Dancilla Mukamana joined a farmer cooperative, which helped her acquire a loan that increased productivity in her farm in Rwanda. She was able to make improvements to her home and has become a decision-maker in her household. The African Development Bank released its first Gender Equality Index. Photo by: Ana Lukatela / U.N. Women / CC BY-NC-ND

The African Development Bank released its first Gender Equality Index on Monday, ranking 52 out of 54 African countries on how equal the opportunities, rights and representation are for their own men and women.

The index represents another milestone in the multilateral financial institution’s work on gender, after nominating its first special envoy on gender — Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi — in 2013, and launching its first gender strategy in 2014. And it promises to be different from the other gender indexes in that it “provides evidence” on gender equality in 52 African countries, and that the index was designed “to promote development” and not just be a numbers game.

In fact, the report notes, the index is “action-oriented” and “intended to help African decision-makers focus on — and address — some of the most serious barriers that prevent African women from engaging on a level playing field with men, to help African citizens demand more from their governments, and to help AfDB itself better focus its gender-related policy dialogue and interventions.”

The move is notable, especially that many African countries are often touted as having huge gender inequalities when compared with countries outside the continent. In the U.N. Development Program’s Gender Inequality Index, part of its Human Development Report in 2014, not one African country made it to the top 10 or 20; the bottom 10 however comprised mainly African nations.

Africa Gender Equality Index 2015
Top 10 country performance

1. South Africa
2. Rwanda
3. Namibia
4. Mauritius
5. Malawi
6. Lesotho
7. Botswana
8. Zimbabwe
9. Cape Verde
10. Madagascar

The AfDB index explores issues that aren’t or have not been included in other similar gender equality indexes. On economic opportunities, for example, one indicator looks at loans from “a financial institution” in the past year. Under human development, the bank explores women’s access to contraception, how many of them are receiving prenatal care, or how many pregnancies were presided by skilled birth attendants.

In addition, it included items not often covered in other gender indexes, such as a comprehensive set of questions to determine men and women’s legal and household equality.

The bank also identified “action areas” where breakthroughs in gender equality can be made: access to land, credit and infrastructure; education and skills, health and fertility, and personal safety; and equality before the law, as well as voice and representation.

But AfDB’s gender equality index is also missing several key items, which could potentially diminish its intended impact. Here’s what we think should have been included:

1. Which countries are missing and why?

From the beginning, the report notes the index ranks 52 out of 54 countries in Africa. This means there are two countries that were not included. But the index did not name the two missing countries, although a closer look reveals them to be Seychelles and South Sudan.

Could it be due to lack of data? We don’t know, as the bank did not explain why these two countries were excluded from the index either.

The omission may seem like a minor point, but for the index to truly be comprehensive — as AfDB purports it to be — challenges that prevented the bank from being able to assess these two countries should have been explained. Policymakers, for one, may be able to find solutions to address these problems and pave the way for their inclusion in succeeding versions of the index.

2. Data sources, including dates, are unclear.

The report notes the index is a “compilation of data from many sources,” but falls short of identifying them, except for several endnotes toward the end of the report. There were “surveys” mentioned in the text, but it’s unclear whether the bank conducted these surveys or these were based on available literature.

Also critical was the inclusion of dates for which data were available, but which was missing in the report.

This lack of detail prevents readers — and ultimately policymakers — from gauging how objective the measurement was in ranking these countries.

Household equality index questions:

● Are married women required by law to obey their husbands?
● Can a married woman be “head of household” or “head of family” in the same way as a man?
● Do daughters have equal rights to their male counterparts as heirs?
● Do women have equal legal rights on legal guardianship of a child during marriage?
● Do women have equal legal rights on custody rights over a child after divorce?
● Are there laws on the minimum legal age of marriage that do not discriminate against women?
● Can a married woman confer citizenship to her children in the same way as a man?
● Do married couples jointly share legal responsibility for financially maintaining the family’s expenses?
● Who legally administers property during marriage?
● Do widows have equal rights to their male counterparts as heirs?
● Is there specific legislation in place against domestic violence?

3. Country profiles are missing.

The report notes the index is “not just about the numbers,” but also about providing policymakers an understanding of the links between gender equality and development.

But the report falls short of providing a full picture of each country’s gender profile. Except for mentions of some countries’ notable work on gender — Rwanda being the only country where more than half of parliamentarians are females, or Tunisia setting up free family planning services — there isn’t enough information to guide policymakers and other players on where to focus their interventions or invest their resources.

4. No threshold, scorecard or any way to explain what each score means.

Overall, South Africa tops the index rankings for gender equality, followed by Rwanda. This is based on their combined overall score across all the categories, which range from 15.8 to 74.5 out of 100. The average overall score is 54.1.

The index however does not explain what a specific score says about a country’s performance. For example, Mauritius received the topmost ranking under the laws and institutions category, where it scored 69.1. Does that mean the country has commendable actions in terms of equal representation in its own government of men and women, and can be a model to which other African countries can fashion their legal and household rights? Or is it only faring well ahead of others?

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Gender, Institutions and Development Database provides a good example for this type of action. For example, in identifying countries’ performance on preventing early child marriage, one factor the organization is looking for is the availability and degree of a law in place that requires parental authority. OECD puts a variable of zero if the law guarantees the same parental authority to both men and women; 0.5 if the same law is in place but that certain customary, religious or traditional practices that discriminate against women are in place; and 1 if no such law exists, or women have no rights to parental authority.

5. Specifics are lacking on AfDB plans.

Information on action areas included in the report will “help guide the bank in the selection and design of its interventions and in its policy dialogue with partner countries,” the report notes.

But the report falls short of highlighting some of the bank’s notable work on gender and some immediate or long-term plans going forward, which would have been a tremendous opportunity. Not many are aware, for instance, that the bank has a women’s scholarship fund.

Fraser-Moleketi, the AfDB’s special envoy on gender, notes the index is meant to be a “conversation starter” and that the bank looks forward to improving it. What other suggestions do you have for the next AfDB gender equality index? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

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About the author

  • Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.