Campus & community, Research, Politics & society, Campus news

Symposium to report positive returns from programs in Africa for girls' welfare

By Kathleen Maclay

Berkeley — Positive outcomes and lessons to be learned from new approaches to help girls and women struggling in developing countries will be explored in an April 28 symposium to be hosted by the Center for Evaluation of Global Action (CEGA), based at the University of California, Berkeley.

“Evidence to Action: The Returns to Investment in Girls” is geared toward researchers, policymakers, non-government organizations and donors who want to know how best to deploy resources for social development programs and policies generally, and to boost girls’ education, empowerment and progress into adulthood around the world.

The symposium will be held from 1-5 p.m. on Thursday, April 28, in the Banatao Auditorium at UC Berkeley’s Sutardja Dai Hall. All of the research to be examined at the program is based in Africa.

Edward Miguel, CEGA’s director and a UC Berkeley professor of economics with field work experience in Kenya, Tanzania, Sierra Leone and India, said the research being presented at the symposium is united by researchers’ desire to establish whether and how empowering women through education or economic opportunities affects their lives and the quality of others’ lives within their societies.

One study in Kenya shows that girls enrolled in an education scholarship program tend to delay marriage and chose their own spouses rather than have him chosen by their parents. Photo by Lisa Chen.

“The body of results shed light on what is arguably the world’s most important development challenge – promoting greater equity for half of humanity – given how systematically the most basic rights and opportunities are denied to women in many countries,” Miguel said.

In a major speech earlier this month, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that one of the most significant aspects of recent revolutions in Africa and the Middle East is that women are participating. Yet, he noted, empowering women is still a challenge in many places around the world, and many nations lack reliable data on the economic impacts of women or on their roles in health and education.

CEGA, the campus’s premier center for development research and impact analysis, has partners in more than 30 low- and middle-income countries who are working with its researchers to test a host of anti-poverty programs and strategies.

The center’s second annual symposium will include reports on:

  • A World Bank effort giving school girls in Malawi a small, monthly cash incentive to stay in school. An evaluation indicates that the program does much more: It improves school attendance, decreases pregnancy and marriage, and lessens the girls’ monetary need for sex with older, wealthier men, who also are more likely to be HIV-infected than other men.
  • The SHAZ! Project in Zimbabwe, which provides vocational training, micro-credit and life skills education to improve the health of adolescent girls and shows promise. In a related result, a new approach to help HIV-positive girls is now also in development.
  • A girls’ scholarship program in rural Kenya that pays for school fees, uniforms and supplies. The program has dramatically improved test scores for girls with the scholarships and those applying for them. Scholarship students  are delaying marriage and choosing their own spouses rather than having husbands chosen for them by their parents. Miguel and co-researcher Rebecca Thornton reported their assessment in a National Bureau of Economic Research publication .
  • UC Berkeley’s Sandi McCoy’s and Nancy Padian’s evaluation of a program providing vouchers for free seed and fertilizer for female-run farming households in Tanzania. The researchers will report on the program’s impacts on incomes, food production and consumption, and food security, as well as on the barriers faced by women farmers.

    Girls in a sewing class use paper bags rather than cloth, due to cost constraints. Photo by Lisa Chen.

  • Giving women entrepreneurs in Kenya their own savings accounts, a program that has increased the women’s ability to invest in their own businesses by 45 percent, and is raising household spending on food by 10 to 20 percent.
  • Evaluation by Santhosh Ramdoss, manager of BRAC USA’s Empowerment and Livelihood Program, which established 500 clubs in Uganda to provide life skills training and microloans for vulnerable teenage girls and young women. Since its founding in 1972, the Bangladesh-based BRAC has focused on alleviating poverty, disease, social injustice and illiteracy.
  • Margaret Kroma, program officer for gender and agriculture at the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa and a native of Sierra Leone, in discussion of programs to empower Africa’s small-scale, women farmers.

The program is free and open to the public, but registration is advised. To register for the symposium, or for directions, go to CEGA symposium .

CEGA researchers work on large-scale evaluation projects ranging from agriculture and water to nutrition and education, from district to national scales. A list and details of their projects is online .