Handbook of Research on Gender and Economic Life
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Handbook of Research on Gender and Economic Life

Edited by Deborah M. Figart and Tonia L. Warnecke

The Handbook illuminates complex facets of the economic and social provisioning process across the globe. The contributors – academics, policy analysts and practitioners from wide-ranging areas of expertise – discuss the methodological approaches to, and analytical tools for, conducting research on the gender dimension of economic life. They also provide analyses of major issues facing both developed and developing countries. Topics explored include civil society, discrimination, informal work, working time, central bank policy, health, education, food security, poverty, migration, environmental activism and the financial crisis.
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Chapter 10: How gendered institutions constrain women’s empowerment

Irene van Staveren


Since the 1980s, gender policies at the international level have emphasized women’s participation in the economy. In particular, international gender policies tend to concentrate on the promotion of women’s access to resources, such as jobs, education, land, other assets, and credit. Recent literature acknowledges that women’s empowerment involves more than access to resources but also implies agency and an enabling institutional context, which together help women to achieve better well-being (Kabeer, 2001; Narayan, 2005a; Alsop et al., 2006; Ibrahim and Alkire, 2007). In light of the recent literature on women’s empowerment, this chapter undertakes an innovative exploratory analysis of the role of resources relative to women’s agency, captured by gendered institutions that limit this agency. Nonmarket institutions that constrain women’s economic position as well as economic development in general are measured, like all other variables, at the macro level. Whereas most scholarship on women’s empowerment is at the micro level, the empirical analysis here is cross-country. The advantage of a cross-country empirical analysis is that it allows for much more variation in institutions, and, hence, it helps to understand more fully how these affect women’s agency and access to resources. (At the micro level, for example, a negative effect of gender norms on women’s bargaining power has been demonstrated, even to the extent that it overrides a positive effect of resources.) In support of a macro-level analysis of empowerment, a useful database has become available with indicators for gendered institutions for most countries of the world (OECD, 2006).

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