Volume 47 - Article 15 | Pages 415–452  

Women's economic empowerment in sub-Saharan Africa: Evidence from cross-national population data

By Eunice Williams, Heini Vaisanen, Sabu S. Padmadas


Background: Women’s economic empowerment (WEE) has attracted high-level policy interest, and is recognized as a central, cross-cutting outcome, and the cornerstone for achieving Sustainable Development Goals. However, it lacks a standardised definition and standard, measurable, and comparable indicators, and is plagued by large data gaps, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA).

Objective: We examine the extent of WEE in SSA. Our goal is to identify WEE country typologies explaining the variation in and contributing domains of WEE in each country.

Methods: Using recent DHS data in 33 countries, we apply principal component analysis to generate a WEE score based on 9 indicators in order to better understand the contributors underlying this score and derive country typologies.

Results: Overall, WEE is low but it varies markedly by country. It is typically explained by educational attainment, employment, and land ownership among women alone or in combination with men. We identified 5 typologies of WEE: (1) instrumental agency explained by high educational attainment, (2) instrumental agency explained by land ownership, (3) individual economic advancement explained by high employment rates, (4) basic-level economic empowerment, and (5) low-level economic empowerment.

Conclusions: The level of WEE in SSA varies by country. The factors affecting the level also vary and can be divided into 5 typologies characterising the type of WEE.

Contribution: Our results provide timely evidence for the increasing push to achieve WEE and highlight potential priority areas for policy and programme interventions.

Author's Affiliation

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