Women’s empowerment may require women to change their beliefs and views about their rights and capabilities. Empowerment programs often target women who have survived sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), with the justification that these women may develop disempowered beliefs as a coping mechanism, or face greater barriers to, or derive greater benefits from, the adoption of empowered beliefs and preferences. We investigated an intensive, six-month residential empowerment program (“City of Joy”) for SGBV survivors in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where more than one in five women have experienced SGBV.
We asked 175 participants about their beliefs and preferences pertaining to political, financial, and domestic empowerment. Interviews took place immediately before and after participation in the program, and we tested for differences in views of empowerment between entry and exit using paired t-tests and McNemar’s test. We also conducted 50 semi-structured interviews about empowerment with an additional 30 women who had completed the program up to 5 years earlier and then returned to their home community.
Prior to enrolling in the program, participants had fairly empowered views regarding politics, less empowered views regarding finances, and still less empowered views regarding the domestic sphere. After completing the program, participants had significantly more empowered views in all three domains, particularly regarding domestic violence, how families should treat men and women, and women’s economic rights. Participants in their home communities reported taking a more active role in community affairs and speaking out against the mistreatment of women.
This study adds to the evidence that women’s empowerment programs can change participants’ beliefs and thus increase the confidence with which they participate in their communities and support one another.