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Conceptualising Women's Agency, Autonomy and Empowerment

Women's agency, autonomy and empowerment are widely used ideas in development literature. But there is substantial ambiguity in the conception of these ideas. While women's well-being and women's agency is sufficiently distinguished from each other, there seems to be a large overlap between agency and empowerment and between agency and autonomy. This paper attempts to examine the degree of empowerment and autonomy across different characteristics like place of residence, religion, caste, education, type of employment and wealth quintiles at the individual as well as the regional levels. A regional analysis shows that empowerment may not always lead to autonomy.


Conceptualising Women’s Agency, Autonomy and Empowerment

Nripendra Kishore Mishra, Tulika Tripathi

Women’s agency, autonomy and empowerment are widely used ideas in development literature. But there is substantial ambiguity in the conception of these ideas. While women’s well-being and women’s agency is sufficiently distinguished from each other, there seems to be a large overlap between agency and empowerment and between agency and autonomy. This paper attempts to examine the degree of empowerment and autonomy across different characteristics like place of residence, religion, caste, education, type of employment and wealth quintiles at the individual as well as the regional levels. A regional analysis shows that empowerment may not always lead to autonomy.

We are grateful to Demographic and Health Surveys, for providing us unit record data of NFHS-3, India. This paper is based on that data. The paper has been selected in International Conference of Human Development Capabilities Association.

Nripendra Kishore Mishra ( is with the Department of Economics, Banaras Hindu University and Tulika Tripathi ( is PhD scholar at the Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi.

omen’s concerns were first integrated into the development agenda in the 1970s. The concern with gender relations in development has strengthened the a ffirmation that equality in the status of men and women is f undamental to every society. The idea of empowerment as such and particularly women’s empowerment is not a new one. Right from the 1960s with the unfolding of the feminist movement and the gradual realisation that benefits of development have failed to reach almost half the population, many national governments and international agencies have focused on the well-being of women. The early literature equates wellbeing with empowerment and assumes a direct relationship between the two. It was assumed that development (if it is a fair one at all) brings improvement in the well-being of women; and if the development policy is suitably tailored it shall lead to empowerment of women. However, it is clear now that wellbeing may not lead to empowerment. Sen (1985, 1993) suggests that well-being is a combination of doing and being and individual assessment of both the functioning achieved and the set of opportunities available is important in evaluating well-being and therefore, assigns paramount importance to freedom to choose between alternative functionings. Sen (1999) argues that “any practical attempt at enhancing the well-being of women cannot but draw on the agency of women themselves in bringing about such a change. So, the well-being aspect and the agency aspect of women’s movements inevitably have a substantial intersection.” Moreover, women’s agency is exercised in such a way that it leads to empowerment only in a particular context or state of women’s autonomy.

The National Family Health Survey (NFHS) of India is a very rich source of data whose potential is yet to be fully realised by researchers. NFHS-3 is literally a goldmine. This paper uses NFHS-3 data on selected variables of women’s empowerment and autonomy. These variables have been selected on the basis of literature survey. It may be argued that some other variables should have been included; but we have restricted ourselves to selective variables only. Section 1 reviews the literature on conceptualisation of empowerment agency and autonomy b ecause there is considerable ambiguity in application of these terms. It points out overlapping areas and distinctive features of these ideas. Section 2 looks at the empirical evidence on the sources of empowerment and indicators of autonomy at the n ational as well as the regional level. Section 3 is a summing up of the significant points raised.

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1 Agency and Empowerment

The term “empowerment” has been used to represent a wide range of concepts and to describe a proliferation of outcomes. It has been used more often to advocate certain type of policies and intervention strategies rather than to analyse them. It is also viewed as social inclusion and participative development. Bennett (2002) describes empowerment as “the enhancement of assets and capabilities of diverse individuals and groups to engage, influence and hold accountable the institutions which affect them”. However, women’s empowerment has some unique additional elements because it is a cross-cutting category where the locus of disempowerment is the household itself. Moreover it requires the transformation of institutions supporting the patriarchal structures (Kabeer 2001; Bisnath and Elson 1999; Sen and Grown 1987; Batliwala 1994). Options, choice, control, power, ability to make decisions control over one’s own life and over resources, ability to affect one’s own well-being and make strategic life choices are some defining terms in women’s empowerment. For example, G Sen (1993) defines empowerment as “altering relations of power…which constrain women’s options and autonomy and adversely affect health and well-being”. Batliwala’s (1994) definition is in terms of “how much influence people have over external actions that matter to their welfare”. Kabeer (2001) defines empowerment as “the expansion in people’s ability to make strategic life choices in a context where this ability was previously denied to them”. An important demand of the feminist movement has always been the freedom for women to make decisions about their own lives (Garcia and Claro 1994).

