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J Health Polit Policy Law. 2015 Feb;40(1):101-64. doi: 10.1215/03616878-2854621. Epub 2014 Dec 5.

Women's political participation and health: a health capability study in rural India.

Author information

Harvard University.
Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Community Empowerment Lab.
University of Pennsylvania.


Understanding the relationship between women's political participation and health has eluded researchers and cannot be adequately studied using traditional epidemiological or social scientific methodologies. We employed a health capability framework to understand dimensions of health agency to illuminate how local political economies affect health. Exploiting a cluster-randomized controlled trial of a community-based behavior change management intervention in northern India, we conducted a qualitative study with semistructured, in-depth focus groups in both intervention and nonintervention villages. We presented scenarios to each group regarding the limitations and motivations involved in women's political participation and health. Thematic analysis focused on four domains of health agency -- participation, autonomy, self-efficacy, and health systems -- relevant for understanding the relationship between political participation and health. Elder women demonstrated the greatest sense of self-efficacy and as a group cited the largest number of successful health advocacy efforts. Participation in an associated community-based neonatal intervention had varying effects, showing some differences in self-efficacy, but only rare improvements in participation, autonomy, or health system functioning. Better understanding of cultural norms surrounding autonomy, the local infrastructure and health system, and male and female perceptions of political participation and self-efficacy are needed to improve women's health agency. For a community-based participatory health intervention to improve health capability effectively, explicit strategies focused on health agency should be as central as health indicators.


India; health agency; health capability; women's health

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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