Women's Capabilities and Empowerment in Lusaka Zambia

Wednesday, July 16, 2014: 4:15 PM
Room: 418
Oral Presentation
Lwendo Moonzwe DAVIS , ICF International
Sen (1985) states that resources and agency constitute capabilities, which are the potential that people have for living in the way they want to and of achieving valued ways of being and doing. Drawing on Sen (1985), Kabeer (1999) defines empowerment as the ability to exercise choice, and states that this ability is composed of three interrelated dimensions: resources, agency and achievement. The concept of empowerment has been defined in several ways, including decision-making capabilities, and is often proposed as a way to improve women’s overall wellbeing. For example, due to women’s increasing risk for HIV/STIs, several organizations have promoted interventions that empower women as a way to improve their health outcomes and reduce their sexual risk. This study focused on women’s empowerment and its relationship to sexual risk and sought to delineate the roles of the family and social context in both empowerment and sexual risk. Data from the study, conducted peri-urban settlement in Lusaka, Zambia, includes observations, secondary analysis of in-country newspapers, 60 in-depth qualitative interviews with and the administration of a survey instrument to 205 women in the study community. Findings from this study highlight the complicated nature of the concept of empowerment. Results indicate that the nature of a woman’s relationship with her male partner is a crucial mediating variable in her sexual risk. A positive partner relationship was associated with lower levels of violence and men’s sexual risk behaviors. Further, joint decision making between a woman and her partner was associated with lower risk for HIV, whereas individual decision making by the woman or the man was associated with increased risk for HIV. This study lends support for empowerment interventions that take a holistic approach to risk reduction by not only involving women’s male partners but also targeting changes in societal and cultural norms.