Measuring beyond outcomes: Understanding gender inequality

Sigi-banner-for-blog

By Papa A. Seck (@PABSeck), Chief Statistician, UN Women


This blog is part of a special series marking the launch of the updated
2019 Social Institutions and Gender Index (SIGI)


burkina-faso-sigi-papa-e1544171190150.jpgOver her lifetime, a girl born today in Germany is expected to earn just about half the income of a boy born on the same day. In France and Sweden, she fares slightly better at about 70%. In Turkey, she can expect to earn no more than a quarter.1 Globally, it is estimated that 35% of women have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or sexual violence by a non-partner at some point in their lives. This is the most egregious violation of women’s rights and it is pervasive in all countries around the world, developed and developing alike. Such violence has often tragic consequences. A recent study by UNODC found that a shocking six women are killed every hour by a family member.2 An estimated 650 million women and girls in the world today were married before age 18, and at least 200 million women and girls alive today have undergone female genital mutilation in the 30 countries with representative data on its prevalence. Women around the world do 2.6 times the unpaid care and domestic work that men do, simply because that task is delegated to them by our societies.

These are all damning facts for a world that aspires to achieve gender equality and empower half of humanity. The causes vary, and the impacts are also felt differently by different groups of women and girls. Poor women living in rural areas are, for instance, far worse off than their richer counterparts living in urban areas. Similarly, a poor woman with disabilities faces far more challenges than an abled body one. But one cause is common for women and girls across the board: deeply discriminatory social institutions and norms that subordinate them to men and boys. How do we know this? We know this because of the Social Institutions and Gender Index (SIGI) published by the OECD Development Centre since 2009.

I came across the SIGI for the first time in 2010, shortly after joining UN Women. Coming from UNDP’s Human Development Report Office, which pioneered gender indices with the publication of the first Gender and Development Index (GDI) in 1995 – a watershed moment in history for the measurement of gender equality – I was well aware of the multitude of gender indices that existed. However, I thought that the SIGI was different because it went beyond just measuring outcomes. It provided a way to explain why in indicator after indicator, irrespective of the level of development of a country, women and girls systematically have worse outcomes than men and boys. Every edition since, the SIGI has shed more light on the pathways by which discriminatory social institutions are linked to gender inequalities. The 2014 edition, for example, explored the links between the SIGI and unpaid care work and gender gaps in the labour force, early marriage, adolescent pregnancy and education, women’s collective action, and issues related to sexual identity.

With its distinct identity, the SIGI has established itself as an indispensable tool in the feminist toolbox. The data that the OECD Development Centre provides is critical for our work at UN Women and is often cited in our reports (see for example Figure 1.1 in the last edition of UN Women’s Report “Progress of the World’s Women 2015–2016: Transforming economies, realizing rights”). For this reason alone, we are eagerly awaiting the 2019 edition to give us fresh new data that will enrich our research!

The SIGI is important obviously for other reasons too. As demonstrated through the groundbreaking work done by the Development Centre in Burkina Faso, SIGI country studies can shed much needed light on local realities and pinpoint the specific challenges that women and girls face, including those who are marginalised because of their economic status, age, location, ethnicity, marital status, or disability. In the context of UN Women’s Making Every Woman and Girl Count Flagship Programme Initiative, we are partnering with the Development Centre to conduct a country-level SIGI study in the United Republic of Tanzania.

Another reason why the SIGI is important for the measurement of gender equality and women’s empowerment is its contribution to the monitoring of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In September 2015, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The 2030 Agenda is historic and ambitious from a gender perspective, given its standalone goal to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls (SDG5) and targets in other goals that include commitments to eradicate discriminatory laws, to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls, to remove constraints on sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights, to recognise and value unpaid care and domestic work and to increase women’s participation in decision-making. However, for this ambition to become reality, adequately resourced and authoritative monitoring and accountability frameworks, with regular and high-quality data, need to be in place.

Many of the dimensions mentioned above are also addressed by the SIGI, making it a great resource to monitor the gender-related targets in the SDGs. For instance, since 2016, UN Women, the OECD Development Centre and the World Bank have teamed up as co-custodian agencies to develop methodologies for SDG indicator 5.1.1 on “whether or not legal frameworks are in place to promote, enforce and monitor equality and non‑discrimination on the basis of sex”. As a result of this collaboration, data for this indicator will be reported for the first time in 2019 as part of the UN Secretary-General’s annual report that the UN General Assembly mandates, greatly contributing to the global SDGs review process and our understanding of the state of global gender equality.


1. Cichon, Rebecca. A Long Way to Go Towards Equality: An Actuarial Estimation of Gender Specific Lifetime Income Gaps in Selected European Countries. Background Paper for Progress of the World’s Women 2015-2016. UN Women, New York.

2. https://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/press/releases/2018/November/home–the-most-dangerous-place-for-women–with-majority-of-female-homicide-victims-worldwide-killed-by-partners-or-family–unodc-study-says.html