November 26, 2021

Does providing job opportunities to women decrease the violence they face from their partners? Evidence from the Rwandan Coffee Mills

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Picking out bad Coffee Beans, Rwanda. Founded in 2000, The Dukunde Kawa Coopertive cultivates its high quality coffee near a mountain gorilla habitat of central Rwanda. The mill is at 2000 meters, with coffee grown at 1500-2000 meters. By producing high-end coffee for the international market and employing a majority female workforce, the cooperative ensures maximum benefits to local families. In 2003, the co-op built a washing station with funds provided by the Rwandan ministry of defense. In exchange for this support, the Dukunde Kawa cooperative donates 10% of its net profits annually to fund the construction of other washing stations throughout Rwanda. (Photo by Normann/Flickr)

Domestic violence is an extreme form of gender inequality, violation of human rights and a global health problem of epidemic proportions (WHO, 2013). About 1 in every 3 women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual violence from their partners at some point in their lives and this number is much higher in developing countries (World Bank, 2015).

To address domestic violence, providing job opportunities to women is discussed in the policy debate. The argument is that employment can decrease violence via an increase in women’s outside options and bargaining power and/or a reduction in financial stress in the household. Yet, causal evidence on the effects of increased job availability for women on domestic violence is limited.

The domestic violence literature focuses on the effects of cash-transfers, unemployment, gender wage gap, education and dowry payments, which are different than having a job. Moreover, evidence from cash transfers suggest that an increase in women’s resources may increase as well as decrease violence due to husbands’ incentives to extract the resources or male backlash (Angelucci 2008, Bobonis et al. 2013, Hidrobo et al. 2016, Haushofer et al. 2019).

My job market paper investigates whether providing job opportunities to women decrease the violence they face from their partners using the government-induced rapid expansion of the coffee mills in Rwanda in the 2000s as a natural experiment. The expansion is an ideal setting to study my research question since a mill opening enables women to transition from being unpaid family workers in their family plots to wage workers in the mills for the same tasks as before. Thus, the results capture the effects of having a job (earning income as well as non-monetary benefits of a job) and are not influenced by learning a new skill.

Rapid Expansion of the Coffee Mills in Rwanda

In 2002, the Rwandan government adopted the National Coffee Strategy that aimed to shift to mill-processed coffee production to participate in the international specialty coffee market (Boudreaux, 2011). In the early 2000s, a public-private partnership project helped farmers to establish cooperatives and build mills in their communities. After the project, farmers continued to build mills across the country. From 2002 to 2012, the number of mills increased from 5 to 213.

A coffee mill is where coffee cherries, harvest of the coffee tree, are processed into coffee beans for export. The context provides two unique features for identification. First, a mill serves coffee farmers that reside within its catchment area, approximately a 4 km radius buffer zone around the mill (Figure 1, left). It has a specific catchment area since cherries will rot if not transported to a mill within few hours of harvest. Second, a mill opening enables women’s transition to paid employment. Before a mill opening, women process coffee at home as a female-dominated task. Their husbands sell the home-processed coffee in the local market as a male-dominated task and receive the income from coffee. After a mill opening, within the catchment area, husbands sell coffee cherries to the mill. Women process coffee in the mills as daily wage workers during the harvest months, March-July. Farmers outside of the catchment areas continue to process coffee at home.

Figure 1: Visualization of the Treatment and Control Groups using a District in Rwanda

Figure 1

Self-Reported Labor Market Outcomes and Domestic Violence

For identification, I first use a staggered difference-in-differences (DID) design exploiting the spatial variation, within-outside of the catchment area, and the yearly time variation, before-after a mill opening. For this strategy, I use data on self-reported domestic violence and labor market outcomes, multiple rounds of DHS. Upon a mill opening, being exposed to a mill increases the probability of working for cash in the past 12 months by 18% with respect to the sample mean (0.40) (Figure 2). The probability of working in the past 12 months remains unchanged. Importantly, being exposed to a mill decreases the probability of self-reporting a domestic violence experience in the past 12 months by 26% with respect to the sample mean (0.35). At the baseline, before the rapid expansion of the mills, means of working, working for cash and experiencing domestic violence in the past 12 months are 0.83, 0.20 and 0.22 respectively in the areas that will experience a mill opening in the future. Baseline means of the areas that will never experience a mill opening are similar.

