Do SHGs improve women's voice in village meetings?
Deliberative institutions have gained popularity in the developing world as a means by which to make governance more inclusive and responsive to local needs. However, a growing body of evidence suggests that persistent gender inequality may limit women’s ability to participate actively and influence outcomes in these forums. In response, policy makers have tried to induce women’s participation by leveraging the group-based format of self-help groups, which can build women’s social capital and develop their sense of political efficacy and identity. This paper evaluates the impact of one such intervention, known as the Pudhu Vaazhvu Project, on women’s civic participation in rural Tamil Nadu. Using text-as-data methods on a matched sample of transcripts from village assembly meetings, the analysis finds that the Pudhu Vaazhvu Project significantly increases women’s participation in the gram sabha along several dimensions —meeting attendance, propensity to speak, and the length of floor time they enjoy. Although women in the Pudhu Vaazhvu Project villages enjoy greater voice, the study finds no evidence that they are more likely than women in control villages to drive the broader conversational agenda or elicit a relevant response from government officials.