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In the research paper "Women Empowerment and Economic Development," Esther Duflo initially talks about how development itself improves the equality of women but concludes that there still needs to be policies to make men and women equal.

When Duflo discusses how development policies improve the equality between men and women she often focuses on young girls in the household. She often concludes that development policies that focus on reducing the possibility of putting families in distress which then reduces the chances of a family prioritizing care for the boy over the girl (e.g. insurance) or that development policies that raise the financial value of a woman and thus incentivizes families to protect their investments more (e.g. reducing child mortality to increase education investments, greater opportunities). While these are valid reasons to focus on development to increase gender equality, they seem to just focus on the economic side of equality and only help women indirectly.

As Duflo continues on, she examines why developed countries still have not reached complete equality even though families don't have the extent of extreme financial poverty and their daughters seem to have the same opportunities as boys. However, women often are biased into certain fields or believing that they are inherently not good at certain jobs. I recently listened to a podcast on Planet Money about why women suddenly stopped going into computer science around 1984 and they found that due to companies marketing computers and video games to boys, such products were thought to be just for them and thus boys had more interest in them and the associated field of computer science. This example fits well with this paper. While indirect policies will help women they can only do so up to a certain extent until the incentive for families and women to succumb to the cultural pressure outweighs the increase in economic value of equality. In order to change the cultural hindrance to equality, more direct policies will have to be taken into account, even if these policies hurt the chances of men. To do this then, I think that first cultural change must be to realize that it is unfair for any life to be limited in its potential, regardless of gender and then to realize that fix this unfairness we will have to target the groups that experience this the most: women, minorities, ect. This will make it easier for others to stomach policies that may hurt their own economic and cultural positions.


“Women Empowerment and Economic Development” reviews different scholarships on the interrelationship between economic development and women’s empowerment, concluding that they are unlikely to be mutually reinforcing and that female empowerment needs to happen though at the expense of men’s benefits.

While there are many theories supporting the argument that economic development helps empowering women, this paper does it in a more responsible way. Instead of arguing that economic development can help women because culture would change, which is wrong because girls are not really discriminated against in everyday life, this paper examines where women are treated differently than men and targets those situations in making policy recommendations about general economic development. For countries with sever gender inequality that aspire to achieve more comprehensive development, working according to the guidance of Duflo may be particularly helpful. This is because policies like better and more approachable health care has universal benefits for everyone; implementing these policies would not hurt any powerful men’s interest. Therefore, in a patriarchal society where the most powerful people are men who would not enjoy witnessing their authority quickly deteriorate, policies that help everyone but disproportionately benefit women may be a good point to start.

I’m surprised to see the level of active choices poor people have in deciding whether and to what extent they wish to educate their children. Beyond arbitrary preference for boys, the poor rationally calculate the education investment input for each child based on whether children have high employment opportunities. Such phenomenon ties back to “The Economic Lives of the Poor” -- although limited, poor people do have choices. This insight makes the prospect for eradicating gender inequality more possible since rational people respond to incentives. Unlike social norms that are hard to remove, policymakers need only to increase the returns to girls’ education to reach more equitable education level between boys and girls.

Another rather optimistic takeaway is the fact that the quota system does not increase gender binary and rivalry. People would suppose that the quota system, creating an unfair advantage for women in elections, would agitate men whose chance of being elected becomes lower as a result. Fortunately, according to Duflo’s account, reserved seats for women actually change people’s perspective of women’s potentials. As a result, people may decide to vote more for women, and parents would invest more in girls’ education. Since female representatives are also more likely to address obstacles women encounter, reserving seats in the legislature for women is definitely a strategy to try out for policymakers.

The reason why gender equality is so hard to achieve can be explained by the fact that women face multidimensional oppression. With this framework in mind, it is not hard to understand why economic development alone may not help women: even with the additional education and health benefits brought about by development, women may still be barred from agency if they continue to lack property right protections and political representation. Even when policies are implemented to remove these barriers, “stereotype threat” may continue to disempower women since low self-esteem can influence people’s actual performance. Gender inequality thus starts to resemble the situation of poverty where barriers are also multidimensional. For both hardships, the government should implement direct policies to enable equality, keeping in mind that although helping women and the poor may sacrifice parts of the benefits of others, they are necessary steps to development.

Alec Horne

The article ultimately discusses the relationship between development and inequality amongst women in how each have an impact in helping to spur the other. Although the article mostly discusses issues present in developing countries, this issue is a worldwide phenomenon. One topic I would like to discuss further is the issue of “child marriage”. Child marriage is classified as individuals who are married before the age of 18. The article discusses this issue amongst developing countries, but as we said in class, the issue is present even in the United States.

The problem arises from the implications of the federal government. There is no federal law and the laws are only determined by state, each with its own set of rules on the issue. States such as California, Colorado, Kentucky, Louisiana, and Texas do not have a restriction on martial age as long as there is parental consent. While in states such as Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Vermont, Wisconsin, and the District of Colombia, you can get married at age 16. There are more states which allow marriage at 14 and 15 but the bottom line is the issues young marriage creates for individuals, especially women. According to data from 41 states, 200,000 minors were married from the years 2000 to 2015 in the US. The individuals who are married young are harmed for life. Girls between 15 and 19 are twice as likely to die in childbirth with almost 80% of these marriages ending in divorce (Forbes). Additionally, early marriage doubles a teenager’s chance of living in poverty trapping people in a “cycle of poverty”.