Figure 2: Effect of a Mill Opening on Women’s Self-Reported Outcomes

Figure 2

There is no change in husbands’ probability of working and type of earnings being cash in the past 12 months. For both women and their husbands, there is no change in occupations as well. To establish the results, I use couples who reside outside of the catchment area but are located within the same district with the mills as the control group (Figure 1, left). The results are robust to using another control group, the couples who reside within the donut area between 4 and 8 km from the mills (Figure 1, right). I also show that upon a mill opening, mill exposure increases both women’s and their husbands’ last daily earnings.

The key identifying assumption is that a mill opening at a specific location in a given year is assumed to be uncorrelated with other determinants of changes in women’s employment and domestic violence over time. I provide suggestive evidence in favor of my identifying assumption by statistically analyzing the drivers of a mill opening as well as showing no pre-trends in outcome variables.

Monthly Hospitalizations for Domestic Violence

Then I complement my analysis using novel monthly administrative records, the universe of hospitalizations for domestic violence, during the end of the expansion where the number of mills is fixed. I test for an effect during the harvest months, the only period mills operate within a year. I use a DID event-study design exploiting the same spatial variation as before and monthly time variation within a year. Within the harvest months, May-July is the peak of the harvest where majority of the community around the mills work in the mills. I show that it is 23% and 17% less likely for hospitals in the catchment areas to a have a domestic violence patient in June and July respectively compared to one month before the mills’ month of operation, February. There are no changes both for two months before mills’ month of operation, as well as for the post-harvest months. As a placebo test, I examine results for women’s hospitalizations other than domestic violence. I find no changes. This rules out the concern that women go to a hospital less during the harvest season due to increased opportunity cost of time. Finding a decline in domestic violence both with administrative and self-reported data suggests that the results are not subject to reporting bias.


To uncover the mechanisms behind the decline in violence, I first show that upon a mill opening, women in the catchment areas are more likely to make household decisions jointly with their partners. This suggests that a mill opening increases women’s bargaining power in the household. Second, I show that the decline in domestic violence is observed even among couples where husbands work in occupations with no change in earnings with a mill, non-agricultural manual jobs. The magnitude of the decline in violence is also similar to the result based on the whole sample.  This shows that the increase in husbands’ earnings is not necessarily the dominant mechanism behind my results. Given that women’s earnings increase, a decline in financial stress due to the increase in women’s earnings is also a plausible channel. Moreover, unlike farmer couples, these couples do not work together. A mill opening is not a shock to the time they are exposed to each other during work hours. Thus, exposure reduction is also ruled out as the dominant mechanism.

All plausible channels are in effect via women’s paid employment. Thus, the paper suggests that women’s paid employment is the driver behind the decline in domestic violence. Moreover, seasonality of the decline in hospitalizations suggest that in a context where access to credit markets and savings accounts are limited, as in the case for many developing countries, a decline in domestic violence may be concentrated when women have the jobs (women have the outside options and households have more resources).

Robustness Checks

Recent econometric literature on DID estimators that use variation in treatment timing raises concerns about the validity of estimation results in the presence of treatment effect heterogeneity. My results are robust to using estimators proposed in de Chaisemartin and D’Haultfœuille (2020) and Sun and Abraham (2020) that gives valid results even if the treatment effect is heterogeneous over time and across groups.

Policy Implications

My results suggest that providing job opportunities to women has the potential to alleviate domestic violence in developing countries.

Adapted from World Bank Rwanda Office webpage. Written by Deniz Sanin, PhD student from Georgetown University

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