Women’s empowerment and gender-differentiated food allocation in Bangladesh

Abstract

This paper analyzes the impact of women’s empowerment on two aspects of food security—calorie and protein intake of children—using data on agricultural households from the Bangladesh Integrated Household Survey. We are interested both in the differential impact of mother’s empowerment on the food security of boys and girls as well as in whether different aspects of empowerment have different effects. There are 10 different aspects of empowerment including making production decisions, owning and selling assets, being a member of a group and so on. Our estimates suggest that, in households with more empowered women, children enjoy higher calorie and protein intake but that daughters are disadvantaged relative to sons. Most importantly, mother’s empowerment is an important source of gender discrimination. When considering the sub-components of empowerment, we find that input into production decisions are important for both calorie consumption and protein. These findings are robust to a host of controls including household poverty, sibling composition, community social norms and individual characteristics.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    About one-fifth of the country’s ever-married women aged between 15–49 years are malnourished (BMI < 18.5) and so are one-third of the country’s under-five children (stunted) (NIPORT et al., 2016).

  2. 2.

    Some exceptions are: Malapit and Quisumbing (2015) and Sharaunga et al. (2016). For existing reviews of the literature on women’s roles in achieving food security, see Meinzen-Dick et al. (2011) and on nutritional security, see Cunningham et al. (2015) and Rao et al. (2019). Also see Duflo (2012) for an extensive survey of the studies on the impact of women’s empowerment.

  3. 3.

    Women play a significant role in agricultural households as unpaid workers in post-harvest operations (preparation of threshing floor, threshing, beating, parboiling, drying, husking, winnowing, sieving, and storing alongside taking care of livestock, poultry, and homestead gardening) (Begum, 1989) as well as earning an income as wage laborers.

  4. 4.

    For instance, narrowing the empowerment gap between spouses is associated with higher levels of technical efficiency (Seymour, 2017). This is regardless of the agricultural plots jointly managed by women with their spouses or those for which women did not report any involvement in agricultural decision-making.

  5. 5.

    Two exceptions are Novella (2019) and Malapit & Quisumbing (2015). Novella finds that the impact of women’s empowerment varied by country, with maternal power having a larger effect on girls in Peru and Vietnam, a negative effect in India and no significant effect in Ethiopia. Malapit and Quisumbing found that in Ghana, girls are more likely to consume diversified diets in households where mothers have decision making power with regard to credit

  6. 6.

    For a review of the literature on definitions and measures of empowerment, see Pereznieto & Taylor (2014).

  7. 7.

    The survey was conducted during months that did not coincide with the two lean periods in Bangladesh. For further details on BIHS sampling design, please see Sraboni et al. (2014).

  8. 8.

    The presence of the mother-in-law may negatively affect a woman’s decision making ability. The shift of ‘household keys’, a symbolic act of passing over control, to the daughter-in-law is a major event in most South Asian households. A mother-in-law who resides in the household is often seen as holding the reins firmly.

  9. 9.

    We implemented the Shapley value decomposition approach using –rego- command in STATA; for details, see Huettner & Sunder (2012). For an alternative way to conduct a regression-based decomposition analysis, see Fields (2004).

  10. 10.

    Li & Wu (2011) report a positive impact of having a first-born son on women’s household decision-making and mother’s nutritional well-being although Zimmermann (2018) finds no effect of son preference on maternal empowerment. On sibling effects on gender gaps in nutrition, see Pande (2003).

  11. 11.

    These schools at that time offered single sex education but later converted into co-educational institutions to facilitate female schooling in conservative communities (for details, see Asadullah & Chaudhury, 2009).

  12. 12.

    Although son bias has weakened in desired fertility, there is still significant son bias in actual fertility decisions in rural Bangladesh (Asadullah et al., 2021).

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Correspondence to M. Niaz Asadullah.

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Hossain, M., Asadullah, M.N. & Kambhampati, U. Women’s empowerment and gender-differentiated food allocation in Bangladesh. Rev Econ Household (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11150-021-09546-x

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Keywords

  • Intra-household food allocation
  • Food security
  • Women’s empowerment

JEL classifications

  • D13
  • I10
  • I30
  • I34