Anukriti and her co-authors partnered with a local family planning clinic in Uttar Pradesh to test whether they could strengthen both women’s access to family planning and their social networks. The women in the study were randomly divided into three groups: (1) Recipients of coupons for personal use; (2) Coupon recipients Invite a friend and (3) a control group. Women in the personal use voucher group received vouchers to overcome financial barriers. These vouchers could be used to redeem free family planning services, free family planning consultation and transportation reimbursement for up to three clinic visits. Bring-a-friend vouchers allowed a woman to receive the same benefits as personal-use vouchers, but also gave two “friends” per visit the same benefits if they accompanied a woman to the clinic. Women in the control group did not receive a coupon. In addition, the three groups received an information brochure on modern contraceptive methods and the advantages of family planning.
As expected, the two groups of women who received coupons were more likely to attend the family planning clinic and take up some form of modern contraception than the control group.
But the different results between recipients of vouchers for personal use and those for inviting a friend highlighted the promise of encouraging social connections. At the end of the study, women who had received the voucher to invite a friend were almost twice as likely to have invited someone to accompany them to the clinic compared to the voucher recipients. They were also more likely to report a higher number of close peers in their network at the end of the study.
These effects were even stronger among less empowered women from the poorest households and those who seemed to lack a social network to support their access to family planning services at the start of the study. At the end of the study, women from the poorest households who received a voucher to invite a friend were about 13% more likely than recipients of a voucher for personal use to have a close peer outside their household. housework. Similarly, women who believed that none of their existing close peers were family planning users experienced a 94% increase in their number of social connections outside of the household due to a bring-a-friend voucher.
While the context of this study was a single district in India, the potential implications are much wider. Surveys in many low-income countries typically assess a woman’s decision-making ability relative to her husband, but Anukriti’s research shows that other household members can have a big influence on choices. women. This fact points to new avenues for strengthening women’s empowerment, including engaging directly with mothers-in-law in the context of family planning programs.
Yet many questions remain about how women’s social networks can support their outcomes in life, including how women’s networks differ from men’s and the range of factors that can promote or limit network formation. . The lack of systematic, comparable, cross-national data on women’s social networks limits solid answers to these questions – a fact that Anukriti and her colleagues are working to address with their ongoing research.