Evidence Review of Women’s Groups and COVID-19: Impacts, Challenges, and Policy Implications for Savings Groups in Africa

It has been more than a year since COVID-19 lockdowns began, and economic recovery is a top priority for governments, donors, and international financial institutions (IFIs) worldwide, including in sub-Saharan Africa. Targeted investments that increase community resilience and spur economic growth will mitigate some of the negative economic consequences of this crisis. Investment in women’s economic resilience and social support is para- mount, considering that the crisis may reverse recent progress in gender equality. Around the world, women’s groups, such as self- help groups, savings groups, and health groups, play an important role in communities; evidence shows promise in their role in promoting women’s empowerment and economic outcomes. They encompass many models, but all bring women together around a shared purpose, such as financial inclusion, livelihoods, health, and women’s rights.
This brief focuses on one specific type of women’s group in sub-Saharan Africa: savings groups. Savings groups are a common form of women’s group and serve as a reliable mechanism for people in sub-Saharan Africa to save money. Members of savings groups pool small weekly savings into a common fund, which members can then borrow against, creating opportunities for investments and women’s empowerment. Savings groups show mixed, but promising, results in improving economic and social outcomes. This brief, written by a consortium of researchers and practitioners, presents emerging evidence from studies in diverse African contexts— with a deep dive into Nigeria and Uganda—on how COVID-19 has affected savings groups and how these groups have helped mitigate the pandemic’s negative consequences in sub-Saharan Africa.
This report is 23 pages long.

Beyond Economic Empowerment The Influence of Savings Groups on Women’s Public Participation in Fragile and (post) Conflict-Affected Settings Every Voice Counts

Women’s meaningful participation and influence in public processes in fragile and (post) conflict-affected settings (FCAS) is not only necessary to achieve inclusive development but is a fundamental human right. Unfortunately, in most contexts, men are overrepresented in decision-making and women do not have equal voice in the decisions that affect their lives. Some evidence suggests that the economic empowerment of women opens up opportunities for them to participate in public decision-making processes. One such means for economic empowerment in FCAS is savings groups. Savings groups are small, community-based groups that can provide members a safe space to save money, take small loans, and make investment decisions. Globally, women have made advances in improving their income and access to savings, as well as increased their entrepreneurial endeavours as a result of their participation in savings groups. Research also shows that women’s participation in savings groups improves their confidence, skills, and ability to influence household decision-making. This prompts the question: do these benefits of women’s participation in savings groups extend into the public sphere? In other words, does women’s participation in savings groups influence their public participation1 and decision-making? Through a mixed methods investigation across five countries (18 villages) in Africa and South Asia (Burundi, Mali, Niger, Pakistan, and Sudan), using CARE’s Gender Empowerment Framework, this research investigated the differences in outcomes between women who participate in savings groups under three CARE programmes: Every Voice Counts (EVC), Women on the Move (WoM), and Latter Day Saints Charities (LDS) Recovery Support for Vulnerable Households programmes [74 pages]. Read More...

Integrated GBV prevention and response in Northeast Nigeria Endline Report

Context The ECHO-GBV prevention and response is an integrated GBV and livelihood project which was implemented as an entry point for CARE Nigeria into GBV-standalone initiatives. The project was funded by European Commission Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid (ECHO) under the supervision of CARE France. The project anticipated to provide direct service to displaced vulnerable women, men, girls, and boys and vulnerable host community members in Bama and Ngala, majority of the project participants were women and girls and indirectly benefits to the larger community. The intervention was anticipated to reach a total of 7,832 project participants. The global objective of the project was to contribute to the protection of the lives of vulnerable women, men, girls, and boys most affected by the crisis in northeastern Nigeria. The specific objective of the project was to enhance the access of newly displaced, vulnerable women, men, girls, and boys to life-saving GBV prevention and response services through coordinated, principled humanitarian support and community-based prevention activities. The project had six expected results:
• R 1. GBV prevention, care, and response services available and accessible to newly displaced individuals and vulnerable host community members at risk of or affected by GBV.
• R 2. Awareness, knowledge, and application of humanitarian principles and SEA prevention and response principles improved among humanitarian actors and security forces.
An end-line study was conducted as a part of the project monitoring and evaluation strategies and framework to review its projects before, during, and after the post-implementation phase. The endline was conducted by CARE Nigeria in August 2020 [31 pages]. Read More...

