Young women’s household bargaining power in marriage and parenthood in Ethiopia

Young women’s household bargaining power in marriage and parenthood in Ethiopia

In Ethiopian government policy, marriage under the age of 18 is considered ‘early marriage’ or ‘child marriage’ and is categorised as a harmful traditional practice. Efforts to tackle harmful traditional practices in the country have been made in the name of gender equality.

In 2014, Ethiopia ranked 129 out 188 countries in the Gender Inequality Index (UNDP 2015). This is despite the government’s commitment to improve the social standing of girls and women, and the number of programmes targeting different aspects of gender inequality, from early marriage to women’s job creation, as well as attempts to change local cultural belief systems.
 
This working paper examines the factors that affect the bargaining power of young married women in marriage and parenthood in Ethiopia, where power structures remain overwhelmingly male-dominated and patriarchal. It draws on longitudinal qualitative data and survey information collected by Young Lives with children, young people and their families between 2007 and 2015.

The paper’s main focus is young women’s changing relations and analysis of their ‘bargaining power’ before and after marriage. The concept of bargaining power has been used to understand gender inequality, primarily from the field of economics, but this mainly qualitative paper takes bargaining power to mean the negotiating capacity of young married women within their marital relationships and households.

The paper argues that intra-household, social-institutional and individual factors intertwine to shape young women’s agency towards bargaining power in differing areas of their lives. Generally, factors such as urban or rural residence, education, standard of living, customs and norms combine to shape the bargaining power of young women in marriage. Decisions are usually made at a collective level, whereas agency at the individual level is often very shallow.

The study has several policy implications:
  • policies aimed at helping women exercise gender equality in marriage and even before marriage have to consider the household-level factors, individual-level factors and the wider perspective of community level factors that shape the bargaining power of women
  • policies and programmes targeted towards reducing gender inequality at the intra-household level have to also consider contexts and how cultural beliefs and norms shape the frameworks of marriage and of decision-making more broadly
  • this examination of bargaining power draws attention to the role of relationships, such that policies aimed to empower women must also work with and for those who have a stake in limiting or enhancing women’ s agency, including their mothers, husbands, other relatives and community members
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