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Conference on Gender and Agency in Latin America and the Caribbean
December 5, 2014Washington,DC

This Conference seeks to provide evidence of causal links between manifestations of agency and other phenomena

Building on the work of Amartya Sen and Sabina Alkire, the World Development Report on Gender and Development (World Bank, 2012) defines agency as the ability to make choices to achieve desired outcomes. This ability to make meaningful choices and act upon them is an attribute and manifestation of development; using Sen’s words, agency is constituent to development. At the same time, Sen and other authors recognize the instrumental value of agency: agency may act as a powerful catalyst for improving welfare as measured by concrete metrics of policy success, such as income growth and poverty reduction. Similarly, while the WDR 2012 defines agency as one of the three principal components of gender equality, along with endowments and economic opportunities, it recognizes that agency is a prerequisite for taking advantage of endowments and economic opportunities in order to transform them into desired outcomes.

In Latin America, agency is the dimension of gender equality where the least progress has been achieved over the last decades. Indeed, while there has been impressive progress in more gender equitable distribution of endowments and economic opportunities, lack of progress in advancing women’s agency is manifested in high rates of gender based violence, adolescent fertility rates and, despite recent progress, low rates of political and community participation. More subtle manifestations of agency, including self-efficacy, autonomy, self-control, aspirations, are notoriously hard to measure in quantitative surveys, but qualitative works suggest that they are low and that their scarcity contributes to proliferation of other developmental challenges, including persistence of poverty* or adolescent pregnancy*.

 This Conference seeks to provide evidence of causal links between manifestations of agency and other phenomena: impacts of greater agency on other development outcomes, such as poverty, labor market indicators, etc., as well as impacts in the reverse direction, those of environmental, household, community characteristics and policies on agency.

* For example, see “The Capacity to Aspire” by Arjun Appadurai in Rao, V., and M. Walton (eds.) “Culture and Public Action”, 2004.

* “Teenage Pregnancy and Opportunities in Latin America and the Caribbean: on Early Childbearing, Poverty and Economic Achievement”.World Bank, 2012.

Friday, December 5, 2014

World Bank, I Building, 1850 I Street NW, Room I 2-220

8:15 – 8:45


8:45 – 9:00 am


Elizaveta Perova – Economist, World Bank, Poverty Global Practice

9:00 – 11:00 am

PAPERS SESSION 1: Macro Boosts and Hindrances to Agency: Unexpected Effects of Policy Reforms and Shocks

Paper 1: Maria Micaela Sviatschi “Long-term Effects of Temporary Labor Demand: Free Trade Zones, Female Education and Marriage Market Outcomes in Dominican Republic”

Comments: Mattias Busso

Paper 2: Alejandro del Valle “From Caring to Work: the Labor Market Effects of Noncontributory Health Insurance”

Comments: Samuel Freije-Rodriguez


11:00 – 11:15 am

Coffee Break

11:20 – 1:20 pm

PAPERS SESSION 2:  Micro Perspective: When Social Programs Increase Agency? Examples of Transfers and Training

Paper 3: Andrea Vigorito “Public Transfers, Voice Actions and Rights Awareness: Evidence from Uruguayan PANES”

Comments: Luis Felipe Lopez-Calva

Paper 4: Martin Valdivia “Business Training Plus for Female Entrepreneurship? Short and Medium-Term Experimental Evidence from Peru

Comments: Esteban Puentes


1:20 – 2:30 pm

LUNCH (by invitation)

2:30 – 4:30 pm

PAPERS SESSION 3: Adolescent Pregnancy as a Manifestation of Agency – Two Examples of Macro- and Micro-Evidence

Paper 5: Damian Clarke, “Assessing Plan B”

Comments: Renos Vakis

Paper 6: Jaime Millan “Drugs, Guns and Early Motherhood in Colombia”

Comments: Werner Hernani


4:30 – 4:45 pm


4:45 – 5:15 pm


5:15 – 5:30 pm

Closing Remarks

Louise Cord, Sector Manager, Poverty Global Practice


Macro Boosts and Hindrances to Agency: Unexpected Effects of Policy Reforms and Shocks

This session seeks to examine how changes at macro level, such as trade reforms or changes national healthcare policies, can affect gender equality and specific manifestations of agency in unpremeditated ways. The subsequent discussion will address, among other points, the importance of taking into account potential implications for gender equality of any development policy.

From caring to work: The labor market effects of noncontributory health insurance.

Alejandro del Valle

Health reforms in low and middle-income countries usually include the provision of free or subsidized health insurance. In this paper, I examine whether this type of insurance encourages employment by freeing up resources previously used by households to cope with health shocks. To isolate the causal effect of providing free health insurance I use a difference- in-differences design that exploits municipal (county) level variation in the rollout of Mexico’s Seguro Popular (SP). My main finding is that SP increases labor supply by retaining workers in the labor force. I propose that this occurs because SP reduces the time burden that dependents in poor health impose on caregivers. Consistent with this channel, I find that the labor supply response triggered by SP is driven by women, in particular those with caregiving responsibilities. Time use estimates provide additional evidence of the mechanism, as they illustrate that the increase in female labor supply is due to the reallocation of time from caregiving tasks at home to work in the labor market. The finding that SP increases labor supply is especially important, because it shows that the provision of subsidized health insurance need not entail an efficiency loss in the labor market. Specifically, I show that the increase in the share of workers in jobs without employer-based health insurance, that is, in informal jobs, is not driven by workers moving to less productive informal jobs, but by informal workers staying in the labor force. Accordingly, back-of-the-envelope calculations suggest that SP has led to a gain of one quarter of one percent of GDP.

