Opinion articles

Alex Armand, Researcher at the Navarra Center for International Development, Institute for Culture and Society, University of Navarra

Are women’s empowerment programs failing — or are we measuring wrong?

29/08/18 Publicado en Apolitical

Achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls is an ambitious goal, and one that is central to the UN Sustainable Development Goals’ post-2015 development agenda. An important domain in which it can be pursued is the family: it’s here that countless decisions affecting women’s futures are taken. Yet the role of women within dwellings’ walls represents a black box: women’s participation in household decisions is hard to observe, and even more arduous to quantify.

Given this measurement challenge, can we even set realistic targets for female empowerment within the family, let alone achieve them?

In the past few decades, measurement has mainly been done through survey questions on gendered participation in household decision-making. A typical set of questions asks respondents to identify the family member in charge of different decisions — for instance, who decides about food expenditures or about schooling. Higher female participation supposedly shows stronger empowerment.

However, reaching conclusions based on these measures can be misleading: social norms or other constraints can dictate certain answers, and indirect asks may not lead to answers that paint a true picture of reality.