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Measuring Women’s Empowerment: A Critical Review of Current Practices and Recommendations for Researchers

Abstract

Women’s empowerment is an intrinsic human rights goal that has implications for the health and well-being of women and their children. Poor measurement hampers current research efforts, and improving empowerment measurement is a frequently identified research priority. However, a discussion of specific steps researchers can take to improve upon common measurement practices is lacking. The purpose of this paper is to provide quantitative researchers recommendations to measure women’s empowerment in a theory-based, precise, and comprehensive way. This paper reviewed key theoretical concepts of women’s empowerment and critically reviewed common measurement approaches. Three broad recommendations for measuring empowerment emerged from this critical review, and specific suggestions to meet these recommendations are discussed. First, researchers should draw upon theory to construct measurement models (e.g., using theory to construct dimensions of empowerment and selection of indicators). Second, researchers should use analytic methods that minimize implicit judgments and bias (e.g., not classifying women as empowered using specific criteria). Third, researchers should collect comprehensive empowerment information (e.g., supplementing quantitative measures with qualitative interviews to learn how and why changes took place). Measuring empowerment poses a number of challenges, and this review provides researchers suggestions to improve upon common measurement practices. Improved measurement will strengthen research efforts on the causes and consequences of poor empowerment, which has the potential to improve the well-being of women and their children.

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Fig. 1

Adopted partially from Kabeer (1999)

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Acknowledgements

The author thanks Dr. Norbert Schmitz for clarifying measurement-related concepts and Drs. Abby Lippman and Arijit Nandi for feedback on earlier drafts of this manuscript. Funding was provided by the Spencer Foundation (Grant No. 242794), Canadian Institutes of Health Research (Grant No. T03-120314), and Regroupement Stratégique Santé Mondiale du Réseau de Recherché en Santé des Populations du Québec.

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Correspondence to Robin A. Richardson.

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Richardson, R.A. Measuring Women’s Empowerment: A Critical Review of Current Practices and Recommendations for Researchers. Soc Indic Res 137, 539–557 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11205-017-1622-4

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Keywords

  • Women’s empowerment
  • Empowerment
  • Women’s status
  • Autonomy
  • Measurement
  • Review