Social Science & Medicine
Volume 169, Pages 1-202 (November 2016)
Associations between quantitative measures of women’s empowerment and access to care and health status for mothers and their children: A systematic review of evidence from the developing world
Research on the association between women’s empowerment and maternal and child health has rapidly expanded. However, questions concerning the measurement and aggregation of quantitative indicators of women’s empowerment and their associations with measures of maternal and child health status and healthcare utilization remain unanswered. Major challenges include complexity in measuring progress in several dimensions and the situational, context dependent nature of the empowerment process as it relates to improvements in maternal and child health status and maternal care seeking behaviors. This systematic literature review summarizes recent evidence from the developing world regarding the role women’s empowerment plays as a social determinant of maternal and child health outcomes. A search of quantitative evidence previously reported in the economic, socio-demographic and public health literature finds 67 eligible studies that report on direct indicators of women’s empowerment and their association with indicators capturing maternal and child health outcomes. Statistically significant associations were found between women’s empowerment and maternal and child health outcomes such as antenatal care, skilled attendance at birth, contraceptive use, child mortality, full vaccination, nutritional status and exposure to violence. Although associations differ in magnitude and direction, the studies reviewed generally support the hypothesis that women’s empowerment is significantly and positively associated with maternal and child health outcomes. While major challenges remain regarding comparability between studies and lack of direct indicators in key dimensions of empowerment, these results suggest that policy makers and practitioners must consider women’s empowerment as a viable strategy to improve maternal and child health, but also as a merit in itself. Recommendations include collection of indicators on psychological, legal and political dimensions of women’s empowerment and development of a comprehensive conceptual framework that can guide research and policy making.