What stands out to me as the biggest difference between the issue of child marriage is the country in which individuals are born into. The chances of child marriage are far less likely in a developed country because of the economic opportunity which exists versus a developing country which may lack the infrastructure to give people an equal opportunity. Although we know development and inequality go hand in hand, is it easier to increase development with reduced inequality? Since the problems are a global issue, I would say inequality seems to be reduced when there are greater strives towards development with greater economic opportunities set forth for all.

Margot McConnell

This article fits in nicely with what we read for last class in Sen’s book. One of Sen’s main focuses is about the empowerment of women, which is one of the key aspects to development. I think a lot of the feminist movement today is due to the empowerment of women. Women have taken to the streets to protest for equality because they are no longer shy of standing up to men.

While reading this article, I was reminded of a situation I was put in early on in my college career. I was shadowing a male doctor who asked me what profession I wanted to go into. I told him that I was interested in surgery. He immediately responded by telling me that women should not ever go into profession other than primary care because it impedes on your ability to take care of children and raise a family due to the busy hours and the longer residency. I sat there unsure how to perceive this information. As an 18 year old girl who has been fascinated with surgery since middle school, how am I supposed to digest the fact that because I was born female I cannot follow my dreams of being a surgeon? After this experience, I remember I talked to my aunts, both of whom are surgeons, who told me that women can raise a family and be a surgeon as long as they have the drive to do it. So what did I do? I used that experience with that male surgeon to fuel my drive to want to become a surgeon even more. Why should males be the only surgeons? There is no reason why.

I think one of the key points Duflo points to throughout her paper is for people to embrace differences between men and women and to use those differences to an advantage. In terms of healthcare, for example, having male and female doctors is important. It allows there to be two perspectives, and it might allow the female doctor, for example, to better understand what the female patient is going through emotionally compared to the male doctor.

This brings me to another important thing Duflo points out which has to deal with in terms of policy making and political party inequality. Within the realm of politics, there is a lot of inequalities within the United States especially. Maybe having more female voices representing our countries would allow us to see a fresh new perspective on a topic that has been dominated by men in political positions, such as abortion. I remember seeing an article talking about the abortion ban in Alabama. While this ban was ultimately not surprising given the fact that it is Alabama of all states, it was almost all men who voted to criminalize abortion. While a few women voted on this bill, the large proportion of men who voted against this bill bothers me. Maybe if there had been more women in positions of power in Alabama, there would have been more of an effort to stand up for women’s reproductive rights.

This also brings up another point the Duflo mentions about how normally policies towards equality are written and controlled by men. As we discussed in class, men are the ones that are making the decisions about what they think women want rather than asking women specifically. Learning the lesson to ask the group affected, specifically women in this context, is key to understanding how to reach gender equality.

Alice Chen

Duflo's paper dove deeper into what Sen covered in his book about women's empowerment and economic development. I think one of the major aspects we should focus on is ensuring women have more political power and can thus create policies for the benefit of other women.

Women, when given the chance to make policy changes typically will prefer policies that better reflect their own priorities such as child healthcare and nutrition. We've learned that improving healthcare (and education) is essentially the driver for economic development. With women focusing their attention onto these issues, it just goes to show how much better off a country would be with having more women in politics. However, I did find it interesting how Duflo mentioned a study done in West Bengal where they found that a policy that invested in water and roads (two things women wanted for convivence purposes) with the trade-off being an investment in education. From an economist's point of view, an investment in education would appear much more beneficial. But, if drinking water was lagging behind, it makes sense that women in West Benegal would want an investment in water instead.

I found also found gender biases to be quite interesting as this is probably the largest boundary women must overcome to empower themselves. Duflo gave numerous examples of how people believe men should be in power, and women should take on the role of a nurturing figure to children, and it reminded me of a study I learned about back in high school: When presented two people, a male leader and a female leader, with extremely similar backgrounds and jobs, people tended to favour the male leader over the female. What was funny though was that the male leader didn't exist, and the female was actually a highly regarded leader of a firm. Overcoming gender biases appears incredibly difficult as many of our beliefs seem to be deeply rooted in culture, but overcoming this is a much needed step for economic development.

Maisie Strawn

I went to an all-girls high school (the dynamics of which could probably warrant a research paper the length of Duflo’s), and needless to say, we thought about girls, feminism, and equality a lot. I remember sitting in my sophomore English class and looking up that this poster that said, “feminism is the radical idea that women are people too.” At the time, this seemed a very strange phrase to me: of course, women are people! But, the sentiment of the quote (I cannot remember who it was attributed to) actually fits incredibly well with the concluding argument of Esther Duflo’s article. Women’s empowerment and development are inextricably linked: development can precipitate some empowerment of women and empowerment of women can impact development. However, women’s empowerment need not directly lead to further development to be worthwhile. Women are people too; their rights matter whether they lead directly to economic development or not. Of course there will be trade-offs in the pursuit of greater gender equality, women may choose improvement of water quality and roads over education when given the opportunity to participate in the allocation of funds. The fact that there may be trade-offs does not justify not pursuing gender equality, and just because every decision that improves the status of women may not have overarching positive implications for everyone else (like female literacy) does not mean that its pursuit is not worthwhile. Almost as a bonus, but unsurprisingly, empowering women is (overall) a positive force for economic development while also being an intrinsically worthwhile end.
On a separate note, I think the discussion and research on distribution and equity within households to be fascinating. It is one factor of women’s empowerment that can be explored across nations and levels of development. It can reveal so much surrounding attitudes about women and gives a really interesting insight into how women are treated and valued. Duflo writes about how at all levels of income and across nations women are expected to do the majority of the housework, and consequently have less time to spend doing market work. Interestingly, it does not seem that the percentage of housework and child rearing women are expected to do decreases proportionally with their increasing contributions to family income. I have seen this in my own family. My mom is actually the higher-earner between my two parents, but my mom does the vast majority of the housework and child-related tasks. Don’t get me wrong, I love my dad, but the distribution of housework is objectively uneven. Why is this the case? Even among my own relatively progressive parents? How can we move past this double burden that so many women experience across the globe?

