Understanding Women’s Status, Empowerment and Autonomy in Sub-Saharan Africa: The Need to Contextualize and Validate DHS Gender Analyses with Supplemental Qualitative Data

Enid Schatz, University of Missouri at Columbia
Jill Williams, University of Colorado at Boulder

Understanding gender in Africa is essential to creating policy and designing interventions to address key health issues — e.g. HIV/AIDS and maternal mortality — that are particularly pressing for the continent and are strongly related to gender inequality. Questions added to the Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) in the late-1990s to capture women’s empowerment and autonomy provide opportunities to expand understandings of gendered implications for population, health, and nutrition. These questions’ conceptualization, however, largely emerged from knowledge of Asian cultures. Thus, supplemental qualitative studies to validate and contextualize these measures in African contexts would significantly strengthen analyses. This paper provides examples of how mixed-methods approaches would enhance the theoretical frame and DHS analyses by providing (1) more complex understandings of gender contexts, (2) examining survey questions’ validity and use of survey measures in particular quantitative analyses, and (3) elucidating the processes and mechanisms behind gendered experiences.

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Presented in Session 40: Gender and Reproductive Health