"BUT I'M JUST A LITTLE VOICE:" EXPLORING FACTORS THAT AFFECT RURAL WOMEN'S MEANING MAKING OF EMPOWERMENT AND HEALTH
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This research study explores how empowerment can be incorporated as an element of health communication campaigns to positively affect rural women's everyday health activities. This study questions how rural women make meaning of empowerment and health, the factors that affect rural women's empowerment, and how health communication campaigns may bolster individual and community empowerment. Building from multiple theoretical--including empowerment theory, the situational theory of publics, the theory of planned behavior, the social cognitive theory, and a socio-ecological perspective--this study explores empowerment as a critical link in health communication and public relations theory. Dimensions of individual empowerment such as self-efficacy and perceived behavioral control were explored in more depth, as were other factors that affected empowerment, including social support, religiosity, and involvement as a construct of the situational theory of publics. This study employed a qualitative research method to explore empowerment through these rural women's lived experiences. Research was conducted through 41 qualitative, in-depth interviews with women residing in a small rural community; 15 of these women also participated in photovoice as a research method. Findings from this research demonstrate the importance of multi-level and multi-faceted socio-ecological approaches to health communication campaigns, involving communication at many levels such as the individual, organizational, and community levels. As findings from this research highlight, rural women's notions of empowerment may be impacted by their community and social interactions, their religious involvement, and their experiences with personal and family health problems. Physical and structural factors in women's lives also left them with feelings of powerlessness in certain health situations, suggesting the need for health communication campaigns to also address larger changes in structure and policy. Based upon the research findings and the prior literature, a model is proposed to aid in understanding of the factors that influence women's feelings of empowerment.