Olivia Luzzio

In her paper "Women Empowerment and Economic Development", Esther Duflo contends both that economic development leads to the empowerment of women and that the empowerment of women leads to economic development. Her claim suggests that if one of these phenomena can be set in motion, the other will follow and a development-empowerment circle will ensue. However, she adds that economic development is not enough to sustain female empowerment and overcome discrimination without the implementation of policies directed at achieving gender equality. I would argue that even with economic development and policies promoting the well-being and agency of women, gender equality cannot be truly achieved without significant socio-cultural transformation in society.
Even in the United States, where economic strength and gender equality policies exist, women fall short of achieving equal pay for equal work, breaking into male-dominated fields such as business, law, and STEM, and winning elected offices at the highest levels. Arguably, much of this enduring inequality is due to discrimination linked to social stigmas in the workplace. Anne-Marie Slaughter, the Director of Policy Planning at the State Department during the Obama Administration, wrote an article in The Atlantic titled, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” She explains that the way society is currently structured, women are expected to abandon parenting and household responsibilities if they enter the workforce. This is largely due to the fact that men have never had to worry about their families while at work (as they had wives at home) and since this is the historical expectation in the workforce, women are expected to behave the same way. This stigma is also arguably attributable to the lack of work-life balance in the U.S. workforce. In order to achieve gender equality, the value of family must be emphasized above careers, and both women and men must be allowed to leave early for school pickup once in a while without worrying about losing respect in the workplace or their jobs. I agree with Slaughter that the empowerment of women requires the restructuring of societal values and the overcoming of social norms which trap both men and women in defined gender roles, ultimately stunting economic development in the U.S. and worldwide.


Esther Duflo’s article “Women Empowerment and Economic Development” has many parallels with our discussion of Chapter 8 in Amartya Sen’s Development as Freedom. She mentions that empowerment (in the forms of increased healthcare, education, economic involvement, rights, and political participation) can accelerate development. This relates to our discussion of how the agency of women can help to facilitate better treatment of women. However, both scenarios face the “chicken or the egg” dilemma. There is uncertainty over which one comes first–– empowerment of women or development, or, for Sen––improved agency or treatment of women. The article also related to our discussion in class on Tuesday through making the point several times that although there is an additional strong “business case” for women empowerment, gender equality is a goal in and of itself that policymakers should be striving for.

One point that really stuck out to me was that although it might come at the expense of men in the short run, having more women in positions of power has the potential to make everyone better off in the long run. Higher female participation in positions of power will change the way societies will deal with problems and raise the quality of global decision-making. This point reminded me of a piece I read by J. Ann Tickner arguing for a more feminist approach to global politics. Tickner points out that because historically, the field of politics has been male-created and male-dominated, words used within and to describe politics have developed to have a masculine connotation, such as “objectivity” and “power.” However, this is only a partial understanding of politics. Tickner argues that a feminist perspective on international relations is more suited to today’s climate, where national interest demands cooperative rather than zero-sum solutions to global problems which include, nuclear war, economic well-being, and environmental degradation. I thought this point tied in well with the study conducted in West Bengal that observed that women had different concerns than men, which were more focused around improving accessibility to drinking water and quality of roads, and less about education and irrigation. In short, different people have different perspectives, and it is in no one’s best interest to only be hearing 50% of the population’s perspectives.

Duflo’s article also relates very well to a short book I read over the summer called Wolfpack by Abby Wambach. In her book, Wambach recounts a TED Talk about wolves in Yellowstone National Park. Wolves were removed from Yellowstone, and as a consequence, the deer population skyrocketed and ate all of the vegetation, which harmed the ecosystem. Naturalists reintroduced wolves to the park and found that the predators helped regenerate the park’s plant and animal ecosystems. Abby makes the parallel between women and wolves, writing, “The wolves — who were feared by many to be a threat to the system — became the system’s salvation. Women — who are feared by many to be a threat to our system — will become our society’s salvation.” It is interesting how the idea of women’s empowerment plays in so well to the advancement of development economics, as well. There is a balance to everything, and gender equality is crucial to finding the balance for the most effective development policies.


There were many overlaps in Dufflos, "Women Empowerment and Economic Development" and Sens ideas of empowerment and development. Women's empowerment should drive economic growth. A couple of things jumped out to me in the article, one being the findings from Khanna et al. 2003. This talked about how poor households in India on average spend much less on the healthcare of women as they do with men. The study showed that women are twice as likely to die from diarrhea than men. This speaks to the drastic difference in mortality rates from boys and girls in India. If women empowerment is a driver of economic development shouldn't women have at least the same chance to life as men do? The fact that women do not in many countries creates a discrepancy in the rate of women that can ultimately make an impact on society. This issue of the difference of treatment was put into reality when I actually went to India. My uncle who lives in India has an organization that aims at improving the lives of women in India. When I was younger and went to India I remember my uncle talking to my mom about it. I was very young at the time and did not realize why there was an organization aimed at improving the lives of women but not the lives of men so I asked my uncle why his organization isn't helping men either. I was around 10 at the time so obviously I had no idea of the major gender inequalities that existed. We got in the car and my uncle drove me a couple miles and told me to look around and see the difference in the homeless men and the homeless women. I was very young but even at that age I was able to see for the first time the difference in how the men and women were treated even if both were homeless. The women looked much more frail and helpless. The organization focused on mainly trafficked and ill women but at the time my uncle showing me the difference between the homeless men and the homeless women was the best way to get his point across to his 10 year old nephew.
The paper also focuses on for real development to occur, women need to be occupying more political positions and policy actions that favor women need to occur. She talked about the long term vs short term effects for men and women. The long terms effects outweigh the short terms effect for both men and women if women occupy more political positions and policy actions are taken in favor of women. Women empowerment is a driver of economic growth and it starts with policies.
The last point that really stuck out to me was the difference in child marriage age in developed countries vs non developed countries. Women should not be getting married at age 15 anywhere in the world. The fact that it is normal in some countries to be married around age 13 or 14 is crazy to me. In most of these cases women do not have a say in these either. Changing this and having women themself decide who they want to marry can drive empowerment of women which can lead to overall economic development.