Long-term Effects of Temporary Labor Demand: Free Trade Zones, Female Education and Marriage Market Outcomes in the Dominican Republic

Maria Micaela Sviatschi

In many developing countries girls drop out of school early and marry young due to a lack of labor market opportunities. In this paper I exploit the sudden and massive growth of female jobs in free trade zones (FTZs) in the Dominican Republic in the 1990s, and subsequent decline in the 2000s, to provide the first evidence that temporary labor demand can move societies to a “good equilibrium” that persists even after job opportunities taper off. Focusing on a sample of provinces that received FTZs and exploiting variation in the op ening of zones and age of women at the time of opening, I show that the FTZs led to a large and very robust increase in girls' education. The effect persists after a decline in FTZ jobs in the 2000s following the end of a trade agreement with the U.S. and increase Asian competition. The reason app ears to be that the increase in (some) girls' education changed marriage markets, with the girls whose education increased due to the FTZs marrying later, matching with a higher-quality husband, giving birth later, and having children that are more likely to survive infancy. In sum, the evidence in this paper indicates that labor markets can profoundly improve female outcomes in developing countries through general equilibrium effects in the education and marriage markets.



Micro Perspective: When Social Programs Increase Agency? Examples of Transfers and Training

This session examines whether social programs, or certain modules of social programs have a potential to increase beneficiaries’ agency, and whether such impacts on agency are likely to contribute to overall success of the program.

Business training for female entrepreneurship. Short and Medium-term Experimental Evidence from Peru

Martín Valdivia

With millions of women around the developing world thrown into self-employment but with low productivity, the question about how to increase the profitability and growth potential of their businesses is increasingly relevant for poverty reduction and gender equity.

This study evaluates the impacts of a business development services program serving female microentrepreneurs in Lima using an experimental design, that included two treatment groups: One received only general training (GT), albeit more time-intense than previous studies,and delivered by experts, while the other received in addition technical assistance (TA). Results show the existence of room for efficiency gains and growth, as all treated showed increased sales revenues and self-reported adoption of recommended business practices, although timing differed.

Those that received full treatment (GT+TA) were the only ones reporting increased sales 4 -7 months after the end of the treatment, but GT-only treated were able to catch up about a year later. Low take up of the training may suggest some space to improve recruitment and delivery of good general business practices.

Public Transfers, Voice actions and Rights Awareness. Evidence from the Uruguayan PANES

Verónica Amarante and Andrea Vigorito

Although there is a large literature on the impact of cash transfer programs on a varied set of outcomes, there are scarce quantitative studies assessing their impact on agency and empowerment. In order to contribute to fill this gap in the existing literature, in this article we estimate the impact of a large cash transfer program—the Uruguayan PANES—on on the awareness of civil, social and penal rights; social participation and voice actions. These outcomes can reflect program effects on the dimensions of empowerment related to the social sphere and to control over people’s lives. PANES included several interventions and explicitly included among its goals increasing beneficiaries autonomy and enlarging their opportunities. We exploit the unique opportunity provided by the fact that the follow up survey designed to carry out the impact evaluation of the program included specific questions to capture individual empowerment. Using different methodological approaches, we find that the money transfer per se did not have any impact on individual empowerment. However, we find weak evidence that participation in information meetings and on a workfare program did have a positive impact on knowledge of certain individual rights.



Adolescent Pregnancy as a Manifestation of Agency – Two Examples of Contributing and Deterring Factors

Building on the discussion of policies and interventions demonstrated to have affected agency in planned and not pre-mediated ways in the previous two sessions, this session show cases two pieces of evidence on specific factors contributing to adolescent pregnancy: violence and availability of contraception.

Assessing Plan B: The Effect of the Morning after Pill on Children and Women

Andrea Bentancor and Damian Clarke

We examine the effect of quasi-experimental variation in the availability of the emergency contraceptive (“morning after") pill in Chile. Using censal data on all births and fetal deaths over the period 2005-2011 we show that the availability of the pill reduces pregnancy and early gestation fetal death, which we argue proxies for illegal abortion. These effects are particularly pronounced among teenagers and young women: point estimates suggest a 6.9% reduction in teenage pregnancy and 4.2% reduction for 20-34 year olds. We suggest that diffusion of the morning after

pill between quasi treatment and control areas played an important role, and suggest a way to estimate unbiased treatment effects where the stable unit treatment value assumption does not hold locally. This paper is the first to provide censal evidence of the emergency contraceptive's effect, and the first to examine the technology in a country where no other (legal) post-coital fertility control options exist.


Drugs, Guns and Early Motherhood in Colombia

Jaime A. Millán

This paper uses geographical and temporal variation in drug trafficking net-works to instrument for the predominance of violent crime in different regions of Colombia and examines its effect on the prevalence of early motherhood. Using changes in cocaine prices of different international markets I identify exogenous changes in violent crime rates at the municipality level; results from this first stage suggest that homicide rates increase in municipalities when the cocaine price in the international markets that they are strategically best placed to serve increases relative to those in other international markets. My second stage results suggest that a one standard deviation increase in the homicide rate induces a 2.65 p.p. increase in the probability of early motherhood.