Measuring empowerment: choices, values and norms

Diego Maiorano, Dishil Shrimankar, Suruchi Thapar-Bjorkert, Hans Blomkvist

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In this paper, we present a novel, survey-based method to measure people’s empowerment, across different domains of their lives. The method includes three elements: i) a direct measurement of decision-making, defined as the ability to make choices; ii) a measure of whether people have reasons to value those choices; and iii) a measure of the role that prevailing social norms play in determining people’s ability to make strategic life choices. We build an Empowerment score that is computed using these three elements. In the second part of the paper we, first, evaluate the effectiveness of the tool, using original survey data from India. We show that using the Empowerment score makes a substantial difference compared to a simpler (and less theoretically rigorous) score based on direct measurement of decision-making only. Second, we apply the Alkire-Foster method to compute an Empowerment index that allows for comparisons of empowerment levels across locations, contexts, social groups and time. The Empowerment score has important policy applications. It can be used as a variable in policy and programme evaluations and to identify not only those who make or do not make a certain choice, but also individuals who do not value making those choices and if they might be conforming to social norms. In this way, the tool can assist in directing government attention to work with marginalised groups in making choices they want to make rather than pressing them into making choices that they do not value.
Original languageEnglish
Article number105220
Number of pages18
JournalWorld Development
Early online date6 Nov 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 6 Nov 2020

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