NYMC Faculty Publications


Can Self-help Group Programs Improve Women's Empowerment? A Systematic Review

Document Type


Publication Date



Family and Community Medicine


This mixed-methods systematic review focuses on the impact of women's self-help groups (SHGs) on women's economic, social, psychological, and political empowerment. Both governmental and non-governmental institutions spend formidable resources facilitating SHGs in low-and middle-income countries in South Asia and other developing countries, under the premise that access to microfinance, training, and group support can enhance women's empowerment. We found that women's economic SHGs have positive effects on economic and political empowerment, women's mobility, and women's control over family planning. The estimated effect sizes range from 0.06-0.41 standardised mean differences. We did not find evidence for positive effects of SHGs on psychological empowerment. The qualitative research further suggests that the positive effects of SHGs on empowerment run through mechanisms that are associated with familiarity in handling money, independence in financial decision-making, solidarity, social networks, and respect from the household and other community members. However, the included evaluations often did not include sufficient information about the specifics of the activities that were implemented by the SHGs. As a result, it remains unclear which of the various SHG models are most effective. Finally, our triangulation of the quantitative and qualitative findings indicates that SHGs do not have adverse consequences for domestic violence.