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Frequently Asked Questions About Bending the Curve

  • The 2019 SDG Gender Index – the most comprehensive measure of gender equality aligned to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – launched in June 2019 showed that gender equality is still unfinished business worldwide: across the 129 countries studied, no country has fully achieved the promise of gender equality envisioned in the ambitious 2030 Agenda.
  • While the 2019 SDG Gender Index provided an important snapshot of where the world stands in terms of gender equality (as close to today as possible, based on available data), this new Bending the Curve analysis aims to answer questions about the pace and nature of change: are countries moving towards greater equality or in the wrong direction? What are the prospects for bending the curve to reach the gender equality promises laid out in the SDGs by 2030? Bending the Curve begins to answer these questions, looking at five issues included in the SDG Gender Index that are critically important to gender equality and for which there were sufficient data available to analyse.
  • The 2019 SDG Gender Index—as well as other data and evidence, data visualizations, stories, tools, and country-, region-, and issue-specific resources for and by advocates—can be explored at: em2030.org
  • The briefing uses a set of five indicators drawn from the SDG Gender Index to tell a meaningful story about the broader state of gender equality from the past to today, and projects trends on those five issues to 2030 (the year of reckoning for progress towards the SDGs).
  • The indicators cover a range of issues that speak to the lived realities of girls and women around the world and capture information about their ability to participate fully in society, including whether they have access to contraception to control when and if they have children, whether they complete secondary education, whether they are represented in senior government posts, whether the law mandates equality for women at work, and whether women feel safe walking at night. These issues represent a cross-section of issues from across the SDGs (including health, education, gender equality, work and security).
  • While these issues are found across the SDG framework, they all contribute to an enabling environment for progress on SDG 5.
  • The Generation Equality campaign has galvanized six Action Coalitions to be launched in 2020, which are set to be innovative, multi-stakeholder partnerships across government, international organizations, civil society and the private sector aiming to drive investment and deliver concrete results. The process to identify the Action Coalitions was underpinned by strong data and analysis showing why each issue is of crucial importance for girls’ and women’s rights.
  • The six action coalition themes are:
    • Gender-Based Violence
    • Economic justice and rights
    • Bodily autonomy and sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR)
    • Feminist action for climate justice
    • Technology and innovation for gender equality
    • Feminist movements and leadership
  • The analysis in Bending the Curve Towards Gender Equality by 2030 and the data from the Equal Measures 2030 2019 SDG Gender Index can help to illuminate the pressing need for the Coalitions to catalyse cross-sector action on gender equality. However, a lack of sufficient and sufficiently disaggregated data continue to constrain our understanding of these issues, which is why data and accountability must be a deliberate part of each Action Coalition.
  • We work in close collaboration with UN Women and many other UN agencies in the course of our work. We are also heavily reliant on UN data in the work we do measuring and tracking key gender equality issues aligned to the SDGs
  • The Bending the Curve research studies five issues/indicators. There have been other efforts to forecast progress on a few of these issues individually, but not all the five issues have been examined in this way and there has been no previous work that have looked across all five issues together.
  • The Bending the Curve research draws on data from the SDG Gender Index, which was launched in 2019. The SDG Gender Index is unique in that there is currently no other global index that applies a gender lens across the SDGs and compares progress on girls, women and gender equality. 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, along with data from other data producers, into a single holistic framework for gender equality.
  • There is a strong rationale for the inclusion of each of the indicators and for grouping the five indicators together as a set that says something meaningful about the broader state of gender equality. The indicators cover a range of issues that speak volumes about the lived realities of girls and women around the world.
  • The selection of the five indicators included in Bending the Curve was based on:
    • Significance to girls and women: indicators reflect a range of issues – such as economic rights, safety and violence, and political leadership – that are critical to girls’ and women’s rights and lived realities.
    • Sufficient data coverage over time: data are available for the majority of the 129 countries in the SDG Gender Index over the past (at least) 10 years.
    • SDG Coverage: the set of five indicators cover issues relevant to girls and women across the SDGs (SDG 3, SDG 4, SDG 5, SDG 8, SDG 16).
    • Alignment with advocates’ priorities: in the 2018 EM2030 Gender Advocates Survey, a global survey of 613 gender advocates, the four top-priority themes that emerged were gender-based violence, sexual and reproductive health and rights, economic empowerment, and education.
