Recently, research designs. For example, lower fertility and

Recently,
women’s autonomy and its association with reproductive health and behavior have
emerged as a focal point of investigations and interventions around the world.
Particularly, since the Cairo International Conference on Population and
Development in 1994, ICPD (United Nations 1994), and women’s role has been a
priority area not only for sustainable development, but also in reproductive
health. At the ICPD, a general consensus was reached to ameliorate women’s
status, along with the related goals of improving women’s reproductive health
and securing their reproductive rights, which represents a paradigm shift that
emphasizes the reproductive autonomy of individuals.

 

Following
the ICPD, there have been a number of recent studies that examine women’s
autonomy and its relationship with reproductive health and health outcomes
(e.g., Kishor 2000, 2005; Bloom et al 2001; IUSSP 1997). Most of these studies
found relationships between various aspects of autonomy and reproductive health
and behavior, but there are many complexities and contradictory findings among
them, with different aspects of autonomy showing unexpected relationships with
reproductive health and preferences in different settings and under different
research designs. For example, lower fertility and fertility desire was
observed among women with higher levels of autonomy in Bangladesh (Balk 1994) and in many regions of India (Jejeebhoy 1991), and lower fertility was
found to be associated with women’s greater autonomy in Malaysia, the Philippines,
and Thailand
(Tfaily 2004). These findings are attributed primarily to higher modern
contraceptive use among women with higher autonomy (Schuler and Hashemi 1994;
Dharmalingam and Morgan 1996; Morgan and Niraula 1995). On the other hand, in
their study of autonomy of women and trends in fertility and contraceptive use
in Egypt and Bangladesh Amin and Lloyd (1997) found that a low level of female
autonomy was not a barrier to fertility change and contraceptive use in Egypt.

 

 

Although
women’s autonomy is widely referred to in many studies, notably on reproductive
status and health, the concept remains ill-defined and its relationship to
demographic processes has not been well articulated, either theoretically or
empirically (Presser and Sen 2000). There is no single accepted definition that
represents it or that captures the multiple dimensions of women’s position
(Mason 1995). Alternative terms such as women’s status, female position or role, closer ties to natal kin, control over
resources, and prestige are all frequently used in the literature
interchangeably to define women’s status (Mason 1986; Bloom et al. 2001). Balk
(1994) argues that women’s status or autonomy can not be represented by one
direct measure nor by one indirect proxy alone, and that different aspects of
women’s autonomy influence fertility differently, in terms of magnitude and
direction.

 

 In most studies autonomy has been defined as
the capacity to manipulate one’s personal environment through control over
resources and information in order to make decisions about one’s own concerns
or about close family members (Basu 1992, Dyson and Moore 1983). This involves
an individual’s capacity and freedom to act independently of the authority of
others, for instance the ability to leave the house without asking anyone’s
permission, make personal decisions regarding contraceptive use or obtaining
health care. Thus, women’s autonomy can be conceptualized as the ability to make
and execute independent decisions pertaining to personal matters of importance
to their lives or their family, even though men and other people may be opposed
to their wishes (Mason 1995).

 

In Bangladesh,
women’s autonomy variable has been included in the DHS surveys since 1993 when
the number of female workers had just started increasing. Successive surveys
have documented this variable regarding women’s autonomy, recording her ability
to spend her own income on her own or by taking joint decisions with husband or
other family members. 

 

This
paper examines whether women’s decision-making autonomy affects fertility
preferences and contraceptive use in Bangladesh. For the purpose of this study,
the measures of women’s autonomy we consider here represent various domains
that have been identified in the literature as important for women’s
reproductive behavior. They include the extent to which women are autonomous in
decision making regarding large and daily household purchases, the degree to
which they can go to visit families or relatives, and the extent of women’s
interactions/communications with their husbands regarding family planning.

 

We
study the relation of those indicators with reproductive behavior. In
particular, we hypothesize that women who are able to participate in household
decision-making, who have the ability to discuss family planning with their
partner, who have freedom to visit families and friends, are more likely to
wish to limit childbearing and to use contraception than women who do not
possess these freedoms.