Measuring Women’s Economic Empowerment: A Compendium of Selected Tools

December 02, 2020


6th Annual Birdsall House Conference
December 02, 2020
11:00—12:15 PM ET


“In the last week, did you do any work for pay?”

“Who decides how money gets spent in your household?”

Both of these questions have been used by researchers to measure women’s economic empowerment (WEE). Women’s labor force participation is typically viewed as one important aspect of WEE. However, working for pay should not be considered synonymous with WEE, since a woman’s ability to earn income does not ensure that she has control over how it is spent, saved, or invested. To that end, researchers often inquire about whether women also have a say in how the family budget is spent as a proxy for their decision-making power in the household. Questions such as these that capture whether women both earn and control income can be applied to whole populations, allowing us to understand the degree to which women across a city, state, or country are empowered economically. They can also assess if a program intervention, such as one providing skills training to young women seeking to enter the workforce, or access to financial capital or business management training to women entrepreneurs, has in fact empowered them economically.

A surge of interest from governments, the private sector, researchers, and advocates in promoting WEE has led to a proliferation of WEE measurement tools. We define “tools” for purposes of this paper as resources that contain conceptual frameworks, sets of indicators, and/or indexes that are designed to support the measurement of WEE outcomes and track their progress over time.2 We note that the multitude of tools currently available makes it difficult to know which are most useful for specific purposes and contexts and which have been developed most rigorously.

To address this challenge, this WEE measurement tool compendium selects and reviews tools for measuring women’s economic empowerment (or disempowerment) grouped into population monitoring tools (PM) and monitoring and evaluation tools (M&E). Like the sample questions cited above, the tools reviewed were built to either: 1) monitor progress according to a set of WEE-related indicators in countries (or groups of countries) — these are tools for aggregate-level population monitoring, or 2) monitor and evaluate the outcomes of WEE-related projects and programs — these are monitoring and evaluation tools.

The compendium reviews 20 PM tools and 15 M&E tools. The large number of available tools indicates the importance of the topic and provides options for readers who are interested in using tools for either population monitoring or program monitoring and evaluation. We hope that a variety of readers interested in WEE measurement, including policy makers, program advocates, donors, program managers, and researchers, will use the compendium. This version, therefore, has been prepared for users with varying technical backgrounds. 

A main objective of the compendium is practical: helping readers locate and choose different tools (and indicators) for different purposes. This includes providing a better understanding of the factors that affect country rankings produced by different tools and selecting among tools and indicators for monitoring a particular project. It also identifies gaps in WEE measurement that need to be filled and aims to promote harmonization among WEE stakeholders through a shared understanding of existing tools and what they measure.

The compendium includes: 1) an overview of existing WEE measurement tools; 2) systematic evaluation of the tools’ technical content and; 3) a structured inventory of the tools’ indicators.

A review of what WEE means and a conceptual framework built around a common understanding of WEE are presented in the next section. Section 3 describes how the tools were selected and what goes into a tool. Section 4 describes the two types of tools we review by their main purposes: country-level population-monitoring (PM, discussed in section 5) and the monitoring and evaluation of projects and programs (M&E, discussed in section 6). At the beginning of every section, the “key takeaways” list summarizes the section’s main points. The concluding section summarizes guidance on using the tools and makes recommendations to fill gaps in the existing inventory of WEE measurement tools.

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