    • Relevance across regions and countries: the set of issues are relevant in different contexts, with good data coverage and applicability to high-, middle-, and low-income countries.
  • Bending the Curve looks at progress in 129 countries (across five regions of the world, representing 95 per cent of the world’s girls and women); the same 129 countries covered by the 2019 SDG Gender Index.
  • Ideally, the SDG Gender Index as well as Bending the Curve would cover all the world’s countries, rather than just 129. However, a number of countries, especially small states and states affected by instability, lack sufficient data across the indicators to be included (see more on data gaps on page 20 of Bending the Curve and on the Data Gaps page of the EM2030 Data Hub).
  • In an ideal world, we could assess progress over time and calculate projections for all 51 indicators in the SDG Gender Index. And our sincere hope is that—as advocates call for more and better gender data—data coverage will continue to improve so that we can dig into trend analysis for more indicators, more countries can be included in future iterations of the index, and we can better understand progress for different groups of girls and women.
  • But in pulling indicators from the 2019 SDG Gender Index to use in this trend analysis, there were significant constraints in terms of country coverage and time series that extend back far enough to be used. Because of these data limitations, Bending the Curve focuses on five issues that are critically important to gender equality and for which there were sufficient data available to analyse. There is a strong rationale for the inclusion of each of the indicators and for grouping the five indicators together as a set that says something meaningful about the broader state of gender equality. The selection of the five indicators included in Bending the Curve is based on: significance to girls and women, sufficient data coverage over time, coverage across multiple SDGs, alignment with advocates’ priorities, and relevance across countries and regions.
  • The indicator on women’s safety in Bending the Curve comes from the Gallup World Poll, which polls people around the world on whether they feel safe walking at night in the neighbourhood or area in which they live. The indicator is included in the official SDG framework for monitoring progress towards gender equality (official SDG indicator 16.1.4 for Goal 16).
  • There are weaknesses with using this measure as a proxy for the prevalence of gender-based violence – for example, it only asks whether people feel safe in public spaces (ignoring the prevalence of intimate partner violence and other violence in the home) and it doesn’t capture actual rates of violence, only perceptions of insecurity. It also captures generalised insecurity in a society, not just gender-based violence.
  • But while the indicator is linked to generalised feelings of insecurity, there are also gendered aspects to the issue. For example, in many countries two thirds of men feel safe, while only half of women do.
  • A more direct measures of the prevalence of violence against girls and women would have been considered, but time series data for enough countries were not available.
  • The indicator used to measure access is the proportion of women married or in a union (aged 15–49 years) whose need for family planning is met with modern methods. It is indicator reference 3c in the SDG Gender Index and is an official SDG 3 indicator. Data coverage is from 2000 to 2018 and the data source is UNPD.
  • There are new UN estimates available to measure both married and unmarried women, but we have retained this indicator to be consistent with the data used in the 2019 SDG Gender Index.
  • No, it does not. Some countries will meet the targets before 2030 if they move at the accelerated pace and some will meet it after 2030 even at the accelerated pace.  For example, the global average percentage of girls who complete secondary school was around 60% in 2018.  In some countries that figure is close to 100% and in some countries that figure is less than 20%.
  • What our calculation is based on is forecasting the global trend: starting with the global average of 60% of girls completing secondary school in 2018 and then applying the rate of change that has been observed in the 129 countries studied over the past ten to twenty five years for the a) “business as usual” projection and b) for fast moving countries (based on a linear regression analysis of past progress). This shows that, based on fast-moving countries, the global average would reach 100% of girls completing secondary school in the year 2028.
  • Global averages are commonly used to capture gender equality progress on issues at the global level and should be taken as illustrative.
  • For example, the USA has 95% girls’ secondary completion rate – does this approach overlook countries that are doing well (that have high scores and can’t logically change much more) and focus too much on countries that grow from 2% to 15% of girls completing secondary school (still incredibly low levels overall)?
  • Yes, Bending the Curve goes beyond ranking countries by the level of gender equality achieved to also look at countries that were able to introduce rapid change. Those countries coming from a low starting point will have the opportunity to progress more quickly than those coming for a higher starting point.
  • Figure 3 in the Bending the Curve Towards Gender Equality by 2030 sets out the groups of countries by level of gender equality (measured by their score on the SDG Gender Index) as well as by a measure of their pace of change on the five key issues studied over recent decades. This chart shows that many high-income countries are close to achieving the targets on key gender equality issues, such as girls’ secondary education or legal mandates for gender equality in the workplace.
