Women’s empowerment and impact on child nutrition in sub-Saharan Africa

Gordon Abekah-Nkrumah, David Lawson

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Using Demographic and Health Survey data from 20 sub-Saharan African countries, this chapter conceptualizes and measures women’s empowerment based on women’s ability to negotiate informal institutions or have access to economic resources, and examines their differential effect on child nutrition. By constructing a Composite Women Empowerment Index (CWEI) we are able to confirm the view that women’s empowerment has positive returns to child nutrition. Decomposed models and simulations comparing women’s ability to negotiate informal institutions with access to economic resources suggest that the former has a higher effect on child nutrition than the latter. Nonetheless, traditional factors (women’s education, household wealth, access to health services) have a higher effect on child nutrition compared with women’s empowerment either as a composite or disaggregated. Thus, we advocate that using women’s empowerment as a channel to improving household outcomes such as child nutrition should target women’s access not only to economic resources, but also to informal institutions. The chapter cautions, however, that emphasis on women’s empowerment should not be at the expense of equally important traditional factors that have direct benefits both for child nutrition and women’s empowerment in the short and long run.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationWhat works for Africa's poorest children
Subtitle of host publicationfrom measurement to action
EditorsDavid Lawson, Diego Angemi, Ibrahim Kasirye
Place of PublicationRugby
PublisherPractical Action Publishing
Number of pages28
ISBN (Electronic)9781780448572
ISBN (Print)9781788530453, 9781788530460
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jun 2020


  • women’s empowerment
  • empowerment index
  • child nutrition
  • sub-Saharan Africa
  • demographic and health survey
  • principal component analysis

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Global Development Institute


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