Women’s agency is an important constituent of women’s empowerment. Women’s agency can be said to be operative when it results in a fundamental shift in perceptions, or “inner transformation” so that women are able to define self-interest and choice, and consider themselves as not only able, but entitled to make choices (A Sen 1999; G Sen 1993; Kabeer 2001; Rowland’s 1995; Nussbaum 2000). Kabeer (2001) goes a step further and describes this process in terms of “thinking outside the system” and challenging the status quo. Sen (1990) argues that for women, agency is socially moulded by notions of obligations and legitimacy and as such is based on moral judgment.

Various studies have aimed at measuring women’s autonomy (e g, Dyson and Moore 1983; Basu and Basu 1991; Jejeebhoy and Sathar 2001) and agency (e g, Gage 1995; Tzannatos 1999) without clearly demarcating these terms. Mason (1998) and Mason and Smith (2000) treat empowerment, autonomy, and gender stratification interchangeably. Similarly, Jejeebhoy (2000) considers autonomy and empowerment as more or less equal terms, and defines both in terms of women “gaining control of their own lives vis-à-vis family, community, society, markets”. In contrast, other authors have explicitly argued that autonomy is not equivalent to empowerment, stressing that autonomy implies independence whereas empowerment may well be achieved through interdependence (Malhotra and Mather 1997; Govindasamy and Malhotra 1996; Kabeer 1998).

While empowerment is essentially a process from one state to another (Kabeer 2001; Rowlands 1995, Oxaal and Baden 1997) autonomy does not encompass a progression. Jejeebhoy (2000)

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argues that though autonomy and empowerment are fairly similar, the former is a static state – and thus measurable by most available indicators – while the latter changes over time, and is not so easily measurable. Any improvement in outcomes cannot be considered as women’s empowerment if not accompanied by the existence of women’s agency. In other words, women themselves must be significant actors in the process of change rather than merely recipients of the change that is being described or measured (G Sen 1993; Mehra 1997).

Kabeer’s (2001) conceptualisation of women’s empowerment in terms of “strategic life choice” comprises three interrelated components: resources, which form the conditions under which choices are made; agency, which is at the heart of the process through which choices are made, and achievements, which are the outcomes of choices. Sen (1999) characterises development as the process of removing various types of “unfreedoms” that constrain individual choice and agency. Agency encompasses the ability to formulate strategic choices, and to control resources and decisions that affect important life outcomes. Therefore, agency should be treated as the essence of empowerment, and resources and achievements as enabling conditions and outcomes, respectively.

Figure 1: Overlapping Zones and Distinction

Agency Opportunity structure Degree of empowerment Development outcomes Autonomy

Source: Alkire (2007).

The above discussion and Figure 1 show that though there are many common elements in these three concepts they do have the distinctive features. There is a very thin line between empowerment and autonomy, sometimes it seems to be overlapping, but the autonomy is a step ahead of empowerment. Qualitative interviews confirmed that some respondents who were destitute in socio-economic terms nonetheless enjoyed high autonomy, and vice versa (Alkire 2007). Whatsoever maybe the conceptual distinction between these terms, it is very difficult to separate them into operational categories in empirical research. Probably this is the reason why these terms are used interchangeably in empirical work.

Of course the problems of moral judgment, cross-cultural variations, adaptive preferences and value structure will play a major role in constraining free choice. An individual may value what he or she has reason to value and has the skills necessary to use his or her autonomy; still it may not result in expansion of freedoms and consequent greater empowerment. Women may feel themselves to be autonomous (for example, in relation to their husbands), but observers may question whether their values are reasonable – perhaps their values have been shaped by their


circumstances, and they cannot imagine another way of living which would be truly autonomous (Alkire 2007).

2 Women’s Empowerment and Autonomy in India

The NFHS-3 provides data on sources of empowerment and indicators of autonomy. Based on some earlier works (Kishore and Subaiya 2008) we have picked up some setting factors from NFHS-3. The sources of empowerment are job for cash, education and a ccess over resources like owning an account, knowledge of loan programmes, getting a loan and regular media exposure. Moreover, the setting factors which facilitate the above-mentioned sources to reflect on empowerment are caste, wealth, urban surrounding and the nuclear family. The indicators of autonomy are decision-making, freedom of movement and gender role attitude.

