An autonomous research institute under the Ministry of Finance


Towards 2030 UN Agenda on Sustainable Development Goals: Technical Challenges in Measuring Gender Inequality in Asia Pacific

Publication date

Oct, 2015


NIPFP Working Paper No. 157


Bhavya Aggarwal and Lekha Chakraborty


Against the backdrop of UN 2030 Sustainable Development agenda, this paper analyses the measurement issues in gender-based indices constructed by UNDP and suggests alternatives for choice of variables, functional form and weights. Despite their relevance, the composite indices like Gender Development Index (GDI) and Gender Empowerment Measure (GEM) have been criticized for their technical flaws and later replaced with Gender Inequality Index (GII).  While GII conceptually reflects the loss in achievement due to inequality between men and women in three dimensions - health, empowerment and labour force participation – we argue that assumptions and choice of variables to capture these dimensions remain inadequate and erroneous, resulting in the partial capture of gender inequalities. Since the dimensions used for GII are different from HDI, we cannot say that a higher value of GII represents loss in HDI due to gender inequalities. However, it could be debatable whether using GII over GDI (GDI is equally distributed equivalent of HDI which measures gender gap in three dimensions of human development - health, education and command over economic resources) is advantageous, one of the main drawbacks of using GII is that along with the inequality indicators of women vis-à-vis men, it also contains absolute indicators that are defined specifically for women - like maternal mortality rate (MMR) and adolescent fertility rate (AFR). The corresponding values for men for these absolute variables are taken as 1 which is unrealistic and leads to overestimation of the gap between women and men’s health standards. The technical challenge remains -interpreting the index by combining women-specific indicators with gender-disaggregated indicators. GII is a partial construct as it has not captured many significant dimensions of gender inequality. Though this requires a data revolution, we tried to reconstruct GII in the context of Asia-Pacific using three scenarios: (i) improving the set of variables incorporating unpaid care work, pay gap, intra-household decision making, exposure to knowledge networks and feminisation of governance at local levels; (ii) constructing a decomposed index to specify the direction of gender gaps and (iii) an alternative index using Principal Components Index (PCI) for assigning weights. The choice of countries under the three scenarios is constrained by paucity of data. The results revealed that UNDP GII overestimates the gap between the two genders and using women-specific indicators leads to a fallacious estimation of gender inequality. The estimates are illustrative. The implication of the results broadly suggests a return to GDI for capturing gender development, with an improvised set of choices and variables.

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