Defining and studying empowerment of women: a research note from Bangladesh.
The "systematic weakening" of social structures to ensure empowerment of women is not immediately obvious. In this research note, measures of changes in women's status in Bangladesh are discussed within the village community at the individual level. A combination of approaches may be used to show individual level changes and social structural change: participant observation in 6 villages and structured interviews with a larger, random sample of women. In the literature review of empowerment, 6 domains are identified: sense of self and vision of the future, mobility and visibility, economic security, status and decision-making power within the household, ability to interact effectively in public, and participation in nonfamily groups. Specific responses within each domain are given in the appendix; a copy of a questionnaire is also included. Discussion focuses on each of the 6 domains of women's empowerment. A woman's sense of self and future hopes can be assessed in several ways: the extent to which women hide behind their "saree," women's attitude toward the loss of "purdah," women's sense of security, and future orientations. Structured interviews can be used to capture most of these measures; even simple actions such a hiding behind her saree can be observed during an interview. Qualitative methods can also be used to assess women's sense of security. Purdah violations should include reference to questions about the use of male escorts and the reason for going out into public areas (visiting parents, going to the cinema, or buying or selling in the market). Research indicated that empowerment is better measured by cash income rather than property ownership. Quantitative questions could be asked about the ownership of property, new skills and knowledge about how to run a business, engagement in new types of work, and providing for partial or full support of the family. Women's empowerment is also reflected in the purchase of specific items and whether joint decisions are made on major purchases of investments. Preventing a woman's contact with her natal relatives and appropriation of property are other means of male domination. Women's participation outside the family is very important to assess, e.g., to resist being cheated in an outside work situation, or to be involved in nonfamily groups outside the home.