Christopher Watt

Duflo’s paper Women Empowerment and Economic Development reflects many of our discussion points from class on Tuesday: The close relationship between women’s empowerment or agency and economic development. Though she spends much of her paper focused on the empowerment side of this relationship, which is necessary for the continued development of a society beyond the poverty alleviating means of development and is an important end in and of itself, some of the most fascinating insights for me fell on the economic development side of the discussion. First of all, Duflo points out that a major justification for gender equality is its utility in further development; yet, as she describes and we discussed in class, women’s empowerment and equal rights should be justified as good things in themselves, regardless of their impact on the development of the rest of society. Second, one of her discussions was on the “grip of poverty” and the constraints it puts on poor household’s decision making abilities. She seemingly argues that there is less overt discrimination day to day against women besides the everyday roles they are forced to hold than may be perceived, but that deprivation comes when more challenging situations arise in relation to a family’s well-being. During such times, women become disproportionately vulnerable to the challenges their families face as they are discriminated against and forced to bear the greatest harms to well-being. In response to this tendency, Duflo suggests “increasing the ability of poor households to weather crises “ as a method to disproportionately help women (1055). The greatest crises comes when families must make choices on the margin of subsistence; therefore, reducing poverty and alleviating its effects will disproportionately improve the well-being of women. Of course, this is not sufficient to bring about equality between genders alone, but seems to be necessary, along with empowerment, to bringing about hoped equality. This will help entire households, assisting women who face deprivation during crisis to the greatest extent. Additionally, Duflo notes other interesting means of improving gender equality on the development side, such as the introduction of contraceptives to help with fertility rates and fight against increased risk of maternal mortality by decreasing the number of times women go through the process of childbearing. However, in thinking about a means of development and gender equality such as contraceptives, it got me thinking more and more about how necessary the empowerment side of gender equality is: contraceptives will do nothing if women don’t have the agency to choose to use them. Furthermore, I have not really previously considered the importance of time constraints for gender equality. Again, even if women have the education or skills to participate in the labor market, without the agency to choose to do so, such capabilities don’t lead to ultimate equality. Though the economic development has powerful implications for gender equality, it is incomplete without the empowerment of women, both as a means and end in itself.

Lauren Paolano

Duflo's paper, "Women Empowerment and Economic Development" discusses the major gender inequality that many developing countries face around the world. The treatment of male vs female children in India really caught my attention. Girls receive less care than boys under normal circumstances, "if poor households are less likely to spend money on a girl's illness than on a boy's illness, then improved access to health services, through health insurance, would highly benefit females." Reducing the rate of poverty on households or helping or helping families deal with the crises could improve the welfare of women all ages. If the government were to step in and provide financial compensation to these families in poverty, the girls would be able to live a healthy, safe, and well educated life at home and in the classroom.
Based on the paper and our discussion in class, I learned the importance of women empowerment starting from a very young age. Empowering young girls to be motivated in the classroom and to stay in school will help reduce the rate of fertility when women are young. However, in India, many parents believe educating girls is not necessary (mainly for financial reasons), since girls are only expected to marry and take care of their households. Part of the motivation for educating children is to enhance their employment opportunities, so improving the opportunities available to women in the labor market would provide a strong change for the treatment of women to change for the better of society and themselves. Empowerment can accelerate development, and development can positively impact the rate in driving down inequality between men and women.

Kenza Amine Benabdallah

In this paper on “Women empowerment and economic development”, Esther Duflo analyses the two sides of women empowerment-development relationship. She proves the validity of two arguments: one that claims that gender equality improves when poverty declines and the other that argues the importance of empowering women in order to reach development. From these theories, there are two questions that can be drown: 1. Are growth-strategies enough to overcome gender inequality? 2.Will women empowerment naturally lead to overall economic development?
The first argument is that reducing poverty, even without targeting women, will help women. The evidence for that lies in the idea that by reducing the vulnerability of poor households to risk, economic development will improve women’s well-being because when poverty is reduced, the condition of everyone, including women is reduced. There is evidence from many developing countries that show that fertility decreases and women’s education improves when income increases. However, I disagree with the idea that there is a correlation between economic development and women’s legal and human rights. Or at least, I wouldn’t think that there is a strong correlation because it depends on many other aspects of a country such as religion, culture, and history. For instance, in the 17 years that I have lived in Morocco, I have seen a lot of growth happening in my country. However, this growth was not followed by an increase in gender equality. Women are still oppressed and are not given nearly as many opportunities as men, even if opportunities have been increasing.
On the other hand, I think it makes more sense to believe that gender equality will lead to development. I think it’s fair to say that it’s more logical to expect that knowing that women are more than half of the world’s population and if they are not given the opportunities to have essential roles in society, it will slow down growth proportionally.

