Community Health Agents Advancing Women's Empowerment: A Qualitative Data Analysis

J Community Health. 2022 Jun 24. doi: 10.1007/s10900-022-01107-2. Online ahead of print.

Abstract

Community health agents (CHAs) play a critical role in primary healthcare delivery and health promotion in low-resource settings. Though there is substantial evidence of the benefits of CHAs in achieving targeted community health outcomes, there is limited research into the impact of empowerment experienced by CHAs themselves. This study examined how working as a CHA impacts the lives and self-perceptions of women in Peru volunteering with Catholic Medical Mission Board's (CMMB) markedly successful robust CHA model. We conducted six focus group discussions (FGDs) of 53 CHAs who implement CMMB programming in Trujillo and Huancayo, Peru. The FGDs were designed to explore themes related to empowerment, changes in women's lives, and perceptions of themselves. We identified four major themes related to women's empowerment: achievements, agency, meaningfulness, and resources. The most common empowerment theme was achievements, expressed through subthemes of changes in family behavior, self worth, education, health and nutrition, and rights and politics. The second most common empowerment theme was agency, with subthemes related to increases in using their voice, confidence, decision making, and participation. CHAs also reported experiencing empowerment through enhanced meaningfulness. CMMB's CHA model is an example of how well-structured community programs can facilitate women's empowerment. Providing meaningful community leadership opportunities can have far-reaching effects on women's perceptions of themselves as valuable, capable, and empowered leaders. This work deepens our understanding of how to practically improve community health through empowering women to catalyze gender equality in communities with disproportionate barriers and limited opportunities burdening them.

Keywords: Community health; Community health agents; Global health; Qualitative; Women’s empowerment.