How economic empowerment programs for women affect household decision-making dynamics and Intimate Partner Violence in Kibera

Written by Line Cottier

I have always been a fierce advocate for gender equality. Growing up in Switzerland as one of three girls at home, it was always natural to me that women should have just as many opportunities, rights and freedoms as anybody else. When I chose to research gender disparities as part of my university studies, CFK Africa turned out to be the ideal partner for collaboration. I have been deeply engaged with the organization for many years, such that returning to Kenya for a three-month research stay from October to December 2022 was a dream come true. With wonderful mentors and fellow researchers such as Dr. Eric Nandoya and Stephen Oduor from CFK Africa on my side, this applied research project had the perfect prerequisites for becoming a truly transformative and eye-opening journey.

Line Cottier, pictured above with members of the CFK Africa team, has recently graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in International Affairs and Data Science at the University of St. Gallen. She is particularly interested in working on topics around economic development coordination, and has led and participated in various political and civic initiatives promoting human rights.

The question I was interested in answering through my research study was about the implications of economic empowerment programs for women, which are increasingly popping up in the informal settlement of Kibera, including one led by CFK Africa. This blog post intends to summarize the resulting key findings of the research, which was later turned into an honors thesis at the University of St. Gallen. If you are interested in the full thesis, please refer to the attached PDF further below.

Why women’s economic empowerment is so relevant

“The seeds of success in every nation on Earth are best planted in women and children.”

– Joyce Banda (former and first female Malawian President)

Economic empowerment programs in Kibera typically focus on providing entrepreneurship skills, along with access to credit and loans, and linkages to markets. There is no doubt that economic empowerment, in particular that of women, is widely seen as one of the most important drivers for development, including in Kenya. Indeed, reaching gender parity in the workforce could increase Kenya’s GDP by as much as 22% by 2025 (McKinsey Global Institute, 2015).

On a more individual level, benefits often named by female participants of economic empowerment programs include reduced financial tensions in the household, and the improved ability to make decisions. However, less is known about the effect of women’s economic empowerment on interpersonal issues like Intimate Partner Violence (IPV). Yet, it affects at least 31% of women aged 15-49 in Kenya (KDHS 2015), particularly married women, who are the focus of this study. Understanding how economic empowerment can influence IPV is therefore essential to reducing its high prevalence.

The overarching research question I therefore sought to answer is: How does the economic empowerment of women and the resulting intra-household decision-making power dynamics affect Intimate Partner Violence (IPV)?

A successful economic empowerment project in Mathare providing car mechanic apprenticeships for women.

On the one hand, access to economic resources is expected to translate into more bargaining power for a married woman. It may give her more tools to participate in household decision-making, to increase her own income, and even to leave an abusive relationship. On the other hand, it can also lead to conflict if the husband feels threatened by this shift in power.

For the purpose of this study, I collected data both through a quantitative household survey and several focus group discussions. This led to a sample of 214 survey respondents and 28 focus group  participants, in which inhabitants of Kibera both with and without past participation in economic empowerment programs as well as their husbands participated. I concentrated my research on the informal settlement of Kibera as an attempt to reduce the large data gap in the informal sector, which represents more than 80% of employment in Kenya (World Bank, 2016, pp. ii).

Intimate Partner Violence is highly prevalent in the community

IPV is an issue facing many women in informal settlements, and can appear in many different forms. Around a quarter of the women surveyed for this study regularly experience emotional, physical, or sexual violence at home.

Despite this high prevalence, the focus group discussions revealed that there is substantial lack of trust in the community when it comes to sharing sensitive issues due to fear of blame. Alarmingly, the data shows a concerning acceptance of IPV, especially among men who view forms of violence, such as slapping, as a legitimate means of asserting authority.

How women’s economic empowerment comes into play

In the focus group discussions, participants’ views differed vastly depending on whether they had personally  gone through an economic empowerment program (in the case of the women) or had a wife who was economically empowered (in the case of the men). Both the husbands of economically empowered women and the women themselves were less likely to justify IPV in comparison to those who were not economically empowered.

Several of the men interviewed stated that they feel good and happy about their wife attending economic empowerment sessions, “because when she attends those sessions she gains knowledge, and in one way or another, that knowledge will be helpful to our household”. However, some men felt insecurities related to their wives’ economic empowerment. They worried about their wives earning more or making household decisions independently. It appears that men often associate their worth with being strong financial providers, and that friction can result when this traditional role is challenged.

The survey results confirm that economic empowerment indeed significantly reduces the likelihood for women to experience IPV in households. More specifically, empowered women who actively participate in household decisions and have a supportive husband face the lowest risk of IPV, especially physical violence.

Line coordinates data collection trainings with selected enumerators as part of the research process.

Recommendations to maximize the impact of economic empowerment programs

When women participate in economic empowerment programs, the research therefore importantly demonstrates that it is important for them to take a more active role in household decision-making as a way to to reduce the likelihood of violent retaliation. At the same time, it is crucial that husbands are also brought on board by being made aware of the benefits and goals of women’s economic empowerment programs.

On the basis of this research and conversations with women and men in Kibera, I developed the following recommendations for the improvement of economic empowerment programs applicable to organizations working in informal settlements worldwide. Programs should consider:

  • Encouraging women not only in financial and entrepreneurial management, but also in taking a greater decision-making role at home, which allows women to gain credibility in their household, reducing the risk of violence.
  • Involving husbands throughout the program cycle, educating them about program benefits expanding to the entire household.
  • Addressing men’s insecurities and emphasize their value beyond being financial providers.
  • Preparing women participants about the potential of tensions arising from their new role, i.e. by being provided access to GBV hotlines.
  • Targeting the most vulnerable women, i.e. with less education, and offering child care support at program centers to enable the most vulnerable women to take part in economic empowerment programs.

In summary, for nonprofit organizations, NGOs, and government entities working to increase economic opportunity for women or combat IPV in communities around the world, considering the connection between the two is key. Ultimately, I hope that my research can make a tiny step towards effectively planting the seeds for women’s empowerment as promoted by Joyce Banda in her famous citation.

Read the full thesis: The Effect of Women’s Economic Empowerment on Intimate Partner Violence in Kibera Informal Settlement: The Role of Intra-Household Decision-Making
Email for additional documents and graphs from the Annex.


Kenya National Bureau of Statistics. (2015). Kenya Demographic and Health Survey 2014. Retrieved 12.08.2022 from

Woetzel, J., Madgavkar, A., Ellingrud, K., Lapaye, E., Devillard, S., Kutcher, E., Manyika, J., Dobbs, R., Krishnan, M. (2015). The Power of Parity: How Advancing Women’s Equality Can Add $12 Trillion to Global Growth. Mc Kinsey Global Institute (MGI). Retrieved 20.08.2022 from

World Bank. (2016). Informal Enterprises in Kenya.

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