Nicholas Tierney Watson

It’s no surprise that Duflo won the Nobel Prize this past year. This was an absolutely fantastic paper, and I’m more surprised she didn’t win one sooner. (Maybe that’s indicative of an issue of gender bias at large in the field of economics.) Duflo’s main argument that there is a bidirectional relationship between female empowerment and economic development. Her argument comes straight from the literature, but it is predicated on a very “senian” idea of economic development. In Duflo’s paper, female empowerment is both a means and an end of economic development.

Where Duflo departs from Sen, is in her exploration of whether or not economic development in and of itself will bring about gender equality. Duflo finds that economic development, while it does enhance the status and autonomy of women, is lacking in its ability to create true gender equality. Duflo spends the back half of her paper on a myriad of policies that could bring about gender equality, which was very interesting, but I think the most interesting part of this paper is captured in a single sentence.

On page 1063 Duflo writes, “Thus, policies that explicitly favor women need to be justified, not just in terms of being necessary to bring about gender equality, but in terms of gender equality itself being desirable and worth the cost it implies”. There are certain costs to implementing policies that aim to create gender equality, like political quotas, that have short run costs to those who are the privileged group in this society. Men are the ones in power, and in a sense they have the most to lose (at least in the short run) from polices that are aimed at promoting gender equality. I think that Duflo captures the incredible uphill battle that women have to fight to gain increased autonomy in that one quote above. With any policy that detracts from male privilege, those who are trying to implement that policy, not only have to try and prove that equality is good in and of itself, but it also is worth the costs it brings. When that cost comes directly to those in charge it’s easy to see why gains to gender equality has come so slowly, and must be continuously defended on both ideological and pragmatic/economic grounds.

Lucas Flood

Duflo’s “Women Empowerment and Economic Development” is a fascinating discussion of the key publications and arguments of the development economics field. Although Duflo only briefly mentions the inherently intertwined topics, I was fascinated by the way religion, superstition, and cultural norms impacted women in Duflo’s analysis. The topic of superstition or religious norms comes up twice: in relation to the murder of “witches” in Tanzania and South Africa and the treatment of Muslim women in the Indian province of Gujarat. Following the end of apartheid in South Africa, reforms to the old-age pension programs (programs that provided a key economic safety net to the some of the most vulnerable members of society) have coincided with massive decreases in witch killings. However, in Tanzania, where reforms have been lacking, natural disasters resulting in low harvest yields, such as floods or droughts, lead to increases in violence towards women. While Duflo does not particularly focus on these two case-studies, the differences in inputs and corresponding results from the two countries is important. Of course, South Africa certainly experienced significant cultural reform at the same time as the implementation of the pension program. However, it is interesting to examine the way economic policy changes can influence cultural change, even if the influence is not proven to be more than incidental. In contrast to the successful example of South Africa, Duflo’s example of business training initiatives in India shows the oftentimes ineffective nature of economic reforms, especially when faced with severe cultural discrimination. For Muslim women in Gujarat, India, a lack of economic and social mobility prevented them from benefitting from the training offered. The ineffective nature of the training in Gujarat demonstrates the challenges many women can face when confronted with major religious and cultural opposition to female autonomy.

Julia Moody

Esther Duflo’s “Women Empowerment and Economic Development” made a number of influential points about the relationship between the inequality of genders and economic growth. Much of the first half of the paper discussed how females are discriminated against when families or societies are put into stressful situations, such as poverty, starvation, or extreme weather events. Duflo gives the example of parents in low income countries giving up more of their “adult consumption” to feed their sons than to feed their daughters in times when money is tight. It makes sense that Duflo mainly focused on developing countries’ attitudes towards women, since the paper is also about economic development.

The parts of the paper I found most interesting; however, brought to light the discrimination that still persists in high-income, developed countries, such as the United States. When we talk about discrimination against women in a global sense, our minds might immediately jump to thoughts of women not having the right to drive or vote, women being sold off to adult men at young ages, genital mutilation, or other egregious acts that we know go on in less developed countries. Duflo pointed out that inequality still exists in many forms in highly developed countries as well. In the US, many parents still fail to encourage their daughters to pursue higher education and professional opportunities. Women are still associated with taking care of the family and tending to household chores. Although the outcomes may be different, females in high income countries are treated differently from birth onto adulthood, just like in low income countries. Female children are funneled into liberal arts and humanities at school, instead of math and science, narrowing their professional opportunities and damaging their confidence in those areas. Once in the professional world, women are constantly not taken seriously by their coworkers and discriminated against in the workplace. I liked that Duflo pointed out that economic development is not enough to accelerate the empowerment of women because clearly in highly developed countries, inequalities still persist.

Sofia G. Cuadra

Ester Duflow’s paper, “Women Empowerment and Economic Developments analyzes the interrelation between economic development and women’s empowerment. Throughout the entire paper, Duflow’s discussion on women’s empowerment aligns well with the Senian framework of gender equality as women’s empowerment can act both as a means and end to development. One can empower women by first reducing gender inequality and poverty for all, which results in sharp focus on establishing policy that creates economic prosperity for the general population. While, on the other hand, one can reduce gender inequality and poverty for all by first empowering women as the action results in numerous positive spillovers. Some of these positive spillovers include decreased child mortality, decreased fertility, and increased workforce productivity (to name a few).

