Regional, global gaps magnified in first index to monitor women, peace, and security

Afghan women walking in the street. Photo by: Ghullam Abbas Farzami / World Bank / CC BY-NC-ND

UNITED NATIONS — A new global index on Women, Peace, and Security released at the United Nations on Thursday highlights huge regional and global disparities in women’s well-being, as well as a continuing lack of gender-disaggregated data limiting analysis on key issues.

The index identified Syria, Afghanistan, and Yemen as the least safe places for women, both in and out of the home. Meanwhile, some countries — including the United Arab Emirates and Namibia — strongly outperform their regional averages.

While there is no shortage of global indexes that monitor progress on gender inequality, political participation, and poverty rates, this one — developed by the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security (GIWPS) and the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) — bridges many of these issues, measuring the “basic dimensions of well-being:” inclusion, access to justice, and security.

Speaking at the launch of the index, GIWPS Managing Director Jeni Klugman said it is misleading to focus on a girl’s schooling if she is not safe at home, explaining the importance of connecting development and security. U.N. Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, and Pamela Pratton, the U.N. secretary-general’s special representative for sexual violence in conflict, were among the U.N. leaders and experts who attended the event.  

The index’s results show extreme disparities on regional and global scales. Iceland, Norway, and Sweden lead the 30 countries that score in the top third on all indicators.

The United States is ranked 22nd, with high marks on inclusion — encompassing financial inclusion, employment, cell phone use, and the percentage of parliamentary seats held by women — as well as justice, meaning legal discrimination and the percentage of men who believe it is unacceptable for women to work. Yet it has high rates of intimate partner violence, 10 percentage points above the mean for developed countries.

Hillary Clinton, former U.S. Secretary of State and presidential candidate, endorsed the index as an “important tool to shine a light on key achievements, as well as the work that remains to confront the violence, injustice, and exclusion that still hold back too many women and girls around the world,” she said in a statement.

The index ranks 153 countries across 11 indicators, encapsulating more than 98 percent of the world’s population, with the “shared vision that countries are more peaceful and prosperous when women are accorded full and equal rights and opportunity,” according to the report. Countries are ranked on a scale from 0 to 1 — the best possible performance — using publicly available data sourced from the World Bank, Gallup polls, and the U.N.

Melanne Verveer, executive director of the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security, noted the challenge of disaggregating data that was gender-specific — a theme that Mlambo-Ngcuka echoed in her remarks. She noted that only 41 countries produce data on violence against women, for example.

Twenty-one countries and economies — including Taiwan, Libya, Papua New Guinea, South Sudan, and Cuba — are excluded from the index because they lacked key data points, such as information on lifetime intimate partner violence and perception of community safety.

“We are still fighting to make the point about the impact of peace and security and the role women can play to make the world more peaceful. Data helps us to make our point,” Mlambo-Ngcuka said.

The average developed country received a score of about 0.8, and some countries perform much better — and worse — than this average. Iceland stands out among developed countries, with a ranking of 0.9. Israel, meanwhile, falls well below this, with a score of 0.66.

The United Arab Emirates and Namibia emerge well above their regional averages of the Middle East and North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa, while Syria and the Central African Republic are well below the average for their regions.

Other trends also emerge, for example, a clear correlation between insecurity in the home — measured by high rates of intimate partner violence — and a lack of safety in the broader community. That trend also carries over into some countries in conflict. Rates of current intimate partner violence in developing countries are more than one-third higher in conflict countries than non-conflict countries.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, which ranks 148th, 64 percent of women in 2016 reported they have experienced intimate partner violence, while only 38 percent of women from 2010 to 2016 reported feeling safe in their communities. But in other cases, the correlation is less clear. While 67.2 percent of women in Bangladesh reported intimate partner violence, 80 percent said they feel safe in their communities.

The index was launched a day before the U.N. Security Council holds its annual open debate on women, peace, and security. Backed with funding from Norway, the index will be updated every two years and will track progress leading up to the U.N. high-level political forum in 2019, when the Sustainable Development Goals will next undergo a formal review.

In 2020, the landmark U.N. Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace, and security will mark its 20th anniversary. The resolution recognizes conflict’s disproportionate impact on women and girls, and calls for the prevention of sexual and gender-based violence in emergency and conflict settings, as well as for increased participation of women during times of post-conflict and peacebuilding.

Norway’s U.N. Ambassador Tore Hattrem said that the index will help influence his discussions with member states at the Security Council and “challenge them to improve the quality of the debate.”

“We want to see how data can possibly lead to better decisions,” he said.

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About the author

  • Amy Lieberman

    Amy Lieberman is the U.N. Correspondent for Devex. She covers the United Nations and reports on global development and politics. Amy previously worked as a freelance reporter, covering the environment, human rights, immigration, and health across the U.S. and in more than 10 countries, including Colombia, Mexico, Nepal, and Cambodia. Her coverage has appeared in the Guardian, the Atlantic, Slate, and the Los Angeles Times. A native New Yorker, Amy received her master’s degree in politics and government from Columbia’s School of Journalism.