In the given data set here we examine these sources and indicators through various categories of setting factors and facilitating factors. Setting factors are those which make a favourable situation for the causal factor of empowerment and autonomy. For example, setting factors like belonging to the upper castes and having a urban residence, being from the higher wealth quintiles facilitate the (causal factor) like the chances of being highly educated, getting a decent job for cash, media exposure through the availability of mass media, etc, and reflect in the characteristics of women’s autonomy and empowerment.

As can be seen from Annexure Table 1 (p 64) and Figure 2, jobs for cash, education and media exposure constitute a large source of women’s empowerment at the national as well as the regional level. Quite surprisingly, only 15% Indian women have their own bank account and only 10% are given any loan at all. But there are regional variations; women from south India are the most empowered and women from the north-east are the least empowered. Urban women fare better than rural women; all sources of empowerment except availing of loan are better in the former. In terms of religious groups Christian women are the most empowered in all sources of empowerment, followed by Hindu and Muslim women while the scheduled tribe (ST) women are least empowered. Wealth has a very important bearing on women’s empowerment as the degree of empowerment rises with a progression in the wealth hierarchy. It improves systematically from the poorest to the richest through all categories or sources of empowerment, except the availing of a loan.

Figure 2: Women's Empowerment Given the Various Sources of Empowerment (in %)



0 50 100 150 200 250 300 Given_loan Knowledge_loan Owns_account Lind/Higher_edu Job_Cash

India North East West South North-east Central India: Region

A person (in this case women) is autonomous when his/her behaviour is experienced as willingly enacted and when the individual endorses the action in which he/she is engaged. In the light of this the autonomy of women can be seen in the acts and decisions in accord with their authentic interests or integrated values and desire, like decision-making and gender role attitude. This reflects the state of a woman: does she allow herself to (be governed) act in the manner that society expects her to, or does she have the autonomy to act as she wants. Therefore the indicators of empowerment or empowerment in itself are the positive correlates of women’s autonomy and not the proxy of autonomy.

To understand women’s participation in decision-making in the household, the NFHS-3 asked women whether they participated in decisions related to their own health, major household purchases, purchases for daily household needs, and on visits to family and relatives. Figure 3 shows that Indian women have very little say in making important decisions concerning the family; decisions are taken either by the husband and wife jointly or by only the husband. Women have lesser control in all decision-making except the purchase of daily household needs. Visiting her family is also linked with freedom of movement and we find that only 10% women have a say in this decision.

Figure 3: Per Cent Decision Made by Husband/Wife on Four Kind of Issues

Mainly wife Wife and husband


Visit to her family

Own healthcare

Purchase of daily


Major household purchase

Someone else Mainly husband

From Annexure Table 2 (p 64) it can be seen that urban women have a larger say in household decisions than their rural counterparts. Even then, less than one-third urban women (almost onefourth rural women) have control over decisions affecting their health. While the woman has a greater say in the purchase of household needs, this is not true in decisions concerning large purchases. In terms of religious groups Christian women are better off in this regard than Hindu or Muslim women. However, Muslim women have larger control over decisions concerning their health while ST women are the worst off. Cash earning appears to play an important role in improving control over these decisions. Women with jobs for cash are always in a better position than those who are not paid anything at all. Obviously, unpaid work (like household duties) does not lead to any improvement in autonomy. Similarly, education helps improve control; those with higher education have larger control than those without any education at all. Wealth status systematically improves control in all decisions.

Wife beating is a common form of domestic violence perpetrated on Indian women. This practice is socially institutionalised and over a period of time it finds acceptance among women too. Many small survey-based studies have pointed out the extent of verbal, physical and sexual violence encountered by women from partners or other

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men known to them (Jejeebhoy 1998; Karlekar 1998). Women who justify wife beating possess a lesser sense of autonomy. This is a classic case of how social norms and values shape the conception of freedom and choice. Annexure Table 3 (p 65) shows that a large percentage of women justify wife beating for one or the other reason. Interestingly, refusal to have sex is the least justified reason, suggesting a sense of consciousness among women about their right over their sexuality. Urban women are less likely to justify wife beating for any reason. We would have expected the same for Christian women; but that is not the case. The scheduled caste (SC), ST and Other Backward Classes (OBC) women are equally regressive in their sense of autonomy. It is the general category (upper castes) women who are least likely to justify wife beating. Once again women with cash jobs are less likely to justify it than those who are not paid anything. Education has tremendous impact on women’s consciousness in this regard, as the percentage of women justifying wife beating is very low in the highly educated category as compared to those without any education at all. The percentage of highly educated women justifying wife beating for refusing sex is very low. This reconfirms our earlier proposition that any i mprovement in the sense of autonomy has the first impact on women’s sense of ownership over their sexuality. The percentage of women justifying wife beating goes on decreasing as we move up from the lower wealth quintile to higher wealth quintile.