Nonetheless, one aspect that I found particularly striking while reading Duflow’s paper, was how women’s own lack of confidence represented a prominent barrier in this women’s empowerment/economic development framework. I know sometimes it may be easier to discuss gender inequality in the context of developing countries, because often one can attribute the gender inequality to cultural differences. For example, in Mumbai, a business put up a billboard promoting spending Rs 500 on a sex-selective abortion because doing so proved cheaper in the short-run than in the long-run where a family pays Rs 50,000 on a dowry for marriage. It is easy to look at this example and criticize gender inequality harshly, because such cultural attitudes against females don’t exist to this overt extent in the United States, or in other highly developed countries. However, this cultural difference does not mean that these highly developed countries lack their own forms of gender inequality that we can criticize harshly. In fact, as Duflow’s paper details, barriers to gender equality in developed countries prove more systematic with the presence of a widespread “implicit” bias among both genders and deserve just as much criticism. From a young age, many girls are told that they are not as good at math as compared to boys, and so many stop pursuing math in college once the subject increases in difficulty and requires extra perseverance. For a long time, society and even parents had lower aspirations for their daughters than sons, because they believed that women were only fit for the household and did not need access to higher education. Consequently, as children learn from their parents, many women grow up without a hope and drive to be empowered and access opportunities.

With such an ingrained barrier to women empowerment prevalent in societies across the world, I believe a major requirement to addressing gender inequality lies in making women realize their own skills and potential. In order to succeed in empowering women, women need to feel like they have the chance to feel empowered in the first place. If women don’t realize the inequality, then how can positive change occur sustainably in the long-run?

Danh Nguyen

In the paper, Esther Duflo has made important connections between gender equality and development economics while emphasizing the need for governmental policies to promote the bidirectional relationship between women empowerment and economic development.
The paper, along with the readings from “Development as Freedom”, further asserts that providing choices and rights for females is not just a means but an end of development economics in and of itself. These choices and rights include but not limited to the choice to be married to anyone they want, the choice to follow any profession they want, and the, the right to have an identity, the right to have access to healthcare and education, and the right to live. Economics is the field of study that creates models based on rational choices, but the discrimination against women and how women in a lot of countries have endured the oppression for so long to the point of their lives being jeopardized do not seem rational or ethical to me. As the problem of gender inequality is so deeply rooted in some culture, both education and governmental policies should be bolstered so as to tackle this problem from both the top-down and bottom-up approach.
The paper also makes an important point about the role of women in governmental bodies and effective gender equality policies. Once again, the long-term impact of women empowerment far exceeds the short-term costs, improving the lives and health of men, women, and children across the globe, especially in developing countries. This ties directly to the findings I have found during our Spring Term class about women empowerment initiatives in the Sub Saharan Africa. It is impressive and uplifting for me to see that proportion of women holding important governmental positions have been increasing in the SSA, with some countries having up to 50% of women in their government. However, in a perfect world, 50% of female individuals and governmental agencies should be the norm not something to be impressed about, and it is our responsibility to improve gender equality. With the proportion of women on the increase, countries in the SSA have made substantial progress in providing girls with access to education, awareness of sexual health and sanitation, self-defense against predatory individuals and domestic abuse, etc. I am also glad to see that Professor Sandberg is going to bring a group of students during Spring Term to raise awareness for the women’s justice in a domestic setting. A lot of progress is being made, and I know that there is still a lot more to come.

Caroline Florence

When I think of women’s empowerment, I often think about the women’s march in DC or the suffragist movement, where women protested for their right to have a voice in politics. However, Esther Duflo’s “Women Empowerment and Economic Development” made me think of alternative, market based approaches, to female empowerment and inclusion. Duflo finds ways to increase women’s labor force participation without requiring a cultural shift in people’s view towards the role of women. For example, China and Mexico’s economic growth led to a rise in factory work suitable for women, opening the opportunity for more women to participate in the labor force. India’s entry in the global economy also provided opportunity for investment in women’s education. In Mumbai primary and secondary schools, parents can choose for their kids to be educated in either English or the local language. The liberalization of India’s economy caused the service industry to grow, creating jobs like telemarketing, which opened the market to women. Girls were more likely than boys to choose English education because boys had traditionally chosen the local language as part of the caste system. These policies improve the overall economy while uplifting women at the same time.

What is the best course of action for bringing about women’s empowerment? Should women be the catalysts of the movement? Or should we use subtle market policies that gradually lead to the inclusion of women in the labor force? I think that in some circumstances, policy approaches might be the best first steps in empower women, but I think that at some point, a cultural shift in mindset is necessary to achieve true equality.

Anne Riter

Similar to chapter 8 of Sen, Duflo's article contends that women's empowerment are both a means and and an end to economic development. She also points out that there is no one solution, whether directly investing in women empowerment or investing simply in economic development.
I found it interesting that Duflo's paper focused on the standing of women within the family and how there's discrimination even within the family unit. When women had more agency and were able to make more choices outside of the household, on average, child mortality decreased and girls were healthier. That is not the case for every country (South Africa is the clear example, where when women had more agency, education was not pushed for girls), but for the most part when the mother was educated, the entire household benefitted.
Duflo's focus on the difference between policies that advance women empowerment, such as focusing on getting girls to school, versus focusing on economic development, such as focusing on education for both boys and girls, pointed out that in some instances it was beneficial to focus solely on girls and in some instances it was beneficial to not focus on girls. When education was pushed for both boys and girls, and recruiters came to villages in India to encourage children attending school, the amount of girls who received an education increased. The recruiters were not focusing on getting girls to attend, rather they were focusing on getting children to attend. Yet, the increase in girls education was notable. I admire the fact that Duflo clearly states that policies that are geared solely toward women must be justified, because the goal is equality. There are costs of implementing quotas such as reserving a certain amount of seats in a government for women, and I think it's important that we not lose sight of the fact that if we implement policies that improve development, women's empowerment will also improve.
However, I acknowledge that in certain situations, women's empowerment needs to be focused on. There are various barriers that prevent women from achieving some amount of financial independence or even agency, and lack of confidence is one. If women do not think that they can achieve more or participate more in the market, then they will be less likely to do so. I think we need to focus on improving women's confidence, because if their confidence in participating in the market increases, then perhaps women will be more vocal about requesting raises or promotions, or they will be more willing to withdraw money from an account their husband also has access to.

