Examining women’s status using core demographic and health survey data

Type Journal Article - Women and Families: Evolution of the Status of Women as o Factor ond Consequences of Changes in Fomily Dynamics
Title Examining women’s status using core demographic and health survey data
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 1997
Page numbers 371-420
URL http://www.cicred.org/Eng/Publications/Books/Unesco1997/Unescokishor.pdf
The collection of data on women's status has not been a primary objective of the Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) program, nor have these data been traditionally used to examine women’s status1. Nevertheless, a large part of the data routinely collected by these surveys can be used very effectively to measure several dimensions of women's status. The use by DHS of a standard questionnaire with only minor modifications for data collection in all countries, permits the development of identical indicators and makes comparisons of
women's status across countries feasible. There are few if any data sets that can compare to the spread and scope of the Demographic and Health Surveys data: since its initiation a decade ago, this program has interviewed over half a million women in 47 countries. In addition, most of these data sets are available for public use. The exploration of non-traditional uses of this vast and easily accessed data source is made particularly imperative in the prevailing stringent financial and budgetary climate which has eroded research funding.
Despite the empirical feasibility of comparing women’s status across countries afforded by the Demographic and Health Surveys data, there is legitimate skepticism as to whether cross-country comparisons of women's status are meaningful. For one, there is no one accepted definition of women's status: terms such as women's empowerment, female autonomy, gender
equality, access to and control over resources and even prestige have all been used to define women's status in the literature. In addition, women's status is multi-faceted, making it difficult to measure uniquely: not only can it vary along different dimensions such as decision-making power, freedom of movement, access to education, etc., but it can also vary between the different spheres in which women function, such as the domestic and non-domestic (Mason, 1986; Whyte, 1978). This implies that women may score high on one dimension of
women's status while simultaneously scoring low on another; they could also have high status in one sphere of operation but not in another. This multidimensionality undoubtedly confounds attempts to compare women's status across countries. The interaction of the cultural context with the cogency of different indicators of women's status also adds to the confusion, since factors that contribute to high status in one cultural setting may have no relevance or may even lower women's status in another. For example, the practice of consanguineous marriages appears to correlate positively with women's higher status in the southern states of India (Dyson and Moore, 1983), but is cited as a reflection of women's lower status in the Middle East (Moghadam, 1992).

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