New report says urgent action is needed for gender equality

Women in Rwanda. Photo by: Crystaline Randazzo / Bread for the World / CC BY-NC-ND

CANBERRA — The global score for gender equality is “poor” with urgent action required globally to achieve the gender targets required that have been set in the Sustainable Development Goals.

The SDG gender index, released by Equal Measures 2030 at the 2019 Women Deliver Conference, expands upon a release in September 2018 that focused on Colombia, El Salvador, India, Indonesia, Kenya, and Senegal to incorporate the progress both developed and developing countries are making against gender 14 of the 17 SDGs — including health, gender-based violence, climate change, work, and more. The results show that none of the 129 countries analyzed achieving a rating of “excellent.”

Countries that rank highest on gender equality can be found in Europe — Denmark followed by Finland, Sweden, Norway, and the Netherlands. Countries ranked the lowest have faced conflict and other fragility — Niger, Yemen, Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Chad.

“Amongst the top 20 scoring countries, only three could report all 51 indicators.”

— Alison Holder, director, Equal Measures 2030

Only 8% of the world’s population of girls and women live in countries that received a “good” gender equality score with the remainder living in countries ranked poor or “very poor” — including 40% of the world’s girls and women — 1.4 billion people — in countries ranked very poor. And not a single country got an excellent score. Globally, public finance for better gender data, climate change, and gender equality in industry and innovation are the greatest challenges in gender equality.

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“With just 11 years to go, our index finds that not a single one of the 129 countries is fully transforming their laws, policies or public budget decisions on the scale needed to reach gender equality by 2030,” Alison Holder, director of Equal Measures 2030 said on the release of the data. “We are failing to deliver on the promises of gender equality for literally billions of girls and women.”

The importance of the global index

While a small number of developing countries were selected for the first iteration, Holder explained to Devex that ensuring index was global was a priority from the start for the Equal Measures 2030 partnership — and ensuring a full understanding of the global challenges that face women.

The diversity in results showed that even countries with limited resources can tackle priority issues affected gender inequality.

For example, Senegal has a higher percentage of women in parliament than Denmark (42% compared to 37%) while Kenya has rates of women using digital banking higher than three-quarters of the other countries analyzed.

The majority of the top scoring countries on the index’ indicators related to women’s participation in government and the judiciary are Latin American and sub-Saharan African countries.

Several lower-income countries perform well on indicators that capture women’s physical safety, through their perceptions of safety walking alone at night. Rwanda, for example, has the fifth highest score globally on this indicator.

Women are more likely to have modern methods of family planning met in Brazil, China, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Thailand, and Uruguay than in Canada, Denmark, Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden.

And Colombia has better coverage of social assistance among its poorest people than the United States.

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“What is more interesting to me is looking at how a country’s performance doesn’t always correlate with the level of economic development.” Holder said. “The fact that there is still more to do even in the richest countries is exactly why it is so important that the SDG gender index has truly global coverage. No country has reached the ‘last mile’ on gender equality.”

Where gaps remain

Since the first iteration of the index, Holder explained that data older than 2010 had not been included — except in a few circumstances — to expand on the number of countries, goals, and indicators.

“This enabled us to include 129 countries that cover 95% of the world’s population of girls and women. The majority of data in the 2019 SDG gender index comes from between around 2010-2018, and most often between 2015 and 2017. We also set a conservative threshold that a country must have data for at least 85% of the 51 indicators to be included in the index.”

The release of this new index also highlights where gender equality is invisible.

“Countries like Syria, Afghanistan or the Central African Republic could not be included in the index because sufficient data is not available. Furthermore, while countries such as Yemen are included, the most recent data available precede the most recent conflict,” Holder said.

Some small island states in the Caribbean and the Pacific were also excluded from the index due to the lack of reported data with issues related to the statistical infrastructure and capacity.

Also missing in the data is refugees, internally displaced people, and other people caught in crises that are not systematically included in the SDG country progress reports — further gaps in the ability to achieve equality.

“It should be noted that data gaps were not just a challenge in lower income countries or those facing conflict and crisis,” Holder said. “Several data gaps on specific issues and indicators were found also in Europe and North America. Amongst the top 20 scoring countries, only three could report all 51 indicators.”

Using the index

“We hope that the index data we’re releasing this week will just be a starting point,” Holder said. “The intention is that advocates should use it to dive deeper into their priority themes, to dig into the findings for the countries they know best, and to combine the index findings with other quantitative and qualitative data that might be available in their country, state, or even local community.”

But importantly, the index provides a base for monitoring progress on issues affecting women and girls with the next iteration to be released in 2021.

“The global average score on this edition of the SDG gender index is pretty disappointing — just 65.7/100 which is barely a passing grade,” Holder said.

Over the next two years, Holder hopes to see countries moving closer to a perfect 100 on gender equality. And with gender equality important in driving many policymaking decisions for governments, there are positive signs that this may happen.

“At the same time, we can’t ignore that in many countries girls and women are actually seeing their rights rolled backwards,” Holder said. “Progress on the SDG gender index overall isn’t guaranteed.”

About the author

  • Lisa Cornish

    Lisa Cornish is a Senior Reporter based in Canberra, where she focuses on the Australian aid community. Lisa formerly worked with News Corp Australia as a data journalist for the national network and was published throughout Australia in major metropolitan and regional newspapers, including the Daily Telegraph in Melbourne, Herald Sun in Melbourne, Courier-Mail in Brisbane, and online through Lisa additionally consults with Australian government providing data analytics, reporting and visualization services. Lisa was awarded the 2014 Journalist of the Year by the New South Wales Institute of Surveyors.