More evidence in support of the argument that economic growth is the most sustainable route to social empowerment comes from the example of women working in the growing garment industry in Bangladesh.
This Economix post points to how "by giving women an independent source of livelihood, Bangladesh’s garment industry has changed this conservative Muslim country’s society in immeasurable ways". An yet to be released study finds that "a doubling of garment jobs causes a 6.71% increase in the probability that a 5-year-old girl is in school". It has also been found that girls who live in villages with garment factories tend to marry later and have children later than the girls who grow up in villages.
More than 80% of the three million people who work in the industry are girls, who migrate to cities to work in these factories when they are in the 16-19 age group. Bangladesh with annual garment exports worth $ 7.1 bn, is already the world's second largest garment exporter. With the lowest factory wages in the world, the country is slowly emerging as the preferred outsourcing location for western apparel retailers and brands, who are exiting China due to rising wages there.
In this context, a study of the software industry in India by Emily Oster and M. Bryce Millett has found that the introduction of one ITES center increases school enrollment by 5.7% in its surroundings, an effect driven almost entirely by English language schools.
The results from the software and the garment industry are consistent with the claim that social empowerment impacts are driven by changes (or perception of changes) in returns to schooling. Such inherent incentives-driven forces have to complement (and beyond some level - say, secondary and tertiary education - even dominate) the role of government welfare interventions in achieving social goals like education.
They also underline the fact that the most effective - in terms of sustainability, ease of implementation, and most importantly, magnitude of the impact - means of social empowerment and poverty reduction is through economic growth.
Targeted welfare programs and focused poverty-reduction initiatives like micro-finance and SHGs, while important, have serious limitations in their ability to translate destitution-support led social empowerment into meaningful long-term economic empowerment. If there is any more evidence required, just look northwards to China!