Kristina Lozinskaya

Nowadays, one is not necessarily a feminist when he or she argues that women play a fundamental role in development. Indeed, it is now quite obvious for everybody (or, at the very least, should be obvious) that empowering women leads to faster economic growth and the “wider distribution of the fruits of growth” (1064) since in the long run, everybody is better off from the continuous improvement of women’s position in a society. We have pretty successfully covered it in class discussing Amartya Sen’s theory of interconnectedness between women’s agency and well-being, and Esther Duflo’s paper expands on that by doing a fantastic job in terms of providing numerous examples and significant statistical evidence from research on the questions of whether economic development can cause women’s empowerment (yes) and whether economic development is enough to overcome discrimination (no).
Since, as we have established, women’s prosperity generally increases the overall well-being within a society (and here, there are, of course, internal complications, especially when we think about the potential trade-offs inherent in and stemming from certain decision-making practices aiming at development (consider, for example, girls scholarships that have a clear potential to benefit them at the expense of boys)), in this blog, rather than focusing on the main points of the paper (as I can see, my fellow classmates are doing a great job effectively summarizing them already!), I would like to emphasize some of the more subtle statistics and concepts that I found to be most interesting or even striking.

One of the most surprising connections for me was the one between the intricacies of tea production in China and the number of missing women decreasing in tea-producing regions (1057). Who could have guessed that one of the reasons for that would be the increased opportunities for women to enter the labor market presupposed by their comparative advantage over men at producing tea because of women’s naturally smaller stature and smaller hands? So it turns out that we have this quite peculiar kind of linkage between women’s physiology – specialized (tea?!) production – increase in the girls’ survival rate. Isn’t it mesmerizing that as Qian (2008) found, “For the same increase in total household income, an increase in female income of 7 U.S. dollars per month (10 percent) translates into a 1 percentage point increase in the survival rate for girls”?! The fact that it happened in China where “it is generally believed that cultural factors and the “one-child” policy are very strong determinants of the preference for boys” thus makes it even more astonishing.

Another surprising linkage for me was between the availability of new technologies and the decrease in the cost of discriminating against girls (1060-1). Since new technologies have made the price of sex identification and sex-selective abortion so low, practicing it has apparently become a “no big deal,” and certain Asian countries like Taiwan have already seen an increase in the ratio of boys at birth, not to mention Myanmar with their bizarre advertisements encouraging parents to now pay less for abortion so that later they would not have to pay 100 times more for their daughter’s dowry. Duflo then shrewdly observes that the United States is not immune to this problem either and that there is evidence of sex-selective abortion happening in some ethnic groups within the country. However, the United States, it seems, has a much bigger issue connected with both infant mortality and ethnic tensions, or, to call things by their proper name, with the legacy of racism. I wanted to share some extremely disturbing statistics that I have picked up from the New York podcast The Daily: “A Life-or-Death Crisis for Black Mothers” from May 11, 2018. I was shocked to get to know that the United States was 32nd out of the 35 most developed world countries with the highest mother and infant mortality rates – all driven by the women of color, namely, black women. Crazy as it is, but it is a result of the tragic past. When women first came to America from Africa, their babies weighed more than the babies of white women, but as years passed, black babies started to weigh less, whereas white babies started to weigh more. As you can guess, it was something about black women’s lives or the ways of life driving it. This “something” has no other name but racism that made what the podcast contributors call “toxic stress” an everyday part of life for black women. The impaired physical evolution of black Americans triggered by this frankly inconceivable deterioration in health is best demonstrated by the gruesome statistics that now, a black woman with a college degree is more likely to lose a child than a white woman with 8-grade education despite the fact that black women are actually getting as much prenatal care as white women.

I believe, at this point, that it is needless to conclude that the international community still has a long way to go till we can talk about achieving equality and well-being, especially, as it seems, for women.


Esther Duflo gives a powerful and informative account on the effects of empowering women economically on overall economic development. While women have been historically underrepresented in the economic landscape there has been some improvement but truly not enough. It is interesting to note that while women have made large gains in primary and secondary school enrollment their ability to access tertiary education has not improved relative to men. It would follow that given the stock of females eligible to attend higher education has increased, we would expect an increase at least greater than that in boys as girls have seen higher proportional gains in lower level education. This most likely continues to stem from the cultural bias against women that is prevalent in LIC around the world. Women are supposed to be, in many ways, socially lower in both power and standing than men. Fundamentally there has been improvements for women in terms of their rights, access to education, and labor force participation. The main barrier continues to be the great cultural firewall derived from the belief that men are the active and important gender in society and women are not. A massive effort must be led to help lower and eventually eliminate this belief. Another important aspect of empowering women has to do with fertility rates. It is clear the more input and education a women has on family matters will lead to a substantial decrease in fertility rates which are very important in helping deal with climate crisis we currently find ourselves in.

I also was surprised to see Duflo find that empowering women comes with certain tradeoffs. She compares that women’s empowerment improves some areas like children’s welfare but at the expense of say infrastructure or education. Whether such a tradeoff can be explained by a lack of investment in areas favored by women is unclear but the overall effects on societal welfare are difficult to know.

