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Principles for establishing programmes

Last edited: December 24, 2013

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1.    Women and girls must be included in all aspects of designing and implementing economic projects. Preliminary focus group discussions and individual consultations with potential programme participants should determine:

  • what type of work participants want to do
  • what income-generating skills they see as valuable and sustainable
  • possible constraints to working, such as childcare, time constraints, etc.
  • barriers to markets, such as cultural and gender norms that exclude women from certain types of work
  • risks associated with economic activity including working in insecure public spaces, and backlash by family members – particularly intimate partners, who may react violently to relationship power shifts precipitated by women generating their own income (Ray and Heller, 2009; Chynoweth and Patrick, 2007).

2.    All economic programmes must be market-driven. Conducting thorough market assessments is necessary to identify existing and emerging market opportunities, and demand for goods and labor. The assessments should inform programme design to ensure that all skills training, income generation activities, and enterprise development programmes match the identified needs. The economic empowerment of women cannot be facilitated by poorly designed programmes that don’t lead to jobs and sustainable income.

Example: The Pigs for Peace microfinance initiative in the South Kivu province of DRC is implemented by village associations who provide vulnerable women (not limited to survivors) a pig as a loan.  In cooperation with a local Congolese microfinance NGO, each participant in the project is provided with a female piglet as a “loan.” The loan is to be repaid with one piglet from each of the first two litters of the participant’s pig. Each participant is also provided with a short course of instruction in husbandry. The instruction addresses the care of a pig, issues as to its health and diet, and where help can be found if needed. During the training participants are introduced to a veterinarian, and provided with the opportunity to consult with the veterinarian on a regular basis. Congolese partners also provide the initial male “parent” pig at the village level.

PFP is designed to bridge the gap between a marginal existence and a functioning reintegration into productive society for the various victims of warfare. Pigs do not need a large amount of space to live and forage – they eat everything and have been commonly raised in Congolese villages – so it is not a new approach. Importantly, in the eastern DRC, women cannot make the decision to sell or kill a cow or goat for food or money, but they can make those decisions about the family pig. 

A 2010 qualitative evaluation showed positive benefits on women/ families, where over 210 families received pigs. These benefits included income supported basic needs, health, and education. A 5-year randomized control trial is underway to determine the effectiveness of pig husbandry on survivor physical and mental health.

For more information on the programme, see the Pigs for Peace Website.


Source: Adapted from Great Lakes Restoration Project.


3.    In refugee situations, livelihoods initiatives must include host community members and refugee men – as well as refugee women – in order to ease tension over employment scarcity and use of natural resources. Refugee women may be seen as taking away economic opportunities or receiving extra benefits from aid organizations if livelihoods programming targets them exclusively (Ray & Heller, 2009).

Example:  The Malaika Linen Factory is a private company in Cairo that hires both Egyptian and refugee women to do highly skilled embroidery. It offers a 40-day training and pays transportation and meal costs for women participants. Fifty-five percent of embroiderers are Egyptian; the other 45% are refugee women from Sudan, Palestine, Ethiopia or Eritrea. Retention is based solely upon quality of work and all tools and threads are provided for embroiderers. A “Training-of-Trainers” model is used so that master embroiderers can teach techniques to newcomers. This model has been successful in integrating refugee and Egyptian women, providing sustainable income and training in transferable skills.

Source: excerpted from Heller & Timoney, 2009, p. 6.


4.    Economic empowerment initiatives must take into account and work with other sectors and projects relevant to women’s empowerment.  Economic programmes cannot work in isolation and are more likely to succeed in preventing violence against women if they coordinate with institutions, agencies, and individuals that address other issues related to women’s safety and status, such as health services, access to food/water and education, political representation, etc. (Ray & Heller, 2009).

5.    Special care must be taken to prevent backlash against women’s economic empowerment.  Livelihoods programmes must be developed carefully to prevent increased violence by partners and other family or community members who may feel threatened by women’s economic independence (Ray & Heller, 2009). Care must also be taken to ensure that women’s new resources do not make them targets for violence and theft. For anecdotal evidence on potential backlash from economic strengthening, see:  International Rescue Committee. 2012.  Let me not die before my time: Domestic violence in West Africa. New York: International Rescue Committee.

Example: In camps in the Somali region of Ethiopia, the Danish Refugee Council (DRC) is providing micro-grants to entrepreneurs. The programme originally only targeted female-headed households who, as a result of participation, experienced hostility, such as increased verbal abuse from men in the community. DRC responded by consulting community leaders to get buy-in for the programme and engaging men as participants.

Source: excerpted from: Krause-Vilmar, 2011, p. 7.


6.    Special consideration must be given to the particular needs and risks faced by marginalized populations, such as lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex women; those from ethnic minorities; young/adolescent women; those with disabilities and others. Research has shown that marginalized individuals around the world face higher risks of violence and acute discrimination (Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights, 2011), and this violence may be exacerbated in times of conflict.  Research is needed to determine best practices for enhancing the livelihoods of and economically empowering these populations, in conjunction with other approaches to preventing violence.

7.    Livelihoods interventions should seek to be culturally appropriate, while gently challenging cultural norms that perpetuate the oppression of women.  Local culture must be respected and valued without perpetuating gender- and/or ethnicity-based discrimination.  Care must be taken not to reinforce existing gender inequalities, or create them where they may not exist, such as by placing women only in (often lower-paid) caretaking jobs (FAO & Dimitra Project, 2010).