In 2018, in response to the urgent need for tools to support data-driven analysis and to hold governments accountable for gender equality in the context of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Equal Measures 2030 (EM2030) and partners launched the pilot SDG Gender Index. The pilot index included 43 indicators across 12 of the 17 official goals and was tested in six focus countries. The pilot index used a mix of official gender-related SDG indicators developed by the Inter-Agency and Expert Group on SDG Indicators (IAEG-SDGs) and complementary indicators. Indicator scores were based on the relative position of a country to lowest and highest performing countries.
Drawing on several technical consultations and a formal review by the COIN team at the EU Joint Research Centre, EM2030 refined the initial index framework, introduced two new goals (SDG 9 and SDG 11) and revised the indicator framework. Other design issues were considered and adopted in relation to weighting, introduction of targets, and presentation issues. The resulting 2019 SDG Gender Index includes 51 indicators across 14 of the 17 SDGs and covers 129 countries across five regions.
The scale-up of the index was built upon the methodological framework of the pilot index. The design was adapted to increase the number of countries covered by the index and to ensure that it was transparent and easy-to-use for gender advocates around the world.
The index builds upon a standalone set of between three and five indicators for each goal. In the spirit of our approach that all indicators – even those not included in the official SDG framework or not traditionally considered “gendered” issues – capture important dimensions of gender equality, and the importance of country-generated data, the overall index is calculated based on the individual indicators, based on a threshold of at least 85% of the indicators (or 44 of the 51 indicators). The index scores for each of the 14 goals are calculated based on a threshold of 75% available data. The goals are calculated separately due to the need to not impute missing data, but to rely on data provided by national governments. A country could miss one goal and still be included in the index (e.g. China, Iraq, and Ireland).
The approach of the index is that examining gender-focused issues and data under each goal, even where no gender-specific official indicator exists, provides a more complete picture of both the goal itself and its relationship to gender equality. With the scale-up of the index from the pilot phase, existing indicators were assessed. In addition to new indicators for SDG 9 and SDG 11, the index includes 15 new or adjusted indicators. Some indicators from the pilot index were dropped due to poor data coverage (e.g. lacking coverage in higher income countries), some were altered to make use of improved data sources (e.g. the index includes a revised measure of women’s participation in senior government roles), and others are wholly new indicators (e.g. indicator on the proportion of female justices).
If the index is to serve as an accountability tool, it needs to enable users to measure distance to SDG targets for indicators, make regional comparisons, and trace scores over time. The approach to setting targets was to use official SDG targets where they existed and to set ideal high threshold targets for others (e.g. the target for women’s participation in parliament is gender parity or 47–53%). Categorical variables (none of which were binary) were adapted into composite indicators and assigned scores. Actual percentages and composite scores were normalised on a 1–100 scale to generate indicator scores on a common scale – where a higher number is closer to reaching the target.