Date of Award

August 2020

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Lucy Mkandawire-Valhmu

Committee Members

Jennifer Doering, Anika Wilson, Vipavee Thongpriwan


Feminist theory, HIV/AIDS, Malawi, Postcolonial feminist theory, Women's empowerment


Background: Women’s empowerment is recognized as a goal in major development discourses globally. Interventions seeking to empower women are often focused on women living in the Global South. However, the perspectives of women located in the Global South are less represented in literature compared to the dominant narratives of women located in the Global North. This is especially true for women living at the intersections of national and local poverty, racism, and patriarchy, such as is the case for women living with HIV in Malawi. Women in this context stand to gain from empowerment interventions, though there exists a gap in knowledge of how empowerment is experienced in this population. To address this gap, this qualitative study was conducted to explore women’s definition of empowerment and to construct a substantive theory of empowerment among women living with HIV in the Kasungu District of Malawi.

Methods: Using grounded theory methodology and informed by a postcolonial feminist perspective, 25 individual in-depth, semi-structured interviews were completed over three months in the Kasungu District of Malawi. Interviews were completed in the local language, Chichewa, transcribed and translated into English.

Results: Findings reveal how women described empowerment in the form of receiving encouragement, strength, and courage from others, and through normalizing of their experiences of living with HIV. Women emphasized how receiving encouragement, as well as material assistance, caused them to work hard in taking their medications and to develop their home. This framework of empowerment, constructed through women’s perspectives, guided the development of a theory of empowerment. This theory, Putting Your Life in the Front, demonstrates how women experience empowerment through Protecting Health, Working for Household Development, and Giving and Receiving Encouragement. These findings contribute to new knowledge about the nuanced experiences of empowerment among women living with HIV in rural Malawi and provide guidance for developing interventions for improving the health and wellness of women in similar contexts.

Included in

Nursing Commons