Do self-help groups empower women? Evidence from a systematic review

April 13, 2016
Finance, Social Protection, Microfinance
East Asia and Pacific (includes South East Asia), South Asia, Europe, CIS, Middle East and North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa (includes East and West Africa), Latin America and the Caribbean


Poverty combined with structural factors that perpetuate social marginalisation cause women to be doubly disadvantaged. Promoting self-help groups (SHGs) has been the institutional response of development practitioners, governments, civil society and donors, especially in South Asia. It however remains unclear whether and to what extent SHGs empower women and if, there are any adverse consequences to participation in SHGs for women, particularly in the form of domestic violence.

This brief summarises the key findings from a recent 3ie systematic review by Carinne Brody, Thomas De Hoop, Martina Vojtkova, Ruby Warnock, Megan Dunbar, Padmini Murthy and Shari L Dworkin on the effectiveness of economic self-help group programmes in improving women’s empowerment.

This systematic review synthesises evidence from 23 quantitative studies and 11 qualitative studies to understand the effectiveness of SHGs in empowering women. Of the 34 studies included, 26 studies evaluated programmes in South Asia (mainly India), one in East Asia, and two each in Latin America and the Caribbean, and Sub-Saharan Africa.

Main findings:

  • SHGs do positively impact women’s empowerment in some dimensions, particularly economic and social empowerment.
  • Participation in SHGs does not lead to increased domestic violence for women.
  • Impact is found to be higher when participation in SHGs is accompanied by a training programme.
  • SHGs can be exclusionary in as much as they do not mostly include the poorest of the poor.


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