  • However, gender equality is far from finished business even in high income countries. Several high-income countries still have a long way to go on these key issues, such as ensuring women are represented in ministerial government roles, in ensuring girls and women feel safe at night, and in reaching the “last mile” to ensure access to contraception for all. Every country has more to do.
  • At the current rate of progress, 67 countries will meet zero targets for the five indicators in this analysis, and no country will meet all five targets. No country is a fast mover on all five of the issues studied, and no country is among the world’s slowest movers on all five (though some come close).
  • Many countries with low starting points for gender equality were able to make bigger, quicker leaps than countries already quite close to targets. But even among overall fast movers (highlighted in Figure 3 in the Bending the Curve report), there are significant differences in the pace of change by issue. For example, Nepal moved quickly on several indicators, in particular on expanding women’s workplace rights, but is not among the fastest movers of the world on the indicators for girls’ secondary school or women’s safety. Lithuania—another fast mover overall—saw no change in expanding women’s workplace rights because it had already met the target in the baseline year. And Bolivia saw little progress on women’s perceptions of safety.
  • Among the world’s five slowest movers overall (Botswana, Egypt, Lebanon, Malaysia, Sri Lanka), a similar story can be told. All are moving slowly, stagnating, or—worryingly—moving in the wrong direction on three or four indicators: for example, all but Sri Lanka have failed to make any progress on women’s workplace rights and the proportion of girls completing secondary education has dropped in Botswana, Egypt, and Sri Lanka. Yet there are brighter spots even among slow movers: for example, Egypt and Malaysia experienced modest increases in women’s representation in cabinets (from 5 per cent to 24 per cent and 6 per cent to 19 per cent, respectively) and women’s access to family planning in Botswana increased 10 percentage points.
  • There is no single recipe to achieve gender equality: every country and context is different, and the solutions needed to address the five issues studied vary widely
  • The rationale for progress (as well as stagnation or backsliding) varies by issue and country, but common factors contributing to rapid pace of change may include government prioritization and investment in gender equality, as well as economic development or transition out of conflict.
  • Some countries had such low starting points for gender equality (e.g. less than 10 percent of girls completing secondary education in the baseline year in Angola and Chad) that it enables big, quick leaps even as overall levels of equality remain strikingly low. Other countries have been slow to make progress because they are already so close to or have met targets (e.g. girls’ secondary education, workplace equality laws).
  • However, there are noticeable differences amongst countries with similar levels of gender equality and income: The United States and South Korea, for example, are moving more slowly than similarly wealthy countries or persistently falling short on some issues (e.g. workplace equality laws, women’s representation in politics).
  • With the research covering five distinct gender equality issues and 129 countries across all regions of the world, there is no single recipe that can be applied to explain change. Our hope is that the trend analysis offered in Bending the Curve is just a starting point for advocates to dig deeper into country-level trends and explore the context that helps or hampers progress.
  • At least three (India, Kenya and Senegal) of our national partners and our three regional partners already have specific plans to use the Bending the Curve data to develop nationally- and regionally-specific briefings over the next year, where they will be able to go beyond straight reportage of the data findings to also include qualitative and other quantitative analysis about the progress and prospects for gender equality in those countries and regions.
  • One of the criteria for the selection of indicators related to coverage of available data from about the time of the introduction of The Beijing Platform for Action in 1995. The time series data were largely complete for four in five of the indicators, while they reflected slightly different reference periods for an individual indicator or for groups of countries within an indicator time series. For the indicator on girls’ secondary school completion, regression analysis using enough data points extending to 1995 were used to generate estimates for intervening years.
  • Bending the Curve draws on indicators from the SDG Gender Index, which uses reliable and diverse data sources, including data collected by national governments as well as from non‑governmental organizations (NGOs), development agencies, civil society, and the private sector. The five indicators in Bending the Curve use data from UN Development Programme (UNDP), UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), Inter Parliamentary Union (IPU), World Bank’s Women, Business and the Law initiative (WBL), and Gallup.
  • Equal Measures 2030 welcomes feedback or any queries on data weaknesses at info@equalmeasures2030.org.
