Female Empowerment and National Poverty

Vos, Veronica, Foreign Affairs - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Mershon, Carol, Department of Politics, University of Virginia
Schulhofer-Wohl, Jonah, Department of Politics, University of Virginia

Determining which variables contribute most to the disempowerment of women is a great challenge. In response to this challenge, numerous scholars have produced thoughtful indices meant to capture the most significant of these variables, whether they be economic, social or personal. A widely accepted explanation focuses on poverty, at the personal or household level, and the effect it has on the prevalence and severity of disempowerment. A number of scholars have also investigated the relationship between democracy and female empowerment, at the national level. Alternately, disempowerment has been named as a cause of economic stagnation in developing countries. However, almost no attention has been paid to the possible endogeneity of the relationship between national poverty and female empowerment. This study will attempt to fill two gaps in the literature: the first of which ignores national-level poverty in the discussion of empowerment; and the second of which fails to acknowledge the potential endogeneity between development and female empowerment. In other words, does national poverty contribute to female disempowerment in addition to disempowerment leading to national poverty? This paper will argue that if a country is poor, then it is more likely to maintain a system of government and resource distribution that discriminates against women. As a part of this endeavor, this paper will be putting forward a new index of empowerment, incorporating the most politically salient components of other successful indices, while adding several important variables usually excluded from these indices. Broadly speaking, the more the literature distances itself from regional, or religious, explanations for female disempowerment, the closer it gets to truly understanding the root, structural causes of this political phenomenon. Therefore, this project argues that explanations for female empowerment should look beyond common stereotypes, and focus, instead, on each country’s GDP as one of the key determinants of female disempowerment.

MA (Master of Arts)
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