Karen Oppenbeim Mason
This chapter discusses three questions: What is empowerment, particularly as this concept applies to women in the context of their families and households? What determines or influences the extent of women’s domestic empowerment? And what is the best way to measure and analyze the effectiveness of interventions to empower poor women in developing countries?
The material and ideas presented here derive in part from the author’s decade-long experience working on a collaborative, survey-based study of women’s empowerment and demographic change in five Asian countries (India, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Thailand). The study surveyed rural and peri-urban married women ages 20–39 and a subset of their husbands (interviewed separately) in the winter of 1993–94. Either all eligible women or a probability sample of them were interviewed in approximately 55 purposively selected communities.1 The questions used to measure empowerment focused on women’s reported participation in household decisions, their ability to make certain types of purchases without permission from husbands or other family members, their reported freedom of movement in and beyond the community, and their reports of domestic violence and intimidation. (Question wording is given in the appendix.) Information on education, employment, and demographic history was also collected. Although analysis of the data from this study provides some valuable insights into the problems of measuring women’s empowerment, the study does not pretend to provide the final word on either the determinants of women’s domestic empowerment or the best way to measure and analyze it.