Feed the Future
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Women's Empowerment Arising from Violent Conflict and Recovery: Life Stories from Four Middle-Income Countries

Author(s): 
Patti Petesch
Institutional Sponsor: 
United States Agency for International Development
Publication date: 
Friday, May 20, 2011

Drawing on the World Bank's Moving Out of Poverty dataset, this investigation explores the life stories of 125 women who have lived through violent political conflict in four countries: Colombia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Sri Lanka.  Two key findings emerged. First, the women living in communities directly affected by violent political conflict rated more highly on empowerment measures than the women living in communities that did not experience conflict. Second, once the violence drew to a close, the set of conflict-affected communities that experienced the most rapid recovery and poverty reduction were also characterized by more empowered women than the set of conflict-affected communities with lower rates of poverty reduction.

The life stories reveal that conflict and recovery, while bringing great suffering, also presented new opportunities for many women as traditional local structures, livelihoods, and gender norms were disrupted. During periods of violence, many women helped their households cope by diversifying and intensifying their economic activities. In the aftermath, they often continued to play more active economic roles as they struggled to recover and rebuild. In some cases, effective post-conflict reconstruction and development interventions created new opportunities for women to improve their livelihoods, access finance, join new groups, and, more rarely, become politically  engaged. In these ways, women often gained more independence and contributed actively to the recovery of their families and communities. The communities with both extensive poverty reduction and women's empowerment were characterized by reasonable levels of local security , access to active markets, and local governance that was adequate enough to attract and make good use of post-conflict aid.  The report presents broad recommendations for interventions that take advantage of a window for programming interventions that build on these positive but time-limited forces.