Freedom of movement is one of the many freedoms considered to be essential for making a free choice. The autonomy of a woman is severely impaired if she is not allowed free movement. The NFHS-3 collected data on freedom of movement of women. Annexure Table 4 (p 65) shows the types of freedom of movement by background characteristics. It is noticed that urban, Christian, general caste (upper caste), those with cash job and highly educated women enjoy larger freedom of movement than their respective counterparts. The freedom of movement of Muslim women is highly impaired. Wealth has the same systematic impact, i e, women from the higher wealth quintile enjoy larger freedom than those in the lower quintiles. Freedom of movement outside the village is always lower than the freedom to visit a health facility or the market; even in the highest wealth quintile and highly educated category. This restricted freedom of movement, especially outside the village emanates from the conception that women are unsafe outside the four walls of their homes.

Another sensitive indicator of women’s autonomy is her ability to say no to sexual intercourse with her husband (Kishore and Subaiya 2008). We have looked at three situations in which women say no to sexual intercourse. Of all currently married women 72% to 85% are not prepared to have sexual intercourse with their husband when he has a sexually transmitted disease (STD) or is in a relationship with another woman or the woman herself does not want to have sexual intercourse. This can be verified from Annexure Table 3. Background characteristics like place of residence, religion, caste, education and wealth are not decisive factors as compared to freedom of movement and attitude towards wife beating. Moreover, when Annexure Table 5 (p 65) is juxtaposed with Annexure Table 3 (attitude towards wife beating) and Annexure Table 4 (freedom of movement), it appears that I ndian women are autonomous when it comes to saying no to sexual intercourse. It needs further probing to understand this.

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In the NFHS-3, information was sought from ever-married women on six specific situations: whether the husband became jealous or angry if they talked to other men; whether the husband accused them of being unfaithful; whether the husband would not permit them to meet their female friends; whether the husband tried to limit contact with their natal family; whether the husband insisted on knowing where they are at all times; and whether the husband did not trust them with money. These situations reflected different dimensions of women’s lives, ranging from economic independence and mobility to freedom to interact with friends and men known to them without arousing suspicion. While many women may not personally approve of such controlling behaviour; their acceptance of it or inability to reject it indicates that they are not autonomous within the marital home (Visaria 2008).

Visaria (2008) estimates that 12% women reported three or more controlling behaviours by their husbands. The differences when background characteristics were taken into account were not very significant, except that women from poor households faced more controlling behaviour than those belonging to betteroff households. Instead of grouping any three types of controlling behaviour, it would be interesting to group the three types of behaviour that prompt husbands to suspect and mistrust their wives when they deal with other men, even their male kin, a behaviour which undermines the very basis of a marital relationship. In all probability the percentage of women reporting these three controlling behaviour by their husbands would be higher than that of any three controlling behaviour as shown in Annexure Table 6 (p 65). Interestingly, the differences between women belonging to various socio-economic groups were very small when it came to restrictions on meeting female friends and handling money. The former controlling behaviour very likely stems from the fear that women will share news about family matters that husbands or in-laws do not want to be divulged to outsiders. Why does this controlling behaviour tend to decrease as the women age? It could be gradual adaptation by the women (or adaptive preference) or under-reporting of these behaviours. Longer years of education and higher wealth status certainly r educe this controlling behaviour in husbands.

Education and Violence

All the same, women’s education has a much stronger association with violence than men’s education. One in four men with 12 or more years of schooling used violence against their wives but only 15% of women with the same level of education reported being subject to violence by their spouses. It is only education beyond 12 years of schooling that appears to empower women and act as a protective factor. Even better educated women or those belonging to better-off families who experience violence are least likely to share their experiences or seek support from others. This needs to be understood in the context of a culture of silence where women tend not to disclose what happens within the home environment. Equally important is the sense of shame associated with being abused by someone known to them and with whom they share intimate or conjugal relations. Even when physically injured, women remain silent and suffer it alone. Further, widely prevalent societal norm of tolerance and acceptance in Indian


society and an adherence to them prevents women from reacting to unwanted situations (Visaria 2008).

