Developing Measures of Reproductive Empowerment – A Qualitative Study in Zambia


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Author(s): Paul M, Mejia C, Muyunda B, Munthali L

Year: 2017

Developing Measures of Reproductive Empowerment – A Qualitative Study in Zambia Abstract:

Women’s empowerment has been a major focus of development work for decades. The lack of women’s empowerment in social, political, and economic contexts is linked to poor health outcomes. However, the relationship between women’s lack of empowerment and their sexual and reproductive health is unclear. Researchers have recently begun to look at reproduction as a distinct aspect of women’s empowerment, known as reproductive empowerment (RE).

MEASURE Evaluation—funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)—undertook research to develop measures of RE to improve evaluations of interventions aimed at increasing RE. Our research is part of a three-phased activity to conceptualize and develop better measurement tools to accurately assess RE. During the first phase of this project, together with the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), we created a conceptual framework based on definitions of empowerment and the socioecological model (Sallis, Owen, & Fisher, 2015). Through this framework, we defined RE as the outcome of a transformative process of change whereby individuals expand their capacity to make informed decisions about their reproductive lives, amplify their ability to participate meaningfully in public and private discussions related to reproduction, and act on their preferences and choices to achieve desired reproductive outcomes, free of violence, retribution, or fear. We emphasize that RE is a dynamic process in which women and their partners have resources that impact their agency at three levels: (1) individually, (2) within their relationships and community (the immediate relational level), and (3) with the broader environment (distant relational level).

We also conducted a literature review to see how RE has been measured. From this, we extracted a series of validated scales used to measure aspects of RE. Most scales either measured empowerment in areas not directly related to reproduction or were based on formative research in Southeast Asia; all had limited applicability to sub-Saharan African settings.

To understand the relationship between empowerment and reproductive health outcomes better, our team identified the need for new measures of RE based on the realities of women in sub-Saharan Africa. As the first step, we conducted qualitative research with women and men in Zambia to explore RE.

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