Impact of Group Formation on Women’s Empowerment and Economic Resilience in Rural Tajikistan

Kate Molesworth, Florence Sécula, Rachel A. Eager, Zuhro Murodova, Shakhlo Yarbaeva, Barbara Matthys


The overall aim of the Women’s Wealth and Influence (WW&I) project was to improve the economic situation and empowerment of women through the formation of groups as a platform for joint activities, savings and solidarity. In 17 districts of Khatlon Province in South Tajikistan, active female community members were trained as ‘coaches’ and mobilised women to form some 3,000 groups with a total membership of approximately 65,000. Using mixed methods, a study was undertaken to monitor processes of change initiated by this approach. This study set out to determine the extent of change associated with the implementation over two years of the WW&I model on the lives of participating women. In particular, it examines changes and stasis in women’s income and
prosperity, access to and control over assets, personal empowerment as well a broader interpersonal and household change. Findings revealed that WW&I group members engaged in paid labour more frequently (20%) than non-members (12%), although the overall proportion of women involved in waged labour remained low throughout the project’s lifespan. Nonetheless, savings accumulated by the women’s groups provided a new means for women to access and control cash. Although there is no indication of group funds contributing to improved household wealth, there is evidence that it provided a buffer in times of acute financial stress, thereby strengthening the economic resilience of group members and their families.

Group members also became more able to move freely outside their households: as only 8% had to be accompanied by a family member, compared with 15% of women who were not members of a group. Members of women’s groups also reported greater decision-making power in their daily lives compared to non-members. Moreover, through their group actions, women exercised leadership and decision-making in two arenas: organising social events and improving community infrastructure and amenities. This, in turn, raised their reputation for solving community challenges and marks an important step towards broader female empowerment. This indicates that the WW& I approach has potential for adaptation to address broader issues of female social and economic development in rural Tajikistan.

Keywords: women’s groups; female empowerment; economic resilience; social capital

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The Journal of Rural and Community Development is supported by SSHRC.