Regional Profile

In a heterogeneous country like India, the national level indices are fraught with risk, especially for women’s empowerment and autonomy. We have a very liberal matriarchical system in the northeast and a very stifling patriarchical one in the north. A proper understanding of women’s empowerment and autonomy can be had only when we have a disaggregated picture. Ideally, the all-India picture needs to be disaggregated at the state level; but because of paucity of space we limit ourselves to six identifiable regions.

First we take up the freedom of movement for three purposes across these six regions (Figure 4). Women from the east have the lowest and those from the west have the highest freedom of movement. Freedom of movement outside the village is high in the north and north-east. Freedom of movement to a health facility is always lower comparitively in all regions of India.

Figure 4: Freedom of Movement (in %)

70 60 50 40 30 20 10 0 To_Market Health_Facility Outside-Village

India North East West South North-east Central India: Region

The highest percentages of women who say they have sexual intercourse with the husband are from the central region. However, responses of women are almost uniform for all three reasons across all six regions and the regions are almost a mirror image of the national picture (Figure 5). As pointed out earlier, “not in mood” is the most forceful expression of women’s autonomy in sexual relationship and women from all six regions do express this assertion quite significantly.

Figure 5: Say No to Have Sexual Intercourse with Husband (in %) 83.08 76.34 72.74 72.71 74.65 88.8 77.85 76.99 85.25 75.4 73.28 76.22 89.97 79.3 77.39 89.05 76.4 71.31 72.27 75.87 82.85 North East West South North-east Central India Husband_has_STD Husband_with_other_women Not_in mood

Wife-beating is a very sensitive indicator. A very large percentage of women from the south justify wife-beating and women from central India are the most unlikely to justify wife-beating for one or the other reason (Figure 6). Neglecting the children is the most common reason for justifying wife-beating while r efusing sex is the least. More than 35% women from south India justify wife-beating for one or the other reason. The most common reason for the justification of wife-beating is neglecting the children and going out without telling the husband regardless of the region. The NFHS-3 provides information on domestic violence too and when we combine women’s attitude towards wife-beating with actual domestic violence experienced by women there appears to be agreement between men and women on the norms that govern married life; if women fail to observe the norms they bring violence upon themselves. Violence against women varied hugely among the states. More than 40% women between the ages of 15 and 49 reported having experienced physical or sexual violence in the relatively backward states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar. This was only a tad lower in West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. On the other hand, less than 20% reported experiencing violence in states like Himachal Pradesh, Kerala, and Karnataka. In spite of these differentials, it is important to note that one in five women from the wealthiest group and one in seven women with education of 12 or more years reported being subjected to violence within the home, a lmost always by the spouse. Husbands tend to exercise control over their wives by clearly indicating how they should behave.

Figure 6: Women’s Attitude towards Wife-Beating (in %)60

India North East West South North-east Central Goes_without_telling_husband She_neglects_childrren Argue_husband Refused_sex_with_husband Burns_food 50 40 30 20 10 0

India: Region

The disaggregated analysis throws up some very intriguing r esults. Regions showing a greater degree of women’s empowerment perform very badly in terms of autonomy indicators; for example south India is the best region in terms of women’s empowerment but it is the worst region in terms of autonomy indicators. At the same time north-eastern India which is at the bottom of the table in terms of empowerment indicators shows relatively better performance in autonomy indicators. This suggests that there is a certain disjunction between empowerment and autonomy. It cannot be assumed that the one automatically leads to the other. It necessitates the need to look beyond economic resources or material prosperity and into cultural and social influences. Sociocultural influences seem to play a larger role in shaping autonomy and they are not necessarily co-terminus with women’s empowerment. There can be a variety of potential connections in different regions to explain this phenomenon. Therefore this study suggests that empowerment should not be taken as a proxy for women’s autonomy.

