Do Schooling and Work Empower Women in Developing Countries? Gender and Domestic Decisions in Sri Lanka


Malhotra, Anju, and Mark Mather. 1997. “Do Schooling and Work Empower Women in Developing Countries? Gender and Domestic Decisions in Sri Lanka.” Sociological Forum 12 (4): 599–630.

Authors: Anju Malhotra, Mark Mather


Our work challenges and points out the limitations of the theoretical presumptions underlying the relationship between empowerment, education, and employment that have been emphasized in both the exiting literature and the current rhetoric to "empower" women in developing countries. We use survey, life history, and focus group data to empirically examine the relationship between schooling, paid work, and power in domestic decision making for young, married women in Sri Lanka. We argue that the relationship between education, work, and women's control of household decisions is conditioned by the larger social context, and as such, it is likely to reflect the extent to which the division of labor and access to information and economic resources are the bases of domestic power in the society under consideration. Our results make a strong case for the need to move away from broad-based conceptualizations of women's empowerment to a consideration of the specific arenas and dimensions along which women can have power. In focusing on the domestic arena alone, we find that there are important differences in both the nature and determinants of the financial as opposed to the social and organizational dimension of power in Sri Lankan households. Women who control one of these aspects of family decisions do not necessarily control the other, and while education and employment play an important role in determining women's input in financial decisions, they are largely immaterial in determining household decisions related to social and organizational matters. Our results also demonstrate the importance of going beyond simplistic and limited measures of schooling and work to consider more fundamental structural factors involving family, social, and economic organization.

Topics: Education, Gender, Women, Households, Livelihoods Regions: Asia, South Asia Countries: Sri Lanka

Year: 1997

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