Effects of women's autonomy on divorce: evidence from rural Malawi

Kim Deslandes, Université de Montréal

Women's lower status is considered an outcome of the material, social and emotional control men have over them. This control may stem from a couple's dynamics and the social norms dictating the division of labour and behaviours associated with marriage in a given society. Studies have shown that some women use marital strategies as an opportunity to free themselves from controlling family members or partners either by marrying or by leaving a controlling spouse. In the context of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in sub-Saharan Africa, women's autonomy is a key determinant in the promotion for better reproductive health behaviours as well as women and their children's well-being. The aim of this study is to identify if union dissolutions generate a greater perception of autonomy for women using data from the Malawi Longitudinal Study on Family and Health panel study. We use sequential analysis to extract marital trajectories and regress them on the dependant variable, women's autonomy. Autonomy is represented by an index constructed from questions on five dimensions (mobility, acceptability of divorce, domestic violence, negotiation of safer sex, and acceptability of coerced sex). Preliminary analysis using cross-sectional data from the 2006 wave confirms the effect of divorce on women's autonomy; women who have experienced a union dissolution are more likely to perceive a more autonomous perception of themselves than women who are in a stable marriage. The next step is to exploit the richness of our longitudinal data by using measures of women's autonomy at different period and by comparing the change in the score for women who remain married to women who divorce from their spouse over an observation period of 10 years. Considering our preliminary results, we expect that the autonomy score of recently divorced women with be greater than women who remain in their respective union.

  See extended abstract

Presented in Poster Session 3