Agency, the ability to speak up and make choices in life, is key to improving our own lives as well as the world around us. "Roads to Agency: The Effects of Enhancing Women’s Participation in Rural Roads Projects on Women’s Agency," a comparative assessment of projects in Argentina, Nicaragua, and Peru, shows how rural road construction and maintenance projects can promote and enhance women’s decision-making power and aspirations, as well as challenge social norms—an important step toward giving women an equal voice and equal role in societies and households.
Three World Bank Group supported projects from Argentina, Nicaragua and Peru were selected for this qualitative research project. Each fostered women’s participation in rural road works and productive activities related to rehabilitated roads in a different way:
In Nicaragua and Peru, projects engaged women through community-run road work organizations and microenterprises for road maintenance. In Argentina and Peru, activities aimed to improve women’s livelihoods in areas with rehabilitated roads. Projects took explicit approaches to foster agency, such as providing soft skills and technical training, promoting participation in decision-making and leadership positions, providing safe spaces for women, and forming women’s associations.
Women who were employed in road work and took part in other productive activities reported improved self-esteem, enhanced confidence, and increased aspirations: “I liked it very much because I [got] used to bringing my own money to the household and I did not depend on him [my husband]. I could buy what I wanted,” said one participant in Moyogalpa, Nicaragua. Husbands reported showing more respect for their wives and valuing them more highly as they became earners, suggesting women enjoyed greater bargaining power within the household.
Helping women enter into non-traditional work in Nicaragua and Peru, and participate in handicraft associations in Argentina, challenged prevailing social norms regarding women’s roles, abilities, and participation in public spheres. “I felt more confident because I saw the results of my work as chief and received the praise of engineers,” a road worker in Arequipa, Peru, said.