Equality in the Houshold

Women are often closed out of crucial household decisions, which can have a devastating impact on child health and nutrition.

A growing body of evidence indicates that household decisions are often made through a bargaining process that is more likely to favor men than women. Education level, age at marriage and who controls the income and assets all influence how much say a woman has in household decisions.

  • In only 10 out of 30 developing countries surveyed did half or more of women participate in all household decisions, including those regarding major household spending, their own health care and their visits with friends or relatives outside the home.
  • In Burkina Faso, Mali and Nigeria, almost 75 per cent of women said their husbands alone make decisions regarding their health. In Bangladesh and Nepal, 50 per cent of women said they lack control over their own healthcare.

In countries where women have low status and are denied a voice in household decisions, they are more likely to be undernourished and are less likely to have access to resources they need to adequately nourish their children.

  • Evidence, principally from West and Central Africa, suggests that when resources are scarce, women prioritize nutrition of their children above other household and personal issues. In Cameroon, for example, women typically spend 74 per cent of their funds on food while men spend on an estimated 22 per cent to supplement the family food supply.
  • A study by the International Food Policy Research Institute concluded that if men and women had equal influence in decision-making, the incidence of underweight children under three years old in South Asia would fall by up to 13 percentage points, resulting in 13.4 million fewer undernourished children in the region; in sub-Saharan Africa, an additional 1.7 million children would be adequately nourished.

Decisions on household spending have a decisive impact on children’s well-being, education and health. Yet when it comes to daily expenditures in the developing world, men often have the upper hand.

  • In seven out of 15 countries surveyed, over 40 per cent of women said men had exclusive control over daily household expenditures. That number increases when it comes to major expenditures.

Though women are most often the first to recognize and seek treatment for children’s illnesses, many women are denied a say in the most basic decisions on family health including when a child should see a doctor. In Gujarat, India, 50 per cent of women interviewed said they were unable to take their child to the doctor without permission from their husbands or in-laws.

Education levels among women also correlate with improved outcomes for child survival and development. A woman’s empowerment within the household increases the likelihood that her children, particularly girls, will attend school.