Over the past several decades, fertility rates have fallen substantially in low- and middle-income countries, and efforts to provide women with the means to control the number and timing of children, primarily through the implementation of family planning programs, have become increasingly widespread. Relatively little is known about the role played by women’s empowerment as both a determinant and a consequence of fertility decline or about the links between fertility decline and broader societal impacts, including economic and social development.
Win Brown from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which provided dedicated support for the workshop, provides information on the history, background, and importance of this work.
There are multiple ways of conceptualizing the multi-dimensional process of women’s empowerment.
Two commonly accepted definitions include:
Empowerment as a method of using of one’s agency. Agency can take different forms: capabilities, empowerment, and citizenship. Empowerment refers to expanded ways of “being, doing, thinking, feeling, and knowing” that seek to challenge the gender inequalities of daily life. Listen to Dr. Kabeer explain the different kinds of agency.
Empowerment as the capacity to make purposive choices that achieve desired actions and outcomes. Read more here in the proceedings Chapter 5.
To measure an abstract conceptual construct you must first define, then operationalize, and finally validate. Read more.
To measure empowerment researchers must:
Key challenges to measuring include distinguishing between:
A study of 45 low- and middle-income countries showed that those that invested in various dimensions of empowerment—health care, education, labor market institutions, and social protections—produced better labor market outcomes for women. Read more.
There is mixed causal evidence on the relationship between women’s empowerment and family planning use. Read more.
Correlations between contraceptive use and specific empowerment measures may be useful in further analyzing this relationship.
Read more in the proceedings.
Design policy around the norm; shift the norm by policy.
Social norms as barriers
Traditional policies to improve women’s labor market outcomes (e.g., training, microcredit, education) are important but more labor market policies could be developed that specifically operate on gender norms. Seema Jayachandran discusses her work on barriers of social norms in India.
Increasing empowerment in Bangladeshi girls
The Bangladeshi Association for Lifeskills Income and Knowledge for Adolescents (BALIKA) Program aims to impart skills and build empowerment for girls with the goal of reducing child marriage. BALIKA increased empowerment among girls: the proportion of girls belonging to the least empowered class diminished from 32 percent to 17 percent after the BALIKA intervention and child marriage was reduced substantially. Learn about a case study.
Implications of gender norms on family planning
Family planning interventions may need to operate within existing gender norms; there is scope for change even without progress on gender norms. Read more about studies of family planning interventions.
The Committee on Population (#PopulationResearch) of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine held the Workshop on Family Planning, Women’s Empowerment, and Population and Societal Impacts on September 24-25, 2020.
Sponsors: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; National Academy of Sciences W.K. Kellogg Foundation Fund