Integrated GBV Prevention and Response to the Emergency Needs of Newly Displaced Women, Men, Girls, and Boys in Borno State, North-East Nigeria Final Report

Under the European Commission Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid (ECHO) funding with support of CARE France, CARE Nigeria to implement a Gender Based Violence in Emergencies project. The project was implemented in Bama and Ngala Local Government Areas (LGAs) – Northeast, the goal of the project was to contribute to the protection of the lives of vulnerable women, men, girls, and boys most affected by the crisis in North-eastern Nigeria. The evaluation survey showed that beneficiaries in both intervention LGAs were aware of GBV issues and referral pathways facilitated by the project. There was an increase in the awareness of beneficiaries from the mid-term evaluation; as more respondents were more likely to make a report on GBV related incidences (i.e. sexual violence, sexual exploitation, domestic violence, sexual harassment, and forced marriages). Based on analyzed evaluation data, of the total number of beneficiaries interviewed, the following project activities were most effective in increasing beneficiary GBV knowledge e.g. Use of GBV champions - 87.5% (Ngala 32.9% and Bama 54.6%), Sensitization activities – 91.5% (55.5% in Bama and 36% in Ngala) and provision of livelihood assistance – 66.8% (43.5% in Bama and 23.3% in Ngala).
At the final evaluation, awareness amongst beneficiaries was greater in Bama than Ngala; as project-driven sensitization activities emerged as the predominant means by which beneficiaries were informed of GBV issues and accompanying referral pathways by the project. In spite of CARE Nigeria not having an on the ground presence in Ngala at the time of the final evaluation study (i.e. due to the lack of funding for GBV interventions since August 2020); interviewed beneficiaries remained knowledgeable of GBV issues and referral pathways. [122 pages] Read More...

Digital Subwallets and Household Dialogues

This document reports the results of a women's financial inclusion intervention in rural Uganda from 2017 to 2019. Two innovations were tested among adult females: (1) a mobile banking service with digital subwallet folders labelled for women and (2) the same service coupled with a course of seven household counselling sessions aimed at equalizing the influence of women and men in the context of family money management.

The theory of change underpinning the project recognized that women's power over their own money, as well as their participation in household decision-making were very limited. Providing married women with greater autonomy and voice in household decision-making, it was proposed, would facilitate achievement of their own financial goals especially those believed to alleviate poverty, such as keeping children in school. The mobile banking service was meant to provide privacy and autonomy, while achieving voice was expected to occur as the result of the couples counselling sessions, which emphasized transparency, sharing, and collaboration. Importantly, the theory of change recognized that women's experience of empowerment takes place in the context of a struggle against disempowerment and often entails group solidarity.

The research was multimethod: a randomized controlled trial (RCT), administration of two scientifically validated psychological scales, bank data on the accounts, two exhaustive surveys, and 100 semi-structured interviews. The sample size was 1,423. The research design had two treatment groups and a control. Read More...

Nigeria VSLA COVID-19 Survey September 2020

CARE is working with women in savings groups to better understand their needs in COVID-19 and how they are already leading and adapting to cope with the crisis. This is the first of 3 planned rounds of data collection to better understand how women's needs are evolving during the crisis. The findings in this survey are informing CARE's programming for VSLAs in Nigeria and globally. Read More...

Malawi VSLA Survey for COVID-19 September 2020

CARE is working with women in savings groups to better understand their needs in COVID-19 and how they are already leading and adapting to cope with the crisis. This is the first of 3 planned rounds of data collection to better understand how women's needs are evolving during the crisis. The findings in this survey are informing CARE's programming for VSLAs in Malawi and globally. Read More...