Prakriti Panthi

Esther Duflo's paper on women empowerment and economic development sketches the importance along with the complexities in improving the wellbeing of women and bringing about gender equality. She gives examples of cases where economic development programs have brought about women empowerment unintentionally. However, she also highlights that economics development is not sufficient to ensure the empowerment. In many of the examples that were given where increase in income allowed women access to resources and opportunities, leading to better outcomes for them, we don’t know if those changes brought about changes in peoples’ perceptions, and implicit biases against women. To fully empower women, we need to also be able to change the mindset of people who do not view and value women as equals and constantly doubt their capabilities. Men hold power in society and I so not think any amount of development policies aimed at growth only will be sufficient to transfer this power to being about equality. While economic development programs may lead to better outcomes in terms of education, health and fertility for women, I wonder how successful they are in bringing about a greater change in social norms and conservative views that still hold women back in developing countries.
Dufflo also talks about the importance of women empowerment, not just as a means to an end, but as an end in itself. Empowering women and allow them to expand their capacities and opportunities so that they can live the life they value is important in its own right. I think to combat the years of inequality, mistreatment and lack of opportunities for women, the steps we have to take, policies we have to put in place, to bring about empowerment and equality might have to be radical, even if they serve only for women because women are the ones that are the most behind. Yes, I do think it is important to take an economic approach, think about the cost and benefit, the opportunity cost even, when thinking about policies aimed at women empowerment, but equally important is to recognize that to undo years of oppression and mistreatment, we have to make women empowerment a priority and first and foremost an end in itself.

William Chapman

It made me somewhat uncomfortable to think about the argument for gender equality based on improving development outcomes. It seems logical that having more than 50 percent of the population as true participants in society would improve economic outcome but that should not be the reason that women achieve equality. Societies, both developing and developed, should give equal rights to everyone because we are all human. However, since that seems unlikely to happen it is fortunate that researchers like Ester Duflo have studied both the positive effects of treating women equally and what societal changes lead to more gender equality.

I also found the decisions made by females in power, and how they prioritized different problems, to be both interesting and potentially broadly insightful. It was not necessarily that women were better or prioritized more important things, even though they did seem to do that. By having women in the political process, important needs were addressed that previously were not in any way prioritized. Connections can be made here to the needs of representation here in the United States. If different groups are not represented in our law-making process then their needs may go unnoticed, much less prioritized.

I also think it will be interesting to continue looking at the potential long-term impacts of the closing primary education gap. Hopefully, this increased education will empower women in these developing countries to fight for more rights. Gaps still exist, however, especially as education progresses. If these results that show the benefits of equal rights for women can be convincing then maybe more opportunities will exist for women’s continued education, which is now more possible then it had been in the past as more and more girls receive some basic level of schooling.


Duflo insightfully demonstrates the way female empowerment promotes economic development and vice versa. She examines the relationship of promoting female welfare and its resulting positive outcomes and externalities. She thoroughly shows how economic development works towards closing the gender gap. What I find particularly interesting, however, is her claim about economic development not being enough to achieve complete equality between men and women. For example, Duflo explains how new technologies and overall economic development can have “perverse effects” for women if they decrease the “cost of discriminating against girls.” I found this to be a frightening thought, as one wouldn’t expect the development of an economy to have negative impact on an already discriminated group. However, she then justifies how economic development can’t stand alone in improving and equating the lives of women. Duflo furthers her argument using James Wolfensohn’s (former World Bank President) address. The address introduces the logical concept that educating women will have a “catalytic effect on every dimension of development.” In this way, Duflo flips the promotion of development for women empowerment in the other direction. She notably ties the two movements—economic development and women empowerment—into one.

Duflo also argues that the long-run benefits of empowering women, even at the cost of men in the short-run, is well worth it. Although this argument is well justified by her paper, I worry how policies can be implemented throughout the world, since male prejudice—unfortunately—doesn’t simply disappear.

Maggie Kidder

I was very intrigued by the widespread implicit bias that is shared by both women and men in associating men with career and the sciences and associating women with family and liberal arts. Duflo discusses the test where both female and males sort two series of names to the left or the right and then place words associated with career or family to the right or the left. Both genders were more likely to place women with family and liberal arts and men with careers and science. Additionally, when high-achieving female and male math students were told that it was not true that girls were less good than boys at math for a particular test, they performed just as well as males compared to when they weren’t prefaced with that information.

This implicit bias is due to females internalizing the belief that they are not as qualified as males in science and career fields. I think this is an often overlooked problem because as labor market participation has increased for females, gender inequality still persists because females do not perceive their abilities as equal to their male counterparts.

For instance, labor market participation for women has grown by 15% in East Asia and Latin America between 1971 and 1995, which is a faster growth rate than for men. The labor market opportunities for women increased in the US when the demand for clerical workers rose, which lead to more job opportunities for women from 1930-1950 and paved the way for a continued access to the labor market. More recently, female job availability in factory work has increased in China and Mexico and has increased in outsourcing in India. Duflo details that the less developed nations face higher gender inequalities. However, it is surprising that even in the more developed countries, like that of the United States, women with equal skill sets to male counterparts earn less than men throughout all education levels.

As more women began to enter the workforce the prevalent system of gender inequality adapted to this changing dynamic by creating inequality in different ways instead of progressing towards equality. Gender inequality in the labor force is not residue from the past and purely historically based because the rise of technology has brought new occupations like engineering. However, technologically-oriented fields like engineering are primarily male dominated, which indicates that gender inequality reorganized itself when the United States became more industrious, which highlights the serious need for both men and women to overcome the obstacle of implicit bias.

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