However, it needs to be recognised that the NFHS-3 does not fully take into account the very fine regional variations in empowerment and autonomy. It provides a detailed account of the health status of women and in doing so it looks at women’s

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empowerment and autonomy also. In a way, empowerment and autonomy issues are not properly built into its theoretical framework. Rather, it appears to be a motley collection of a few indicators of empowerment and autonomy. There are certain indicators whose validity in reflecting empowerment and autonomy needs empirical validation and at the same time some other indicators supposed to be potentially stronger indicatorsof empowerment and autonomy are left out. For instance, freedom in making career and marriage choices, in making decisions regarding reproductive health freedom to choose motherhood and right to safe abortion are rather stronger indicators of autonomy and empowerment. The kind of questions asked from the women about their decision-making power cannot be taken as strong indicators of autonomy and definitely not of agency. It is difficult to understand how a say in decision-making of what food is to be cooked and what is to be bought affects women’s empowerment. Women’s empowerment and autonomy is sensitive to sociocultural and geographical factors. It is often said that the heterogeneity of any society is best captured by looking at how women are treated in that society. In a country like India which houses the largest number of ethnic and linguistic groups, it is difficult to find a uniform set of indicators to capture women’s empowerment and autonomy for the whole of the country. The NFHS-3 does this. It may be a valid exercise to have a spatial or temporal comparison, but it may not be able to capture regional specifics.

Some tribes in India have social norms that enable their women to be more empowered than their non-tribal sisters (Visaria et al 1999; Heise et al 1994, cited in Sethuraman K 2008). In these tribes women are more involved in decision-making, have greater freedom of movement, and are free to choose their marital partners and can divorce and remarry without stigma (Shiva Kumar 1995; Kendra 1990, cited in Sethuraman K 2008). This is so for most of the north-east states. While these states are worst performing states for women in terms of education and health outcomes, access to job and resources, they occupy the highest position in autonomy and freedom of movement. Women are forced to go out and thus have greater freedom of movement due to livelihood compulsion especially in the difficult geographical terrains. But this cannot in any way be attributed to empowerment.

The women from the southern states are ranked at the top in terms of access to resources like education, employment and money, but in terms of controlling their lives they do not have any say. The highest domestic violence-prone area is the south of the country especially Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh where women themselves justify the practice. Dyson and Moore opined that the reason behind higher female access to resources in the south is because of intensive rice cultivation, which is highly female labour-oriented (Guha and Datta 2008).

Women in most societies gain in regard to education as a result of socio-economic development, but this is not necessarily true for job access or domestic freedom (Sharma and Retherford 1990; Sopher 1980 as cited in Guha and Datta 2008).

Socio-economic development, cultural factors and the ‘strength of the family welfare programme’ indirectly influence the status of women

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in the society. The favourable demographic condition in Kerala and Goa are believed to be the outcomes of social development rather than the strength of the family welfare programme. However the recent decline of fertility in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, where the family welfare programme is quite strong and socio-economic development is yet to reach noticeable levels, suggests that the family welfare programme independently, to a certain extent, can reduce fertility. Moreover the state specific models also affect the inter-state variations (Guha and Datta 2008: 2).

In most of the micro and macro level studies these “pockets” which are at odds with the overall pattern of that region, are overlooked or not captured fully (Guha and Datta 2008). The way in which socio-economic development will affect women’s empowerment ultimately depends on how new ideas are internalised, which is dependent upon prevailing cultural beliefs and practices. Therefore the NFHS should look at more comprehensive and wider set of indicators which can be uniformly taken as a measure of empowerment and autonomy. Some of the suggested variables can be work division in household duties/male participation in household work, political and legal awareness, protest and campaigning, i e, demand and questioning at the community level, labour market participation and occupational division, etc.


In works on empowerment, agency and autonomy, these terms coincide or have been used interchangeably, broadly including the ability to make authentic choice, and to having resources to exercise these choices and finally to get the desired goals. However, empowerment, autonomy and agency can substantially diverge from each other and one cannot reflect in the other, although they are very positively related to each other as an empowered woman can exercise a higher degree of autonomy and agency. This may not always be true as in the case of women from southern India who are highly empowered but have very low level of autonomy, whereas the north-eastern women are the least empowered but enjoy a higher degree of autonomy. This highlights the need for identification of cultural factors that have a bearing on empowerment and autonomy. It also shows that empowerment and autonomy are not interchangeable. However empowerment significantly affects autonomy.

A large number of Indian women do not have sufficient autonomy regarding value choices for themselves if autonomy of women is seen in the acts and decisions in accordance with their authentic interests or integrated values and desire, like decisionmaking and gender role attitude. The selected indicators of autonomy and empowerment reflect surprising results across the various regions of India. The region with higher women’s empowerment performs poorly in terms of indicators of autonomy, e g, south India and the region high in autonomy is poor in empowerment, e g, north-east India. This suggest that we have to look beyond economic resources or material prosperity and should look into broadly cultural and social influences, which have a larger role to play in shaping women’s autonomy and agency, which may not be necessarily related with women’s empowerment. There can be variety of potential connections and the various forms of inequities in different regions to explain this phenomenon.


