Institutions, female empowerment, and Reproductive Outcomes

There is an interesting article of on Devex.com about the important role a civil registration and vital statistics system can play to enhance female empowerment in developing countries. The article provides a powerful anecdote about a Kenyan woman, Blessing, who was able to protect herself and her daughters’ legal rights after her husband died, by simply having a formal marriage certificate. Only a small percentage of African marriages are legally registered with the government. In the case of Blessing, if she did not have the formal marriage certificate, her husband’s family could have claimed their land after her husband passed.

To me, this anecdote really highlights the important role that institutional capacity plays in female social and economic empowerment, and thus on women’s reproductive health outcomes. State institutional capacity determines the effectiveness, quality, and availability of public RHFP service provision. Further, Institutions not only define formal legal rights for women, but also influence and reinforce informal norms/heuristics around gender. These institutional impacts on female empowerment can greatly effect a woman’s control over her own RHFP decision making (i.e. diminishing her intra-household bargaining power). Thus state institutional capacity can impact demand for RHFP services directly through quality and availability of public options, and indirectly through heuristics and bargaining power.

While micro-level behavioral interventions can shift the equilibrium of reproductive health outcomes of those impacted, effectively scaling up these interventions requires certain level of state institutional capacity.  Therefore, emphasis on strengthening state institutions should go hand in hand with demand side behavioral interventions in reproductive health. To this end, I would like to invite you to check out the great research from some of my CEGA colleagues, affiliates on Institutional Capacity and the impact on development.