The Power of Elites in Encouraging Women’s Work: Evidence from Rohingya Refugee Camps

Female labor force participation (FLFP) among Rohingya refugees living in refugee settlements in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh remains low. Based on our qualitative research, social and religious attitudes and safety concerns are important constraints to women’s mobility and employment. We will conduct exploratory research to understand the feasibility of potential randomized evaluations of interventions aimed at easing constraints to women’s labor force participation.  We will work with somaj committees, which are groups of respected men who manage mosque affairs for blocks of 100 to 150 households. First, we will explore the feasibility and efficacy of an intervention which involves conducting directed sessions with somaj committees to shift attitudes and encourage women to work. Randomizing at the block level, in the treatment arm we would partner with a local imam to lead structured conversations with somaj committees that highlight the potential benefits of women’s employment to themselves and to their families. We would then test whether these sessions can shift community members’ attitudes towards women’s work and women’s actual labor force participation and document the mechanisms through which this shift occurs. Second, we will explore the feasibility and efficacy of an intervention that  encourages block communities to set up an accompaniment system to support and provide safety to women traveling to and from work. From our qualitative work, we have learned that many block communities have set up nightwatch systems, where men in the block take turns patrolling for safety purposes at night. The somaj committees coordinate the nightwatch. In this second treatment arm, we would encourage (potentially through incentives) somaj committees to set up a similarly run women’s work accompaniment system, where respected elders from the block are assigned to walk with women to and from their workplace in the refugee camps. Through accompanying the women to work, the elders would also be signaling to community members the acceptability of women’s work. In order to disentangle the safety impact from the community attitudes impact, we would measure women’s take-up of work both outside the block (which therefore requires travel) and work inside the block, in both control and treatment camp blocks. The exploratory fieldwork will involve both sessions with somaj committees to understand their openness to these interventions and meetings with potential partner organizations (such as UN Women, the UNHCR, and IOM) who would be involved in running the somaj sessions.

RFP Cycle:
  • Arielle Bernhardt
  • Project development grant