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Annexure Table 2: Decision-Making by Background Characteristics

Table 1: Percentage of Women Empowered Given the Various SourcesOwn Large Purchase Daily Purchase Visit Family What to do Healthcare Needs with Money

Job for Higher Owns Knowledge Given Regular_Husband Cash _edu Account of Loan Loan media_exp Earns



India 54.67 44.7 15.07 38.6 10.48 51.38

Urban 29.75 10.4 39.94 12.25 7.11

North 36.75 39.15 13.63 18.3 3.31 43.31

Rural 25.98 7.64 29.1 10.74 6.19

East 46.97 35.66 11.4 39.51 6.97 37.18 Religion

West 62.9 59.99 20.45 38.92 5.18 62.01

Hindu 26.37 8.38 32.11 10.43 6.21

South 77.67 53.56 19.75 66.35 19 74.13 Muslim 28.79 8.38 32.12 11.03 8.15

North-east 65.2 53.16 12.66 39.51 4.22 49.06 Christ 26.91 14.66 40.7 14.15 7.71

Central 41.14 32.76 8.68 30.21 3.5 38.23 Other 40.08 7.53 36.34 14.74 5.36

Location Urban 88.14 65.81 23.97 44.24 7.33 77.26Castes

SC 29.13 9.55 33.59 12.23 6.87

Rural 44.97 34.39 10.72 35.84 12.39 38.74

Religion ST 24.6 6.79 29.66 8.7 5.46 Hindu 52.7 44.9 15.42 39.18 11.19 51.7

OBC 24.71 8.94 32.52 10.03 6.99 Muslim 64.94 36.39 10.47 30.61 5.92 43.65

General 30 7.75 36.34 11.14 5.89 Christ 73.34 66.02 24.44 60.42 14.71 67.48

Job for type of payment Other 64.03 60.76 20.89 41.29 7.42 64.04

Job Cash 32.34 13.56 41.05 15.46 8.31Castes

Not Paid 20.81 5.22 28.27 8.61 4.32 SC 61.46 34.09 11.62 38.09 12.27 45.27


ST 43.8 25.12 9 30.15 10.45 27.62

Higher edu 31.52 8.81 35.34 12.4 4.92 OBC 48.43 41.29 13.5 38.56 12.38 49.59

No_Edu 27.06 8.11 32.04 10.53 7.54

General 65.72 60.76 20.89 41.29 7.42 64 Wealth quintiles

Wealth quintiles Poorest 25.58 8.1 28.92 9.62 6.96

Poorest 42.64 10.62 3.72 25.09 11.06 12.39 Poorer 25.69 8.21 29.48 11.23 6.73

Poorer 47.11 22.32 7.08 33.05 12.26 26.55

Middle 26.3 9.23 32.21 12.92 7.09

Middle 54.79 36.72 10.53 39.46 15.04 47.2

Richer 64.38 58.67 16.3 43.41 11.35 69.79 Richer 28.23 9.15 32.32 13.22 6.52

Richest 82.52 84.35 33.61 48.79 5.21 89.34 Richest 29.65 7.74 36.72 13.45 5.15

march 12, 2011 vol xlvi no 11

Table 3: Percentage of Women Justifying Wife-Beating by Background Characteristics Table 4: Freedom of Movement by Background Characteristics
Goes without She Neglects Argue Husband Refused Sex Burns Food To Market To Health Facility To Outside
Telling Children with Village
Husband Husband
Location Urban 66.17 60.29 45.46
Urban 20.57 28.51 21.19 8.86 13.38
Rural 44.27 41.5 33.98
Rural 33.14 37.75 34.83 16.65 23.81
Religion Religion Hindu 52.45 48.2 38.25
Hindu 28.99 34.69 30.19 13.9 20.65
Muslim 40.53 40.12 29.91
Muslim 30.16 34.34 32.43 15.35 19.17
Christ 67.01 59.9 51.21
Christ 32.44 43.91 30.22 13.93 19.77
Other 60.93 56.66 48.04
Other 22.46 30.15 25.85 13.71 19.21
Castes Castes
SC 31.99 38.03 33.28 15.81 23.35 SC 53.22 49.43 38.74
ST 31.13 37.09 33.66 16.89 23.47 ST 49.11 42.6 34.78
OBC 32.04 37.3 32.94 15.28 22.77 OBC 49.5 45.12 35.47
General 22.11 28.07 23.83 10.15 14.62 General 54.37 51.53 48.04
Job for type of payment Job for type of payment
Job for Cash 32.83 39.68 32.35 16.45 22.58 Job Cash 64.86 60.41 51.55
Not Paid 35.05 40.45 37.23 19.29 27.94 Not Paid 45.8 41.6 34.79
Education Education
Higher edu 8.01 15.56 9.39 3.07 5.2 Higher_edu 76.85 71.16 58.88
No edu 36.39 38.71 38.13 19.29 26.36 No_Edu 48.98 45.89 36.32
Wealth quintiles Wealth quintiles
Poorest 34.11 37.05 37.82 18.04 25.58 Poorest 41.87 39.15 29.84
Poorer 35.49 39.13 36.97 17.87 25.69 Poorer 42.7 40.53 33.04
Middle 35.51 40.92 35.66 17.07 26.3 Middle 48.07 44.63 36.21
Richer 28.26 36.12 28.52 12.67 28.23 Richer 53.41 48.97 38.85
Richest 14.4 22.26 15.85 6.44 29.65 Richest 67.59 61.87 48.25

