January 21, 2017 - Local PEP researchers held a national policy conference in Chennai, India, where they shared and discussed their findings on intra-household bargaining in rural India. Organized in collaboration with the Gandhigram Rural Institute (GRI) and the Indian Council for Social Sciences Research, the event featured several presentations discussing the progress and prospects of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) – a governmental welfare program.
The conference attracted over 50 participants, including government officials and policymakers, development professionals, researchers and academics, representatives of international NGOs, and journalists. Notably, the Chief Secretary of the Government of Kerala, the Secretary for the Ministry of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj of the Government of Tamil Nadu, and the Director of the MGNREGS for Tamil Nadu were in attendance.
The aim of the event was to address three issues relating to the MGNREGS: the impact on local governance, the impact of MGNREGS participation on household decision-making, and the wider impact of the program on rural households.
The PEP research team presented the key findings and recommendations from their study of Intra-household bargaining in rural India, selected for support under the PAGE initiative in 2015. In this study, the team set up an experiment to elicit intra-household bargaining interactions from 231 randomly selected married couples. The experiment took place in two villages in rural India in the state of Tamil Nadu.
The team’s analysis shows that while the husbands and wives that participated appeared to take household decisions jointly, women were more likely to make compromises to accommodate their husband’s choices. Women were also more likely to prioritise spending on nutrition. Based on their findings, the research team believes policies that aim to improve female autonomy in household decision-making are likely to improve household wellbeing. The team therefore recommends that implementation of the MGNREGS welfare program be timed to allow women to find employment during the off-peak agricultural season (i.e. when monetary contribution to the household is most needed) as this should improve women’s bargaining position within the household. Find out more about the research methods, findings, and policy recommendations in PEP Policy Brief 145.
In collaboration with the other presenters, the team sought to effectively assess of the outcomes associated with the MGNREGS and provide actionable recommendations for policy.
The diverse range of stakeholders who attended the conference shared a similarly diverse range of viewpoints, allowing for a well-rounded discussion of the factors important to policymakers, industry, social organisations, and members of civil society.
Both the Secretary for the Ministry of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj of the Government of Tamil Nadu, and the Director of the MGNREGS for Tamil Nadu stated their intention to incorporate the findings and recommendations in the development of a research program looking at the MGNREGS in the state of Tamil Nadu. The Director stated his interest in collaborating with the research team to address the potential for changes to MGNREGS implementation so that the program’s benefits are better targeted. Meanwhile, the Secretary recommended that participating institutions - such as the GRI and the Institute of Rural Management, Anand - sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the Ministry of Rural Development to build capacity for local governance and program implementation.
The Chief Secretary of the Government of Kerala expressed interest in working with the research team to conduct studies of the MGNREGS in his state that would inform rural development policy decisions in Kerala. He suggested that the state of Kerala could act as a testing ground for developing better rural governance and program implementation in collaboration with key participating institutions.
The Confederation of Indian Industries and the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) were keen to establish a partnership using corporate social responsibility funding to help build capacity for local governance in rural India. To achieve this, the Director of TISS requested that the PEP team leader consult on the development of a large-scale fellowship program for capacity development.
Shortly after the conference, Firstpost – a national Indian news organization – published an article by the PEP researchers explaining their findings on female empowerment linked to the MGNREGS. The Hindu, India’s second most-circulated English-language newspaper, also published an article discussing the team’s findings and the outcomes of the conference.