  • Several of the indicators (e.g., family planning, secondary education, workplace legal frameworks) move in more or less a linear manner – they slowly grow until reaching plateaus at different levels where the indicator can remain unchanged for years. Other indicators are more volatile and can change rapidly when a political administration changes (proportion of women ministers), in the context of widespread social conflict and insecurity (feeling safe walking at night). To better reflect change in the context of large gains or losses, a linear regression model was used to better take this into account.
  • You can read about the five indicators in the Data Gaps and Methodology (pg. 23) sections of the Bending the Curve The underlying data for each indicator (excluding Gallup data used for the indicator on women’s perceptions of safety at night) used in this analysis is publicly available via the UN Development Programme (UNDP), UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), Inter Parliamentary Union (IPU), and World Bank’s Women, Business and the Law initiative (WBL).
  • Bending the Curve has been shaped by our work with partners across seven initial focus countries – Colombia, El Salvador, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Senegal, and Tanzania – as well as dialogue with thousands of other stakeholders worldwide. It has been informed by previous EM2030 research, including the findings of a 2017 survey of policymakers, a 2018 survey of advocates, a 2018 pilot index, and, most significantly, by the 2019 SDG Gender Index. This prior research shaped our understanding of policy priorities, demand for gender-related data, and the challenges and opportunities ahead.
  • We’re calling on governments to follow the momentum and the promise of the Beijing Platform for Action and the SDGs and use 2020 to take a hard look at your country’s performance on key gender equality issues in key indices such as the EM2030 SDG Gender Index. Identify your country’s areas of strength to build on and areas of weakness to address, not tomorrow or next year but straight away. Utilise the opportunity and momentum of 2020 to transform your country’s policies, laws (and their implementation!), and spending to ensure that you will meet the commitments for girls and women to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
  • Bending the Curve provides a fantastic hook for advocates looking to grab the attention of the public or policymakers throughout this promising anniversary year of 2020. Bending the Curve can help advocates from local to global level to identify where countries are backsliding or progressing too slowly. It can also help advocates focused on particular thematic issues to identify which countries are progressing quickly and deserve a closer look to see what’s going right and which countries are falling behind and need further action and pressure.  Bending the Curve provides powerful, evidence-driven framing for calls for accelerated effort and action over the next decade in all countries to achieve gender equality.
  • EM2030 has a specific focus on seven countries and three regions, within which we have regional and national partners. We will be working with several of these partners closely over the next 12 months to help them develop nationally and regionally specific briefings using the Bending the Curve analysis and the EM2030 SDG Gender Index  The seven focus countries are: Indonesia, India, Kenya, Tanzania, Senegal, Colombia and El Salvador and the three regions are Asia, Africa and Latin America.   The SDG Gender Index data can be explored for these countries and regions on the EM2030 Data Hub found at data.em2030.org.
  • The initial Bending the Curve research provides a high-level overview, with indicators for some countries and regions highlighted. It is our intention to share as much data as possible by individual country for consultation and further analysis on the EM2030 Data Hub at em2030.org, using interactive data visualizations in Tableau software.
  • Equal Measures 2030 (EM2030) believes that better quality, easy-to-use data and evidence can drive change for girls and women globally and in the countries where we work; This belief drives our national influencing model.
  • To power advocacy efforts led by grassroots girls’ and women’s rights organizations we provide financial and technical support. Our sub-grants help advocates to collect and better use data – including the SDG Gender Index – on key gender equality issues and to influence laws, policies, and budget allocations. To date EM2030 has disbursed or secured over $2 million in sub-grants to our regional and national partners. Leveraging the global reach of our partnership, we also amplify the work of our national partners and ensure our data and evidence gets used to elevate gender equality to the top of policymakers’ agendas.
  • EM2030 further supports our national partners in El Salvador, Colombia, Senegal, Kenya, Tanzania, India and Indonesia, and their networks to better influence decision makers to ensure the right laws, policies and budget allocations are put in place to address key gender equality issues, such as sexual and reproductive health and rights, political and economic empowerment, education, and child marriage, amongst others.
  • Alongside our national partners, and through the network of our ten core partners, we work to build political will and influence the policy agendas and resource allocation of national governments in order to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals for girls and women.
  • In addition, our ‘data-for-advocacy’ training improves data literacy skills and strengthens advocates’ understanding of how to interpret, package and present critical data and evidence on a range of issues affecting girls and women to decision makers.
  • You can learn more about our national influencing work on our website here: https://www.equalmeasures2030.org/how-we-work/national-level-influencing/

Equal Measures 2030 Partners