GEWEP II: Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Programme II Final Report

GEWEP II works with and for poor and vulnerable women and girls. More than 8 160 000 women and girls live in our programme areas, and the end programme target is to directly work with 1 022 200.
The main impact is through Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLAs). The VSLA model came out of a pilot in Niger in the early 90s. Nearly 30 years later, there are more than 6.7 million VSLA members across the globe. Other organisations and governments have adopted CARE’s model, thereby multiplying impact. GEWEP continued to scale up VSLAs, and advocated for governments to recognize the model. The Governments of Burundi, DRC, Niger and Rwanda all recognize the important contribution of VSLAs to women’s economic empowerment, manifested within national strategies, policies and funds.
Women’s economic empowerment opens up for women’s participation. GEWEP supported women to come together and find confidence and common cause through VSLAs. We find VSLA women who actively participate in decision-making in formal structures, and who manage to stay there despite resistance from some men. This is the main success for women’s participation, across countries.
The shrinking space for civil society remains the most difficult challenge. In all countries, CARE’s main approach was to maintain good relations with those that are directly engaging with the field of women’s rights or who control the implementing areas or relevant political processes. This approach was successful in terms of preserving enough working space for CARE, GEWEP partners and other civil society actors working in the same field. Read More...

Final Project Evaluation of Women, Peace and Security (WPS) – Afghanistan

The Women, Peace and Security (WPS) project aimed to support the Kabul Women Association (KWA) with the four objectives of: 1) Support Kabul Women Association (KWA) to ensure that it is a well-functioning association, 2) KWA contributes to the increased protection, prevention and response for women’s rights issues, 3) KWA is participating in decision-making processes regarding the implementation of the National Action Plan (NAP) for the Women of Afghanistan (NAPWA) 2008-19; and 4) KWA members have increased economic independence through improve financial skills and access to financial services to start income generating activities. The WPS project was implemented in two provincial districts and seven municipality districts of Kabul province.

The WPS final project evaluation had followed the below rationale and helps to draw out the following:
- This will help generate knowledge from the project and to provide assessment of the processes and achievements made and draw the lessons learnt
- To the extent possible, the relevant results of this evaluation will act as the baseline for the next phase of the project (GEWEP III)
- This evaluation particularly provides results on the two periods of the project (2015-2018 and 2018-2020)
- It provides understanding of what has worked and what has not that can guide future planning

The WPS Final Evaluation collected data on the four outcomes listed under the WPS project results framework which are listed below:
- Outcome 1: The Kabul Women’s Association (KWA) is a well-functioning association
- Outcome 2: KWA contributes to the increased protection, prevention and response for
women’s rights issues
- Outcome 3: KWA is participating in decision-making processes regarding the
implementation of the National Action Plan (NAP) for the Women of Afghanistan
(NAPWA) 2008-2019
- Outcome 4: KWA members have expanded their income opportunities, strengthened
their economic independence and continue to participate in women rights advocacy activities


Le projet « Soutenir la relance économique et renforcer la sécurité alimentaire dans les ménages victimes de la crise des groupes armés dans la Province du lac Tchad (ERSFS) » a été mis en œuvre dans la province du Lac Tchad, département de FOULI, MAMDI et KAYA. Il a été entièrement financé par le gouvernement Tchèque. Cette évaluation finale interne révèle les éléments suivants les principaux critères de l’évaluation que sont : sa pertinence, son efficience, son efficacité, ses impacts et sa durabilité.

• 82% des ménages appuyés ont amélioré leur score de consommation alimentaire suite à l’action ;
• 100 bénéficiaires sont formés sur les risques liées à la migration en Europe
• 375 femmes appuyées par le projet développent des Activités Génératrices de Revenus (AGR) ;
• 250 ménages ont bénéficié de cash pendant la période de soudure (juillet, aout et septembre) pour un montant total de 45000 XAF soit 15000 XAF par ménage et par mois.
• Un montant total de 11.250.000 XAF a été injecté en cash pour favoriser l’accès aux marchés en faveur de ménages pauvres pendant la période de soudure ;
• 77% des ménages touchés par le projet ont pu satisfaire leur besoin alimentaire grâce au cash reçu ;
• La durée des stocks de denrées de première nécessité détenus par les ménages pour leur propre consommation a augmenté de 4 mois ;
• 200 ménages ont été appuyés à reconstituer leur cheptel animal avec 600 sujets soit 3 petits ruminants pour un ménage. Un montant total de 10.500.000 XAF a été injecté pour l’acquisition de ruminants pendant cette foire ;

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