Chris Blattman reflects on some of the challenges he encountered while running questionnaires for a field study in Northern Uganda:
Take an apparently simple question: “How many children do you have?”
Surveyor: Do all of these children live with you?
Respondent: Well, I have two other children who live with my brother.
Surveyor: I see. So you have seven biological children?
Respondent: No, three of my children belong to my sister who died last year.
Surveyor: So you have four biological children, plus three children you have adopted.
Respondent: Well, one of them lives with his father sometimes. I also take care of the children of my cousin, but he is away at school.
Welcome to the Extended Family™. Now that’s complicated, but Chris Blattman has mentioned ethnic groups in Western Kenya who have a taboo against stating their exact number of children. Now go ahead and try to work with that (on top of understanding the extend family network).
However, the part of interest to me is the second survey, designed by the Demographic and Health Surveys project, on gender equality and women empowered:
Take one question designed to understand financial independence:
Q. Do you have any money of your own that you alone can decide how to use?
Problem: the primary answer is “no, I don’t usually have any money”. The question measures access to funds rather than decision-making power. A better option might be to first ask “when money is available…”
It turns out, however, that the answer to this question is still, “it depends”. Most of all, it depends on whether the woman earned the money herself.
We had similar problems with almost every other DHS question we adopted.
Q: Are you permitted to go to the health center to buy things on your own, only if someone accompanies you, or not at all?
A. What do you mean by permission? I usually consult my husband, especially if I have to pay money. Also, I can go for a short visit, but I need his permission to stay
Q. Do you yourself control the money needed to buy clothes for yourself?
A. What do you mean by control? You mean I keep it myself? How expensive are the clothes? Who earned the money?
Now my understanding is that the problem with the first questionnaire is cultural. The number of children one has usually differs from the number of children one takes care of. And furthermore, the number of children one takes care of varies depending on what “taking care of” means and some children are “taken care of” by more than one household.
On the other hand the second set of question seems to vary on who earned the money and the meaning of “permission”. And that makes me wonder how it’s interpreted by the data analyzers. Is a woman who consults her husband before making a monetary decision in a dependant relationship or in a healthy one ? Does the women empowerment index go down when women don’t have spending money of their own because they don’t have independent income ?
Somehow, that reminds that causal issues in gender inequality in Africa are probably poorly misunderstood because the surveys are designed with other cultural settings in mind and I wonder how many policies reflect those flaws.
(I need to write a proper post on gender issues in Africa soon)