empowerment_largeFollowing Amartya Sen, we consider agency to be a person’s ability to advance goals that one values and has reason to value, and empowerment as the expansion of agency.

Agency is of intrinsic and instrumental importance to impoverished communities: ‘Greater freedom enhances the ability of people to help themselves, and also to influence the world, and these matters are central to the process of development’ (Sen 1999, p. 18-19).

A 2009 World Bank study of 60,000 people in 15 countries asked people who had moved out of poverty how they had achieved this. Seventy-seven percent attributed this to their own initiative (Narayan, Pritchett and Kapoor 2009, p. 20).

Measures of empowerment in different domains of life are urgently needed to support people’s ability to engage in and to shape development processes. For an example of how this can work in practice, see the Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index, which was developed by OPHI with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), and the published paper that established that index.

The missing dimensions modules have been implemented and integrated into multi-topic household surveys. Read more about how they have been used in projects around the world.

Related reading

Vaz, A., Alkire, S., Quisumbing, A., and Sraboni, E. (2013). ‘Measuring autonomy: Evidence from Bangladesh’, Research in Progress 38a, University of Oxford.

Alkire, S., Meinzen-Dick, R., Peterman, A., et al. (2013). ‘The Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index,’ Working Paper 58, University of Oxford.

Samman, E. and Santos, M. E. (2009). ‘Agency and empowerment: A review of concepts, indicators and empirical evidence’, Research in Progress 10a, University of Oxford.

Ibrahim, S. and Alkire, S. (2007). ‘Agency and empowerment: A proposal for internationally comparable indicators’, Working Paper 4, University of Oxford. An abridged Spanish version of this paper can be downloaded here.