While many countries have made significant progress towards gender equality in education, labor force participation, and political representation in recent decades, discriminatory social norms that limit girls’ access to education and labor force participation remains a challenge in many parts of the world. In Zambia, gender parity in primary schooling has improved considerably, however there continues to be significant gaps in school enrollment, attendance, and dropouts with a significant increase in adolescent years. Exhaustion, insecurity and lack of support and incentives discourage many students walking long distances to come to school.
One of the key reasons hypothesized for low enrollment, attendance and dropouts is the long distance to school. In particular, this is a critical barrier for girls in rural Zambia, especially around the time when girls start menstruating. According to ZEDS (2002), the second most cited reason for late enrollment in school is distance, with the problem being more severe in rural areas compared to urban areas. For example, 42% of children in Southern province started school late due to distance compared to 16% in Copperbelt province.
According to the Zambia DHS 2007, 10.3% of all girls 9-13 were out of school in Zambia. Identifying cost-effective and scalable strategies that directly address gender gap in school attendance, which is likely to be correlated with learning outcomes among girls, is therefore of considerable policy interest in Zambia. One such policy that addresses this twin problem is providing bicycles to girls to help reduce the distance cost of schooling and at the same time improve safety. Recent research by Muralidharan and Prakash (2017) shows that a similar policy in India was very successful in reducing the gender gap in enrollment. This policy increased girls’ enrollment in secondary schools by 32% and reduced the gender gap by 40%. They also find an 18% increase in the number of girls who appear for the high-stakes secondary school certificate exam and a 12% increase in the number of girls who pass the exam.
Implementing a bicycle program in Zambia has the potential to address directly the first order problems of school enrollment, attendance and dropouts among girls in rural areas. In addition, the benefit of female education, and the fact that a transfer that improves mobility is being made to girls who generally receive little support from their family is likely to have an impact on other important outcomes like mobility, aspiration, and empowerment. In particular, empowerment of girls is one of the top priorities of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (Goal 5). Traditionally, outcomes related to female empowerment are measured by how much bargaining power (married) women have within the household. In this study, we aim to measure how the transfer of a valuable asset to an adolescent girl can change her bargaining power within her household, which would affect outcomes that matter not just in the short run but could have a long-lasting impact.
In this study, we conduct an experiment to estimate the causal impact of a conditional kind transfer (CKT) program that provides a bicycle to a school-going girl child of a household that generally provides no or very little support in rural Zambia.