Women’s Prewar Social Leadership and Collective Action After War: Evidence from Nepal

While existing scholarship has reckoned with the complex effects of civil conflict on women’s political, economic, and social participation, it does not account for local variation in women’s collective action after war. This paper investigates the effect of prewar institutional investments in women’s social leadership on whether and how women mobilize to confront shared community problems in the aftermath of conflict. I argue these investments strengthen ties between women and women’s group identity.

Conflict increases the space and demand for social leaders to draw on ties between women to organize women in their communities, with spillover effects for postwar collective action. I focus on the case of Female Community Health Volunteers (FCHVs)—local women who provide door-to-door maternal and child health services and organize women’s community meetings—in Nepal. Using newly compiled data on 13,500 wards in Nepal and a regression discontinuity (RD) design, I show that communities that received an additional FCHV prior to the war were more likely to have registered women’s cooperatives nearly ten years after the end of the war. This paper demonstrates how women’s social leadership before war can have meaningful and durable impacts on women’s community participation and community resilience.