Understanding gender in Africa is essential to creating policy and designing interventions to address key reproductive-health issues such as HIV/AIDS and maternal mortality that are particularly pressing for the continent and are strongly related to gender inequality. The addition of questions to capture women's empowerment and autonomy on the MEASURE/Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) in the late-1990s expanded opportunities to examine the relationship between gender and reproductive health. These questions provide valuable information on trends and individual-level associations between gender inequality and health. Given that women's empowerment, status and autonomy are largely dependent on contextually-specific gender systems, however, supplementary qualitative studies to validate and contextualise these data would strengthen analyses significantly. This paper provides examples of how such mixed-methods work would improve understandings of gender and reproductive health in Africa by validating survey questions, providing insights into how to analyse and interpret DHS data and illuminating the processes and mechanisms behind gendered experiences. Additionally, this work could help improve future survey research on gender and reproductive health.