to provide rigorous evidence to inform one of the key policy debates in much of the developing world— how to address high rates of child marriage and associated indicators of gender inequality. Within Bangladesh, stakeholders have expressed interest in how the results can be used to improve the effectiveness of the Female Secondary School Stipend to empower girls and improve life outcomes.

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