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What do we mean by increasing the agency of women and girls?

Posted 25th August 2022

Increasing agency is core to all innovations the Global Innovation Fund backs – innovations that support people of all genders to make empowered and informed decisions and to have control over their own voices, bodies, income, and assets.

We use ‘agency’ in a broad sense – closely akin to empowerment. The domains of agency for women and girls an innovation has the potential to impact are high on our agenda when we make evidence-based decisions about which innovations to support.

For GIF these domains are:

1. Control of body/sexual and reproductive health and choice
2. Household decision-making
3. Social and political participation and civil rights

Each of these domains represents an important aspect of life and empowerment. There is overlap between them, but they are relatively distinct and may align well with different types of innovations.


Real-world examples of what enhanced agency can look like for women and girls


The below lists include cases of well-tested instruments relevant to these domains, and some can be found in the impacts of the gender-transformative innovations we’re proud to partner with under our Innovating for Gender Equality fund, backed by Global Affairs Canada.


Control of body/sexual and reproductive health and choice

This is defined as choice and autonomy in the following decisions related to women’s bodies:

• Contraception.
• Sexual activity and partners.
• Fertility (number and spacing of children).
• Menstrual management and hygiene.
• Healthcare.


Household decision-making

This is defined as choice and autonomy in the following, related to women’s household decisions:

  • Childcare, including health and education.
  • Household expenditure.
  • Decision-making in business and farming.
  • Control/decision-making over a bank account.
  • Freedom of movement.
  • Choice in partnership, including choices related to getting married and/or divorced.
  • Ability to choose whether or not to engage in employment/self-employment.


Social and political participation and civil rights

This domain includes:

  • Participation and decision-making at the community level.
  • Participation and decision-making in elected office.
  • Scope and exercise of legal rights (land rights, family law, inheritance).


Gender-transformative innovations supported by GIF


Since the launch of our Innovating for Gender Equality fund our aim has been to demonstrate how innovation can address gender power imbalances and accelerate the increase in agency of millions of women and girls in the developing world. We have built a portfolio of five gender-transformative innovations that are set to increase the agency of between 4.3 and 12.8 million women and girls in the next ten years.



Breakthrough has developed a gender equality curriculum, called Taaron ki Toli (“a group of stars”), in government schools in India, designed to shift discrimination against women and girls by empowering adolescents.

Taaron ki Toli is aimed at students aged 11-14, and is designed to develop and enhance the psychological, interpersonal, and social skills of adolescents using games, songs, drawing and other activities to discuss topics such as gender stereotypes, gender roles at home, girls’ education, women’s employment outside the home, and harassment. A Randomised Controlled Trial (RCT) conducted by J-PAL in Haryana found that Taaron ki Toli leads to significant improvements in gender attitudes for girls and boys, as well as positive changes in boys’ behaviour.

GIF’s original grant agreement with Breakthrough in 2020 was for state-wide scale-up in Punjab in approximately 4,500 schools, and included a pilot for 100 schools in Odisha. In August 2022 it was announced the Government of Odisha would launch the curriculum across 23,000 public schools in the state – unlocking a further increase in agency of women and girls with the expansion of Breakthrough’s approach to challenging biased gender norms.




StrongMinds addresses depression in Sub-Saharan Africa by delivering facilitator and peer-led courses of Group Interpersonal Psychotherapy (or IPT-G), a cost-efficient, community-based model of depression treatment that has been created and validated by mental health experts. IPT-G fosters interpersonal relationships among groups of 12-15 women, all of whom have less than $2 per day to spend on their families, led by a facilitator over 12 weeks. The facilitator uses a structured model to help participants identify the causes of their depression and sets up strategies to overcome those triggers. Facilitators are not mental health professionals, but lay community members who have been trained by certified IPT-G experts.

IPT-G was rigorously tested in an RCT in Uganda and was found to reduce depressive symptoms by 93%. Since starting fieldwork in 2014, StrongMinds has provided group talk therapy to more than 150,000 women and adolescents in Uganda and Zambia. 80% of clients consider themselves depression-free at the conclusion of treatment, and those results are sustained six months post-treatment. Clients who have completed IPT-G also report a 16% increase in work attendance, 13% increase in family food security, 30% increase in children’s school attendance, and a 28% increase in feeling socially connected.

In April 2022 analysis carried out by the Happier Lives Institute on the cost-effectiveness and impact of psychotherapy and StrongMinds’ IPT-G revealed they are up to nine times more cost-effective than cash transfers for improving the life of an individual as well as their entire household. 


Other GIF-backed innovations that increase agency of women and girls


No Means No Worldwide strives to reduce sexual violence in Sub-Saharan Africa by delivering a curriculum focused on strategies to empower young boys and girls with skills to prevent sexual assault.

MTV Staying Alive Foundation creates a media ecosystem that generates gender-transformative media content to shift regressive norms and reduce gender-based violence.

Buildher strives to increase women’s employment and dignity at work through training and job placement in Kenya’s construction industry.