Marriage, Power and Welllbeing

Project Details


Since the 1995 UN Conference on women when the UNDP defined the Gender Empowerment Measure, composed of data on parliamentary seats held by women, their employment in senior posts, and their percentage share of earned income, there has been recognition that addressing gender equity requires attention to power, voice and choice. This recognition finds expression in World Bank policy (WB 2001), DFID strategy to promote sexual equality and give women a stronger voice, and in Millenium Development Goal 3, to promote gender equality and empower women. Achieving this objective depends on understanding gender relations across many social scales and locations, but especially those within domestic groups since almost all women are constrained and enabled in very fundamental ways by the households they inhabit.

The proposed research aims to
Improve understanding of intrahousehold relations in poor rural African communities for more effective poverty reduction and social justice.
Test existing models of how women and men, within marriage, cooperate in household production, benefit differentially from household resources, and are able to influence, 'negotiate' and manage their joint and separate interests.
Make theoretical and methodological advances for development research by bringing together disciplines and methods in addressing an issue of common interest to academics from these disciplines and to development policy formation and practice.

The location for this study is an area of eastern Uganda dominated by the Bagisu. It has been chosen because it is not atypical of areas of persistent rural poverty in Africa, it offers an unusual degree of existing data and analysis of livelihoods and gender relations, and ethnography of Gisu society (Heald 1998, 1999). These factors make it an ideal location to analyse how marriage mediates the gendered experience of poverty and how women and men exercise agency in managing conjugality.

The methods used for this research are innovative. They combine the use of existing survey data, from a pro-poor growth project funded by DFID, for the two focal villages of the study, with data from an experimental game designed by a multidisciplinary team to test elements of models of relations between women and men in conjugal exchanges, and conducted in 2005, and with data from follow-up qualitative interviews with couples participating in both the survey and the games. These three distinctive data streams are to be used to understand better how poverty and inequality, of individuals, are deepened or ameliorated by marriage.

The proposed research involves further fieldwork to improve the range, relevance and rigour of material collected in the pilot study, in order to address the following research questions:
What gender gaps are there in achieved wellbeing of spouses? Do women and men have different perceptions of personal wellbeing?

What are the contributions of spouses to joint livelihoods? Do women and men have different perceptions of member's contributions to household wellbeing?
How do the breakdown positions of women and men vary? Do women and men perceive their breakdown positions differently?
How does household poverty relate to the individual power of women, and gender relations?
Is bargaining power of spouses determined largely by economic power, especially participation in labour and commodity markets?
How is bargaining power within marriage patterned by kinship, marriage and broader social relations?
What differences are there in articulated gender relations, and allocation behaviour as revealed in experimental game behaviours?
How far does the cooperative conflict model help understand differential wellbeing outcomes and gender inequality in a rural African context?
What methods, and combinations of methods, are most effective for studying gender relations within domestic groups?
Effective start/end date1/05/0630/09/08


  • Economic and Social Research Council: £158,340.00