Measuring women’s reproductive autonomy

Researchers are increasingly recognizing the importance of women’s reproductive autonomy for their health and well-being. Reproductive autonomy is having the power to decide and control contraceptive use, pregnancy, and childbearing. For example, women with reproductive autonomy can control whether and when to become pregnant, whether and when to use contraception, which method to use, and whether and when to continue a pregnancy.

Despite the importance of such decisions for women’s health, few studies have assessed reproductive autonomy using a validated measure or examined how autonomy affects contraceptive use. Researchers from the UCSF Bixby Center sought to address this issue by creating a validated instrument to measure women's reproductive autonomy. The measure:

  • Is applicable to women in any type of sexual relationship (married or unmarried, cohabitating or not) and to women living in a variety of gender-equity contexts worldwide.
  • Captures the influence of other individuals in addition to women's sexual partners, such as parents, in-laws, and friends.
  • Is concise, so that it could be easily inserted into standardized questionnaires, evaluations, or clinical assessments.

Researchers hope this tool will help addresses the significant void in studies of women's empowerment and health. Over time, the tool may show that sexual and reproductive health interventions that explicitly address women's reproductive autonomy are more effective at helping women realize their reproductive goals.