Reconceptualizing Women's and Girls' Empowerment: A Cross-Cultural Index for Measuring Progress Toward Improved Sexual and Reproductive Health

Caroline Moreau, Johns Hopkins University Celia Karp, Johns Hopkins University Shannon N. Wood, Johns Hopkins University Hadiza Galadanci, Bayero University Simon Peter Sebina Kibira, Makerere University Fredrick Makumbi, Makerere University Elizabeth Omoluabi, Centre for Research Evaluation Resources and Development Solomon Shiferaw, Addis Ababa University Assefa Seme, Addis Ababa University Amy Tsui, Johns Hopkins University

First published online:

| DOI: https://doi.org/10.1363/46e9920
Abstract / Summary

Improving women's empowerment is pivotal to public health and development programs; however, inconsistent definitions and lack of cross-cultural measures compromise monitoring efforts.


Data collected in 2017–2018 in Ethiopia, Uganda and two sites in Nigeria were used to develop a cross-cultural index of women's and girls' empowerment in sexual and reproductive health (WGE-SRH). Item development was grounded in qualitative interviews, and informed by a conceptual framework that included domains of existence of choice and exercise of choice related to sex, contraceptive use and pregnancy. Items were pilot tested among 1,229 women aged 15–49 across sites. Psychometric properties were explored to identify crosssite constructs, and logistic regression was used to assess the construct validity of each dimension.


Analyses identified subscales for sexual existence of choice (Cronbach's alphas, 0.71–0.79) and contraceptive existence of choice (0.56–0.78). A pregnancy existence of choice subscale emerged for only two sites (0.61–0.80). Internal reliability of the exercise of choice subscales varied. Construct validity analyses found that for some sites, high scores on the sexual and contraceptive existence of choice subscales were associated with elevated odds of volitional sex and contraceptive use, respectively. Combining the existence of choice and exercise of choice summary scores for sex strengthened associations with volitional sex.


The cross-cultural WGE-SRH index can be used to assess existence of choice related to contraception and volitional sex. Further work is needed to improve measures of SRH exercise of choice, and investigate the index's multidimensionality and associations with SRH outcomes.

Author's Affiliations

Caroline Moreau is associate professor, Celia Karp and Shannon N. Wood are assistant scientists, and Amy Tsui is professor emeritus—all at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD, USA. Hadiza Galadanci is consultant obstetrician and gynecologist, Bayero University, Kano, Nigeria. Simon Peter Sebina Kibira is lecturer and Fredrick Makumbi is senior lecturer, Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda. Elizabeth Omoluabi is managing director, Centre for Research Evaluation Resources and Development, Ile-Ife, Nigeria. Solomon Shiferaw and Assefa Seme are associate professors, Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia.


The views expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect those of the Guttmacher Institute.