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Frequently Asked Questions About The SDG Gender Index

In terms of country coverage, the SDG Gender Index covers two-thirds (129 of 193) of countries that signed on to the SDGs. The population coverage of the index is much higher because many countries that are not reporting data are small states. Thus, the index covers 95% of the world’s population of girls and women. The highest coverage rate is in the Europe and North America region (99.9%). In other regions, 93% of the female population or higher is covered except for the Middle East and North Africa region (81.8%).

The SDG Gender Index represents the most comprehensive tool to measure overall progress towards gender equality that is aligned to the SDGs. It is unique in the breadth of its approach and analytic framework, and in its development by a partnership that spans civil society and the private sector.

The index goes beyond SDG 5 on gender equality to highlight issues across 14 of the 17 goals that are crucial to gender equality and to creating an enabling environment for gender equality including issues such as climate change, energy and tax and public finance.

The index is based on 51 indicators that provide the ‘big picture’ across the SDGs as well as for progress towards gender equality in individual goals. It draws on both official SDG and complementary indicators, and reflects ‘inputs’ (such as laws, policies, norms) that affect the lives of girls and women, women’s voice on a range of issues, and ‘outcomes’ such as maternal mortality ratios, secondary school completion rates, etc.

The index is defined and driven by the needs of gender advocates. It draws on needs assessments and consultations conducted with gender advocates, policymakers and stakeholders across different sectors at the community, national, regional and global levels.

There is currently no global index that compares progress on girls, women and gender equality across the SDGs. UN Women and other UN agencies (such as UNESCO, UNICEF, UNFPA et al) are assigned as custodians for compiling and disseminating gender data reporting by countries indicators for individual targets that are part of the SDG framework. The SDG Gender Index compiles the available gender-related data reported by countries to UN agencies and adds a further gender lens and complementary data (e.g., laws regarding abortion, women in the climate change process, the “openness” of gender data, etc.).

The index provides a picture that goes beyond SDG 5 on gender equality and brings the different measures that UN agencies collect from UN member states into a single holistic framework for gender equality.

The development of the SDG Gender Index has drawn from the approaches and lessons from other global gender indices as well as from the frameworks for gender-related indicators produced by the UN. Whereas other major global gender indices take a small set of indicators to focus on the overall gaps between women and men (Global Gender Gap/World Economic Forum) or disparities in five key development measures (Gender Inequality Index/UNDP) or focus on specific themes, such as Family Code, Physical Integrity, Son Preference, Civil Liberties and Ownership Rights (SIGI/OECD) or gender, peace and security issues (Women, Peace and Security/GIWPS and PRIO), the SDG Gender index provides a summary across the broad range of individual SDGs and development issues that affect girls and women. It is also the only one that is explicitly aligned to the SDGs.

The SDG Gender Index is designed to track progress on the SDGs, a framework that has strong commitments to gender equality but that does not replace existing commitments under CEDAW and other human rights conventions. The SDG Gender Index takes account of many of the issues covered by CEDAW, but recognises that other bodies are comprehensively monitoring CEDAW implementation through direct reporting by countries to the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights (see national reports compiled here). The SDG Gender Index and platforms like the Gender Advocates Data Hub will be useful resources for advocates who are also engaged in monitoring CEDAW implementation.

The design of the SDG Gender Index has been informed by:

  • consultations within and across the EM2030 partnership, including national partners in six countries
  • public consultations, including online and at the 62nd Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in March 2018
  • inputs from a Technical Reference Group, comprised of technical experts from the UN and civil society with knowledge of gender statistics, SDG data, index design and communication
  • surveys of policymakers and gender advocates worldwide

Almost four in ten of the indicators in the SDG Gender Index are based on official SDG indicators reported by countries. The remaining indicators are based on a range of different data sources that help to provide a more complete picture of progress on the gender equality issues that are relevant to each SDG. Some of these indicators are part of thematic or regional SDG frameworks and others have been recently developed by non-governmental and inter-governmental constituencies.

While one could argue that all 17 goals should be part of the SDG Gender Index given the relevance of gender for progress on all the goals and the relevance of all the goals for gender equality. The challenge has been to strike a balance between ease of understanding and capturing the full breadth of gender equality issues across the SDG framework.

If the SDG Gender Index is to serve as an accountability tool, one needs to be able to link the Index scores to a set of policy issues where there has been progress in order to learn lessons and to highlight issues where progress is lagging in order to spur faster change.

The majority of indicators (63%) in the index are designed to specifically capture the conditions of girls and women. The remaining indicators may not be explicitly gender-related but do implicitly capture issues that research has shown to have a disproportionate effect on the lives of girls and women. So while there isn’t global data on the intra-household allocation of resources or how money is spent within the household, we know that living in a household considered in poverty disproportionately limits the opportunities of girls and women, for example.

The figures included in the index, for all indicators, are usually the most recent available. However, as the Index covers 129 countries and 51 indicators, the reference years needed to be expanded to include a wider range of countries. Some indicators have a single reference year, e.g., 2018 while for the others, the indicators are populated from a wider range of years, e.g., 2010 to 2018. The cases where pre-2010 indicators were used they are documented in the information available on the Gender Advocates Data Hub (data.em2030.org). It is possible for indicators to change quickly – for example, the introduction of new laws or policies – which may not be captured by currently available data.

