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Overcoming Gender-Blindness in Market Systems’ Poverty Measurement and Targeting

by on Nov 28, 2017  |  posted in Women's Economic Empowerment  |  0 Comments

At the Arab Women's Enterprise Fund (AWEF), when we set off to undertake our poverty targeting exercise, like many other market systems programs, we too decided to use the Progress out of Poverty Index (PPI). The PPI is a statistically sound, free and easy-to-use 10-question tool developed by the Grameen Foundation. PPIs have been developed for over 60 countries, and are calibrated based on each country’s nationally representative household poverty studies. PPIs allow country programs to easily estimate the likelihood of target households falling below national and international poverty lines.

Poverty Lines and their Limitations in WEE Programming

As we embarked on our exercise, however, we began to question our decision. The use of poverty lines as the sole determinant of an individual’s well-being was gender-blind, and therefore antithetical to AWEF’s central tenet of women’s economic empowerment (WEE). In other words, poverty lines are calculated based on a money-metric approach to poverty, and thus is primarily concerned with household income, consumption and expenditures. This was problematic for two reasons. First, while income (or lack thereof) is an unquestionably important indicator of poverty, it excludes dimensions that cannot be transacted in markets, such as health, education, physical safety, and other factors that can uniquely affect the well-being of women. Second, the money-metric approach focuses on the household as the unit of analysis, which presupposes that all members of a household access resources equally. Such an assumption overlooks intra-household power imbalances, particularly those between of men and women.

The limitations of money-metric poverty measures are nothing new. It is widely understood that poverty is a complex, multidimensional phenomenon, one that is also subject to both volatility and relativity. Poverty, as such, inherently poses an “inconvenient complexity.” As such, there continue to be calls for the international development community to be more inclusive in defining and measuring poverty, including those working in market systems. That being said, there are no alternative tools readily available for programs to use. While there is an exciting tool currently being developed by the Australian National University and the International Women’s Development Agency called the Individual Deprivation Measure (IDM), it is not anticipated to be ready for global use until 2020.

Developing AWEF’s own WEE-friendly Poverty Measurement Tool: The Disadvantage Assessment

So, in the absence of a sufficient poverty measurement tool, what did we at AWEF do? We decided to design our own program-specific tool. We took inspiration from existing resources and best practices, and developed what we call the Disadvantage Assessment. The criteria for the Disadvantage Assessment were that it must be (1) easy to administer, like the PPI; (2) multidimensional, in that it must look beyond income; and (3) individual-focused, rather than household-focused. This criteria would ensure that the Disadvantage Assessment would help us better understand how women in our programme uniquely experience poverty.

We conducted the development of Disadvantage Assessment tool in each of three countries in AWEF’s portfolio: Egypt, Jordan and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (oPt). To do so, we first undertook a literature review on gender and poverty in each of the countries. This was followed by an internal workshop with each country team, in which they prioritized the dimensions of poverty that were most relevant to women in their operating contexts. Finally, to make the tool development as participatory as possible, each country team facilitated structured focus group discussions (FGDs) with scores of local women to gather their insights and validate the chosen dimensions. Moreover, these FGDs included a voting system, to allow the participants to determine the importance (or weights) of certain dimensions over others.

The findings from the FGDs culminated in the construction of a country-specific Disadvantage Assessment. Each assessment is comprised of 13-15 questions that reflect the chosen dimensions, multiple choice responses for each question, and a scoring system for each response that would classify each woman respondent as “well-off,” “somewhat disadvantaged,” “disadvantaged,” or “very disadvantaged” in that particular dimension. All the response scores could then be aggregated to determine whether a woman respondent is, overall, “well-off”, “somewhat disadvantaged,” “disadvantaged” or “very disadvantaged.”

For each country, the Disadvantage Assessment tool was embedded into our baseline studies to determine what proportion of our intended target beneficiaries are disadvantaged, to what extent they are disadvantaged, and to assess which dimension(s) of poverty they uniquely experience.

Moving Forward with the Disadvantage Assessment

We have outlined our thinking, process and challenges in more detail in our brief, which will be updated as we conduct further analysis. The Disadvantage Assessment gives us more confidence in AWEF’s efforts to make poverty targeting and measurement more inclusive and gender-sensitive.

Download the Disadvantage Assessment brief to learn more

That being said, there remain many unresolved questions. For example, some questions in the Disadvantage Assessment are subjective in nature, which is inevitably accompanied by response bias. When asking a female respondent about decision-making within her household, we are relying on her own assessment of control, which is far less straightforward than asking about her education level, or the material of her roof. Another unresolved challenge lies in our aggregation strategy. By aggregating multiple dimensions into a single overall score, the Disadvantage Assessment assumes that all dimensions are interchangeable, such that a respondent’s higher score in one dimensions compensates for a shortfall in another. Despite providing different weights to different dimensions, it is nonetheless an uncomfortable exercise of combining them all together into a unidimensional space.

We hope that by presenting our initiative early on, we can solicit feedback and guidance from the market systems community of practitioners, as well as spark a discussion on how market systems programs can be more inclusive in its approach to poverty.


This blog was written by Laura Kim for MarketShare Associates (MSA). Laura is the Results Measurement Expert for the Arab Women's Enterprise Fund (AWEF).

AWEF is funded by the U.K. Department for International Development (DFID). DFID will contribute £10 million to help poor women access markets; this could include support to grow or start businesses or to develop new products. DFID’s contribution—delivered through technical assistance and grants—will also fund market analysis, strategy development, and other support to market actors. It is anticipated that the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) will match this contribution with £10 million in Sharia-compliant Islamic finance to support loans through microfinance institutions and to fund activities that improve access to finance for poor women. AWEF is funded through 2020.

AWEF is implemented by three organisations: DAI, which leads the consortium and is responsible for programme management, results, and financial controls; MarketShare Associates, which specialises in market systems programming, monitoring, and evaluation; and Education for Employment, a network of NGOs that works across education, entrepreneurship, and employment in MENA.

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