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Women in Africa

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - AfricanWomen (Women in Africa)

Reporting period: 2020-02-01 to 2021-07-31

The overarching goal of the project is to improve our understanding of processes of discrimination in households, families and societies that contribute to continued low levels of wellbeing of African women. We consider gender discrimination from two perspectives. First we take a historical angle and investigate long term trends in women wellbeing and their drivers, and then we focus on mechanisms of intra-household resource allocations in present-day Africa, using both economic theory and empirics. These two perspectives are complementary. The long-term analysis helps identify the large forces that have shaped the emancipation or subjugation of African women through history. To better understand how these forces have modified women’s positions and to inform policy making today, we go down to the level of the household and consider the processes that govern intra-household allocations.

The historical analysis focuses largely on colonial Congo. On the basis demographic data, ethnographic information and data on colonial presence, we investigate the impacts of colonial policies on several dimensions of women’s lives. Combining this data with more recent surveys, we are able to trace the long-term consequences of specific policies. In the second part we investigate constraints to women entrepreneurship in the context of Benin, where we set up a partnership with the Belgium Development Agency (Enabel), using their program of supporting pineapple growers. While male producers prevail in the pineapple production, women are increasingly entering into this lucrative activity, despite facing many gender-specific barriers. We set up a randomize control trial to evaluate the changes Enabel’s technical and financial support triggers in producers’ household, so we can better characterize the binding constraints to women’s involvement in this production, husbands’ critical role, and the importance of gender norms for economic success. We also explore the processes of intra-household decision-making from a theoretical perspective, and particularly we propose an alternative view on this process, where delegation of roles within the couple may lead to a separation of spheres of decisions that is, in fact more efficient than a bargaining outcome.
African women through history:
We constructed a unique data base allowing to investigate changes in African women’s life over the colonial period. The work so far has focused on colonial Congo since this country is understudied compared to countries formerly under British or French rule, using a wealth of good quality data, and the advantageous access to data and experts offered by the Belgian location of the project. We retrieved four main types of information from a large variety of sources (published material available in library in Belgium and abroad, rare maps available in museums, individual records from demographic survey kept in archival offices):
- Micro-level data on urban dwellers in the 1970s for a representative sample of the population.
- Cohort-territoire level data for Congo in the 1950s representative of the whole population
- Mission-level information for Congo 1880-1960
- Ethnic groups information

Using this data we have analysed the fertility pattern of urban women in the 1970s and investigated how pro-birth policies put in place by the Belgian state were successful in stimulating fertility. Catholic missions and nuns in particular, were heavily mobilized to change traditional practices of child care, breastfeeding and birth spacings. Our preliminary results suggest that Catholic nuns succeeded in raising birth rates among population living near their posts. These colonial influences have long term consequences for demographic and development dynamics.

Intra-household bargaining and women outcomes:
- Delegation in the household: We develop a theoretical model that propose an alternative view on intra-household decision making. We have developed experimental games to test the prediction of the models (not yet implemented).
- Constraints to women entrepreneurship: Using our exploratory field work in Benin we identified several market and household constraints that appear to weigh disproportionally on women pineapple producers Gender norms may also play a deterring role and a critical element for the success of women pineapple growers seems to be the support they receive from male family members. We designed and tested an original questionnaire to quantify the importance of these constraints and to be in a position to rigorously evaluate the impacts of an intervention providing new opportunities to female pineapple producers (in the context of randomized-control-trial). We surveyed 1009 women and 876 men belonging to households involved in pineapple production but the Covid-19 crisis largely delayed the delivery of the intervention.
African women through history:
The recovery of the individual records, representative of large population, is fantastic and allows to evaluate quantitatively the effect of various colonial policies on men and women directly affected by these policies. While there is an overall consensus among historians that women’s relative position decreased during the colonial period in sub-Saharan Africa, there is also some evidence that (some) women seized new opportunities and improved their lot compared to their male counterpart. There are however extremely few quantitative investigations into these questions. This project helps fill this gap. In particular we investigate whether and how colonial institutions modified the core social organization of the local populations: the family. We expect to contribute to the understanding of the role of pro-birth colonial policies in changing reproductive behaviour; whether colonial women’s education contributed to economic success; whether and how the colonial judicial treatment of family conflicts changed women’s relative position.


Intra-household bargaining and women outcomes:
With a new model of household decision, we study one of the most unique aspects of intra-household dynamics in many African households: the strict separation of budgets and responsibilities. Instead of viewing this separation and specialization as the result of a failure to cooperate (as in a classic “separate sphere” model), we model it as a delegation equilibrium, borrowing from the industrial organization literature. This will generate new insights on the functioning of households that we will test using experimental games.
In our study of the the constraints to the economic success of female entrepreneurs, we focus ion two original aspects. The first is the difficulties women encounter in negotiating contracts and in monitoring the labour force they hire. There is a lot of attention to discrimination processes in the labour market where men, in powerful positions may act differently towards female employees. Here the point of view is reversed and the question is: to what extend do male employees react differently to instructions given by female managers. Another original aspect relates to roles of husbands in constraining their wives’ economic success. Using first-hand data, we will investigate why some men are reluctant to facilitate the development of their wife’s business, whether they fear changes in bargaining power or the transgression of gender norms.