The Case of MUVA Assistentes: Beyond Income Generation to a New Approach for Women’s Empowerment
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This paper highlights the case of MUVA Assistentes, a public works programme (PWP) that provided training and mentoring to young vulnerable women (YVW) in urban Mozambique. Our paper draws out the main learnings from the MUVA Assistentes project to inform the design of other PWPs that have women’s empowerment as their major aim. We show through our analysis that it is possible for PWPs to achieve women’s empowerment, but only if they go beyond a sole focus on income provision through paid work to women. Instead, we argue that if PWPs formulate their theory of change in line with Kabeer (1999)’s notion of empowerment, with its three interrelated dimensions (resources, agency and achievements), women’s empowerment through PWPs can be both realistic and long-lasting. PWPs have always been popular in low- and middle-income countries as tools for poverty alleviation and mitigating high unemployment rates among young people. Given the disproportionate impact of poverty on women and girls, many existing PWPs often include a ‘gender’ component in their theories of change. A common limitation of such PWPs and theories of change is their overarching focus on providing income opportunities, which they suggest leads to women’s empowerment. However, this has not been the case for most PWPs; hence, learnings from a project that has led to substantive empowerment of young women are highly valuable. The MUVA Assistentes project was a component of the broader MUVA Programme running in urban Mozambique. It provided training to YVW and gave them paid work as classroom assistants in primary schools for one academic year. The project addressed two major problems plaguing Mozambique today: (1) high unemployment among urban young people, especially women; and (2) poor educational outcomes among primary school students. Through a dedicated focus on mentoring the participants, the project supported these women to build soft assets and skills to enable them to realise their future goals and aspirations. This paper highlights that the MUVA Assistentes project led to three major outcomes: (1) building technical skills; (2) improving opportunities for women’s employability in the labour market (while improving public goods); and (3) building soft assets through training and mentoring. Through a close discussion of the experiences of four women participants, we find that the MUVA Assistentes led to an increase not only in income opportunities for YVW, but also in their sense of self‑worth and confidence to exercise their agency in achieving their goals. Further, the project also provided a critical public good by working towards improving the quality of classroom outcomes in government primary schools. We conclude that through building these skills and increasing women participants’ self-worth, PWPs can build women’s resources, agency and achievements, thereby moving closer to achieving a holistic view of empowerment, which encouragingly extends beyond the PWPs’ duration as well.
CitationChopra, D.; Saha. D.; Guimarães, L.; Bernadete, L. and Selvestre, K. (2023) The Case of MUVA Assistentes: Beyond Income Generation to a New Approach for Women’s Empowerment, MUVA Paper Series, Brighton: Institute of Development Studies, DOI: 10.19088/MUVA.2023.002
Is part of seriesMUVA Paper Series;5
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