Introduction: The autonomy of women is a global concern in the face of increasing rate of gender violence against women, reproductive health challenges and the role of women in achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Free and informed decision making capacity of a woman in a male dominated society of the developing country remains the cornerstone of sustainable development and progress. For a woman to meaningfully contribute to her health, she must be capable of deliberating or acting on the basis of her desires and plans. In Rivers State, gender stratification and succession are ingrained into the normal cultural practices where women tend to be excluded from making decisions. Like other patriarchal societies, women’s autonomy over their own lives in Rivers State is diminished, including their reproductive rights. In some cases, women are not allowed to acquire formal education furthering their already diminished autonomy.
Reproductive rights are legal rights and freedoms encompassing reproduction and reproductive health. The World Health Organization (WHO, 2007) states that reproductive rights rest on the recognition of the basic rights of every human being. It includes right to legal or safe abortion, right to birth control, right to access good-quality reproductive health care, right to education and access in order to make free and informed reproductive choices, and right to education about contraception and sexually transmitted infections. Reproductive right of a woman is thus, her knowledge and ability to rally against unhealthy reproductive choices, which may threaten her life (Kpalobi and Oye-Ogelle, 2011). There is an increase in the number of women accessing formal education in the contemporary Nigerian society and many of them occupy key positions of authority. However, it is not yet clear how education impacts on women’s autonomy. Therefore, this project will explore the effect of education on a woman’s autonomy in relation to her reproductive rights.
The study seeks to answer the following questions:
- How women define autonomy?
- How education influences the way women make decisions about their reproductive rights?
- What changes could or should be made to ensure that women act or make decisions without external interference if it is found that their autonomy is interfered?
Methods: A quantitative exploratory method involving focus group discussion and In-depth interviews with educated and uneducated women living in monogamous and polygamous marriages from the Ikwerre cultural group of Rivers State, Nigeria would be employed. Focus group discussions will be first conducted to pilot test the questions for the in-depth interview with each participant group. Two additional FGDs would be conducted at the end of data collection to corroborate the responses of participants gained from the in-depth interview.
Study site: Study site would be Rivers State, Nigeria.