Table 5: Women’s Attitude to Say No to Have Sexual Table 6: Percentage of Ever-married Women Aged 15-49 Whose Husbands Exercised Marital Control, according to Intercourse with Husband Select Background Characteristics (2005-06)

Husband Has Husband with Not in Mood Background Percentage of Women Whose Husband
STD Other Characteristics Is Jealous If Accuses Her Does Not Tries Limiting Insists on Does Not Displays Displays None
Women She Talks to of Being Permit Her Her Contact Knowing Trust Her Three or of the Specific
Location Other Men Unfaithful to Meet with Natal Where She Is with Any More Specific Behaviours
Urban 80.87 81.88 80.45 Female Friends Family All the Time Money Behaviours
Rural 76.38 78.03 75.9 Age
15-19 33.6 11.7 19.3 12.3 16.1 20.9 17.2 49.5
Religion Hindu 78.55 80.17 78.31 20-24 27.7 8.2 15.9 10.3 12.7 18.5 12.7 56.3
Muslim 73.21 73.57 72.22 25-29 27.1 8.7 16.1 9.8 12.7 18.0 12.4 55.9
Christ 76.45 77.87 74.46 30-39 25.8 8.5 15.9 10.0 11.2 18.8 12.0 57.5
Other 81.27 82.49 78.19 40-49 23.5 7.7 14.9 8.7 10.4 17.1 10.4 59.8
Castes Residence
SC 77.54 78.97 76.96 Urban 20.5 6.4 14.3 8.0 9.3 17.1 9.6 63.7
ST 72.8 76.27 74.36 Rural 29.0 9.4 16.6 10.7 13.0 18.9 13.3 54.0
OBC 78.89 80.67 78.83 Education
General 78.57 79.24 78.19 Illiterate 32.3 1.08 16.5 11.4 13.4 19.3 14.5 51.5
Job for type of 5 years 28.3 9.7 19.7 11.6 14.8 21.2 14.8 53.1
payment 12 + years 9.6 2.6 12.4 4.5 6.2 14.0 5.0 73.8
Job for Cash 75.73 77.53 75.75 Caste/tribe
Not Paid 78.91 80.58 79.11 SC 29.7 10.5 17.6 10.7 12.9 20.2 14.1 53.7
Education ST 31.3 12.0 17.6 11.0 15.3 18.9 16.0 52.7
Higher edu 79.81 81.15 79.03 OBC 27.2 8.2 13.6 9.8 11.1 16.1 11.5 58.3
No edu 76.75 77.99 76.17 Other 22.2 6.6 17.4 9.1 11.4 19.9 10.9 58.3
Wealth quintiles Wealth index
Poorest 73.52 76.39 74.8 Lowest 33.9 12.4 17.2 12.8 15.4 19.8 16.0 49.3
Poorer 75.63 76.99 75.4 Middle 28.8 10.0 16.0 10.5 12.3 17.9 13.0 55.6
Middle 76.37 77.36 75.76 Highest 14.8 3.0 14.0 5.8 7.1 16.6 6.8 68.1
Richer 78.65 79.93 77.46 All 26.4 8.5 15.9 9.9 11.9 18.3 12.2 56.9
Richest 83.71 84.67 82.49 Source: IIPS and Macro International (2007).
Economic Political Weekly march 12, 2011 vol xlvi no 11 65

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