'Self-Indulgence' versus 'Altruism': Two Notions of Female Empowerment as a Determinant of Reproductive Health

Alaka Malwade Basu, Cornell University
Gayatri Brij Koolwal, Cornell University

The growing literature on 'female empowerment' and reproductive health continues to grapple with the meanings of words like autonomy and empowerment. Measures like the ability to take child health-care decisions and have a voice in household expenditures are useful empirically but do not all automatically imply empowerment. This paper tries to distinguish between empowerment which is instrumental and put to the service of better child outcomes, and that which is 'self-indulgent' in that it helps women to invest in themselves for their own sakes, not because this makes them better wives and mothers. The former is non-contested and comes from factors such as education and employment; the later has to be looked for in measures of the ability to be unproductively free. Indian NFHS data are used to illustrate how these conceptions of empowerment have differing implications for reproductive health.

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Presented in Session 166: Gender and Demographic Processes