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Women’s empowerment, intrahousehold influences, and health system design on modern contraceptive use in rural Mali: a multilevel analysis of cross-sectional survey data



Persistent challenges in meeting reproductive health and family planning goals underscore the value in determining what factors can be leveraged to facilitate modern contraceptive use, especially in poor access settings. In Mali, where only 15% of reproductive-aged women use modern contraception, understanding how women's realities and health system design influence contraceptive use helps to inform strategies to achieve the nation's target of 30% by 2023.


Using household survey data from the baseline round of a cluster-randomized trial, including precise geolocation data from all households and public sector primary health facilities, we used a multilevel model to assess influences at the individual, household, community, and health system levels on women's modern contraceptive use. In a three-level, mixed-effects logistic regression, we included measures of women's decision-making and mobility, as well as socio-economic sources of empowerment (education, paid labor), intrahousehold influences in the form of a co-residing user, and structural factors related to the health system, including distance to facility.


Less than 5% of the 14,032 women of reproductive age in our study used a modern method of contraception at the time of the survey. Women who played any role in decision-making, who had any formal education and participated in any paid labor, were more likely to use modern contraception. Women had three times the odds of using modern contraception if they lived in a household with another woman, typically a co-wife, who also used a modern method. Compared to women closest to a primary health center, those who lived between 2 and 5 km were half as likely to use modern contraception, and those between 5 and 10 were a third as likely.


Despite chronically poor service availability across our entire study area, some women-even pairings of women in single households-transcended barriers to use modern contraception. When planning and implementing strategies to expand access to contraception, policymakers and practitioners should consider women's empowerment, social networks, and health system design. Accessible and effective health systems should reconsider the conventional approach to community-based service delivery, including distance as a barrier only beyond 5 km.

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