This study examines the various indicators of a woman's autonomy and fertility among women aged 15-49 years in Ibadan, Oyo state. The study conceptualized autonomy in decision making as either decision made by the woman alone or jointly with her husband. Quantitative data was generated from 500 respondents of varying socioeconomic background using a multistage sampling technique and data were analyzed using descriptive and analytical techniques. The results show that decision making in the home was generally seen to be the prerogative of the men as husbands. Women had greater autonomy in decision-making concerning household expenses. Women with higher level of education (secondary tertiary) were more prone to delay age at marriage, have fewer numbers of children, discuss about family planning with their husband and use contraception, compared to women with lower levels of education and who were not working.
Keywords: Autonomy, fertility, decision-making, reproduction.
In the past several decades, enormous changes have taken place in the developing world, not least of which have been those related to women's role and demographic levels. In most developing countries, population growth rates (and thus family sizes) have risen due to decreasing mortality rates and more or less constant birth rates, although fertility rates have now begun to fall in many developing countries (Barosso and Jacobs, 2000).
The Nigerian society is also in a demographic transition. At the current population growth rate of about 2.8 percent a year Nigeria's population will double within the next 25 years (UNICEF/ NPC, 2002). The high population growth rate, especially in the cities, and the large proportion of children in the population make it much more difficult to provide adequate health, education and other social services than in societies which have progressed through the demographic transition.
It has been suggested that women's agency has important implications for demographic transition in developing nation, with high female autonomy encouraging lower fertility and lower child mortality (England, 2000). The impact of female autonomy on child mortality, fertility and son preference has important implications for the well being of developing nations. Reduced child mortality is inherently desirable, since the goal of economic development is ultimately to improve the quality and duration of life. Reduced fertility, with the concern over overcrowding and environmental damage, has attracted attention in many developing nations (IUSSP, 1993).
In most Sub-Saharan African societies, men are at the peak of family and social hierarchy. Male position and decision-making authority over domestic issues means that they play an instrumental role in every aspect of sexual and reproductive dynamics, from the timing of intercourse and contraceptive use of STD treatment and antenatal care (Isiugo-Abanihe, 2003). Thus, men function as "gate-keepers" to women's sexual and reproductive health because of many powerful roles they play in society as husband, father, uncles, religious leaders, doctors, policy makers, local and international leaders (Varga, 2001).
The 1994 Cairo Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) focuses attention on the role of women's empowerment and autonomy in influencing reproductive behaviour. Gender relations have an important role in explaining fertility behaviour, which is a critical process in fertility transition. According to the UN (1995), "the empowerment and autonomy of women and improvement of their political, social and economic and health status is highly important as an end in itself. Improving the status of women also enhances their decision-making capacity at all levels in all spheres of life. The full partnership of both women and men is required in productive and reproductive life, including shared responsibility for the care and nurturing of children, and maintenance of the household". …