Agency and Empowerment: A Proposal for Internationally Comparable Indicators

OPHI Working Papers

This article proposes a short list of internationally–comparable indicators of individual agency and empowerment (and the corresponding survey questions). Data from these indicators would enable researchers to explore research and policy issues such as the interconnections between empowerment and economic or human development. The article surveys definitions of agency and empowerment, adopts the definition from Amartya Sen, supplemented by Rowlands’ typology. The proposed ‘short list’ of indicators includes; control over personal decisions; domain-specific autonomy; household decision-making; and the ability to change aspects in one’s life at the individual and communal levels. The strengths and weaknesses of each indicator are discussed, as is the need to supplement this shortlist with other variables. To ensure the feasibility of the proposal, we rely on previously-fielded questions wherever possible.

Citation: Ibrahim, S. and Alkire, S. (2007). ‘Agency and empowerment: A proposal for internationally comparable indicators’, OPHI Working Paper 04, Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI), University of Oxford.

Also published in Oxford Development Studies, 2007, Vol. 35(4), pp. 379–403.

Abridged Spanish version

agency, empowerment


Solava Ibrahim and Sabina Alkire

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OPHI Working Papers
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WP 04