Women's groups, covariate shocks, and resilience: An evidence synthesis of past shocks to inform a response to COVID-19

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Article (peer-reviewed)

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Background: Interventions with women’s groups are increasingly seen as an important strategy for advancing women’s empowerment, health, and economic outcomes in low- and middle-income countries, with the potential to increase the resiliency of members and their communities during widespread covariate shocks, such as coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Methods: This evidence synthesis compiles evidence from past shocks on women’s group activities and the extent to which women’s groups mitigate the effects of shocks on members and communities. We reviewed 90 documents from academic databases, organizational reports, and additional gray literature, and included literature diverse in geography, type of women’s group, and shock. Results: The literature suggests that covariate shocks tend to disrupt group activities and reduce group resources, but linkages to formal institutions can mitigate this impact by extending credit beyond the shock-affected resource pool. Evidence was largely supportive of women’s groups providing resilience to members and communities, though findings varied according to shock severity, group purpose and structure, and outcome measures. Further, actions to support individual resilience during a shock, such as increased payment flexibility, may run counter to group resilience. The findings of the evidence synthesis are largely consistent with emerging evidence about women’s groups and COVID-19 in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Conclusions: We finalize the paper with a discussion on policy implications, including the importance of sustainable access to financial resources for women’s group members; equity considerations surrounding the distribution of group benefits and burdens; and the potential for meaningful partnerships between women’s groups and local governments and/or non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to enhance community response amidst crises.