SDG indicators compiled by UN agencies and other custodians are based on international agreed-upon standards and methodologies to ensure comparability. National statistics are based on national contexts, definitions and methodologies, which can differ from a country to the other. UN organisations use common framework to collect, compile and disseminate data based on national reporting which may account for the lag in time between the release of national data. The work of custodian agencies in applying standardised tools and methods to produce relevant global statistics ensures that the indicators used in the Index are comparable.

Drawing on the pilot process, which involved several technical consultations and a formal review by the COIN team at the EU Joint Research Centre, EM2030 has refined the initial index framework. Namely it has introduced two new goals (SDG9 and SDG11) and revised the indicator framework. Other design issues were considered and adopted in relation to weighting, use of absolute targets to score country progress, and presentation issues. The resulting 2019 SDG Gender Index includes 51 indicators across 14 of the 17 official goals and covers 129 countries across all regions of the world.

The scale-up of the index built upon the methodological framework of the pilot index and adapted the design to increase the number of countries covered by the index as well as ensuring that it was transparent and easy-to-use tool for gender advocates around the world.

In order to construct the index it is necessary to transform indicators which move in different directions (for example, a high value is better for the secondary school completion rate whereas a lower value is better for maternal mortality ratios) and place them on a common scale (a secondary school completion rate could range between 0% to 100% but a maternal mortality ratio ranges from 0 to as high as 1500 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. By standardising indicators, it allows for country comparisons and eventually trend analysis based on index scores. Both the standardised score and the actual indicator value are made available. Typically, the actual indicator value is simpler to communicate than the indicator score which is a byproduct of the process needed to construct the index.

The design of the index aims to prioritise indicators that countries have reported in to global databases, in line with the SDGs country-led approach. Therefore, nationally-reported data are used where-ever possible and estimates are not made where data are missing. A threshold was set for each country that at least 75% of indicators are available (e.g. three out of four indicators) in order to compute a goal index score.

There is a strong incentive to include more countries as it strengthens the robustness of the index. So additional efforts were taken when an indicator for a country was not available for years between 2010 to 2017. The first step was to check for earlier data. If none were available, the next step was to find other relevant data source that could serve as a reliable proxy. In keeping with transparency standards, the use of pre-2010 or proxy measures is clearly documented. These steps were applied in very few cases, comprising less than 1% of all data points underlying the index.

Not all of the official UN indicators for the SDG framework that are gender-related or that require data disaggregated by sex are part of the SDG Gender Index. This is mainly due to the lack of data, or lack of disaggregated data, for many of the gender-related indicators for many countries.

The index does include several indicators that come from non-official sources, however official sources are more common. Indicators from a wide range of sources were considered in the design of the index. Every indicator considered had to meet specific criteria. The availability of timely and cross-nationally comparable data was the main reasons for not being able to include an otherwise conceptually-sound, policy-relevant, reliable and easy-to-communicate indicator. A key consideration is the sustainability of an indicator – that it is likely to be regularly updated between 2019 and 2030 and is not the result of a one-off study. As the data landscape evolves, other measures will be considered for inclusion in the index.

The reliability of data sources is an important question, especially since some of the issues are challenging to measure. The data sources and years for all the indicators included in the index can be consulted and interrogated on the Gender Advocates Data Hub. For the official indicators, the focus is on data that has been reported by countries themselves into global databases. It is hoped that the index will encourage more countries to report regular and accurate data into the global data systems curated by the UN and other custodian agencies.

All measurement is an imperfect science, but efforts to ensure reliability and validity are based on global consensus on the concepts and methodologies that underly the indicators included in the index. As with all data compilations, the data user should approach these indicators informed of the potential limitations in their interpretation and use. Equal Measures 2030 welcomes feedback on any queries or data weaknesses at info@equalmeasures2030.org.

By using the arithmetic mean to calculate the goals and global scores, the weights given to the indicators are the same. However, as the number of indicators varies among the SDGs, SDG 5 and 8 (both with 5 indicators each), have a slightly larger impact on the global index scores. In general, the aim was to keep the index as transparent and understandable as possible for users. Weights could allow some issues to be given more importance, but at the cost of introducing greater subjectivity and complexity into the design of the index.

The SDG Gender Index overall score is made up of an average of all 51 of the indicators which compose the index. Each SDG score is made up of an average of the indicators for that goal. Each of the indicators is scored on a scale of 0-100, where 100 reflects meeting the target set by EM2030 (based, to the extent possible, on existing global targets for that issue). The next round of the index will allow countries to verify if they have made progress against those set targets, as the 2019 SDG Gender Index will stand as the baseline.

The closer a score is to 100, the closer a given country is to having achieved the targets set for each of the 3-5 indicators chosen for that SDG in the index.

The indicators chosen for the index are our best attempt to compile available data to measure wide range of gender equality issues. However, they should only be interpreted as a snapshot of the set of issues we were able to include. In some cases, the indicators chosen may not be as ambitious as the vision laid out in the SDGs – for example, the indicator in the index related to access to water reflects only access to basic water sources rather than preferred indicators of access to good quality water sources due to lower data availability for the latter.

The index will be updated in 2021 and then regularly until 2030.

Equal Measures 2003 invites feedback, suggestions and engagement from a wide range of stakeholders across every sector in order to strengthen the SDG Gender Index. Inputs related to the SDG Gender Index can be sent to info@equalmeasures2030.org.

Equal Measures 2030 Partners