Safe Spaces for Women: Evidence from a Field Experiment in Sierra Leone During the Ebola Epidemic

  • Date: Oct 10, 2018
  • Time: 16:15
  • Speaker: Imran Rasul
  • University College London
  • Location: MPI
  • Room: Ground Floor
The condition of women in developing countries is characterized by low economic empowerment and limited agency over their body. This paper evaluates a policy intervention aimed at relaxing these constraints for adolescent girls in Sierra Leone, a setting in which women experience high levels of sexual violence and face numerous other economic disadvantages. The intervention provides young women with a safe space (a club) where they can find support, access vocational training and information on reproductive health. Unexpectedly, the post-baseline period coincided with the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa, the most severe ever recorded. Compounding the epidemic's health costs, the closure of all schools and mobility restrictions resulted in acute disruptions to socioeconomic life. Our analysis leverages the cross-village variation in severity of village-level disruptions and random assignment of villages to the intervention to document the impact of the Ebola outbreak on 4700 women tracked in 200 villages, and the ameliorating role played by the intervention. In control villages, over the crisis, women spend significantly more time with men, out-of-wedlock pregnancy rates rise, and those exposed to severe Ebola-related disruption have a 16pp drop in school enrolment post-crisis. These adverse effects are significantly reversed in treated villages. The intervention thus fosters a range of basic skills, as well as entrepreneurial skills and health knowledge gained from intervention clubs. The results show how policy interventions can be effective even in times of aggregate shocks, and highlights the lack of safe spaces in low-empowerment contexts such as Sierra Leone, is a key channel through which an aggregate crisis damages the economic lives of young women.
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