What We Are Reading: May 2023

Index: Sustainable Development Goals Gender Index by Equal Measures 2030 (2022).

Written by Beth Woroniuk, Vice President, Policy

There is something about rankings and lists that draws attention: the top 10 movies of the year, the bestseller list, Netflix’s top ten, which country provides the most development assistance to gender equality objectives… There is interest in knowing who’s on top,  who’s at the bottom, who has dropped, and who has gone up since last time.

This month’s What We Are Reading looks at three indices and one report card that assess progress towards feminist goals. All these reports have to make choices about what to include, the weight of each variable, the reliability of data, and how to deal with data gaps. They all have to deal with the huge challenges in the reliability and availability of ‘gender data.’ The UN estimates that only 42% of the data needed to monitor the gender dimensions of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is available. It is difficult to find data that goes beyond the male/female binary and is disaggregated by race, class, age, religion and other factors. Several indices include online resources that enable data nerds to dig deeper.

Even with these methodological challenges, tools and measures to track progress are desperately needed. Governments need to be held to account for commitments to gender equality goals. Indices and report cards that note achievements, highlight specific gaps, and spur debate are doubly needed. All of these reports do just that.

First up, the Feminist Foreign Policy Index from the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW). This ambitious ranking was launched earlier this year at the Commission of the Status of Women in New York. According to the authors, the Feminist Foreign Policy Index is “a quantitative framework that explores what a feminist foreign policy could be.” It is not an evaluation of feminist foreign policy (FFP) frameworks or commitments (what a country says its FFP is), instead it uses multiple variables to assess actual performance in key areas. The authors are quick to point out that this is not an exhaustive list of issue areas or indicators and the Index “prioritizes those with potential to transform unequal global structures, as well as those that can improve coherence between domestic and international policies.”

The Index uses 27 indicators and ranks 48 countries across seven priority areas: peace and militarization; official development assistance (ODA); ‘migration for employment’; labour protections; economic justice; institutional commitments to gender equality and climate.

In this inaugural ranking Sweden, Norway, Mexico, Finland, and Costa Rica take the top five positions, with China, India, and the United States occupying the bottom three spots.

This is a complex and path-breaking index with an admirable premise: assess countries on their performance in bringing an FFP to life, rather than on what they say. No doubt debate and additional analysis will lead to the refinement of the Index going forward. Future versions may want to look at measures like progress on dealing with violence against women and girls (domestically and internationally), consultation with and engagement of feminist activists both internally and globally, protections for women human rights defenders, actions on LGBQTI+ rights and oversight of corporations operating both domestically and internationally.

Last year, Equal Measures 2030’s Sustainable Development Goals Gender Index noted stalled progress on global gender equality goals. Less than a quarter of countries are making ‘fast progress’ towards gender equality while a third of countries are either making ‘no progress’ at all or are moving in the ‘wrong direction’. The Index ranks countries with Denmark, Sweden, and Norway occupying the top three positions and Yemen, Afghanistan, and Chad at the bottom.

This index aims to provide a “snapshot of where the world stands on the vision of gender equality embedded in the 2030 Agenda.” It uses 56 indicators covering 14 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It covers the period 2015 – 2020 and is able to provide a sense of the direction of travel (progress or slipping backwards). Despite this comprehensive coverage, the authors are clear on the challenges. They point to general data challenges and gaps relating to three SDGs on the environment: SDG 12 on sustainable consumption and production, SDG 14 on life below water, and SDG 15 on life on land. 

This is a well-designed and easy-to-read report. Graphics help in the interpretation of the numbers and explanation of findings. It provides a multitude of rich data and is worth visiting over and over.

Index: Women Peace and Security Index by The Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security and the PRIO Centre on Gender, Peace and Security (2022).

The Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security and the PRIO Centre on Gender, Peace and Security have issued three editions of the Women Peace and Security Index. Its consideration of security issues brings a welcome addition to the field of gender equality indices.

The Index includes three dimensions: women’s inclusion (economic, social, political), justice (formal laws and informal discrimination), and security (individual, community and society), using 11 indicators.

Similarly to the Equal Measures 2030 index, this tool also reveals concerning widening of disparities and slowing of progress. The latest version includes the initial COVID period that hit women particularly hard, as is evidenced in the inclusion and security indicators. Country rankings are also similar, with Norway, Finland, and Iceland as the top three countries and Yemen, Syria, and Afghanistan the bottom three.Analysts have pointed out that this Index brings new dimensions into global security rankings but others have argued that the Index falls short of including tracking core WPS issues such as “conflict prevention, specifically women’s role in conflict prevention. “It is a great improvement on existing indices of gender equality or of women’s empowerment, but does not yet tell us which countries are able to engage women in making and keeping peace at home and abroad,” noted Anne Marie Goetz a noted WPS researcher.

Report Card: 2023 Feminist Scorecard by Oxfam Canada (2023)

Finally, we’re highlighting a ‘report card’. Every year around International Women’s Day, Oxfam Canada releases an assessment of the Canadian government’s progress on feminist goals. This scorecard uses both qualitative and quantitative analysis to review progress and assigns a traffic light signal (green, yellow, red) to signal movement in the last year.

The 2023 Feminist Scorecard reviews progress on 12 issues, giving a significant progress grade to care work, sexual, and reproductive health and rights, and global development. Conflict and crisis, migrant and refugee rights, climate change, ending poverty, representation and leadership, gender-based violence, tax, and women’s work and labour rights all score ‘some progress’. While rights of Indigenous women receives a ‘very little progress’ grade.  

Each issue is explored in detail with analysis of ‘where the government got it right’, ‘where the government missed the mark’, and recommendations to move forward.

This type of advocacy tool is a useful mechanism to applaud progress and highlight where more attention is needed. Leadership and investments are needed.

There are other indexes to explore. The World Economic Forum publishes an annual Global Gender Gap Report. The World Bank hosts a Gender Data Portal. UN Women runs a program call Women Count. The #Shecurity Index is produced by EU parliamentarian Hannah Neumann and Sofia Shevchu. Many include extensive online data that can be mined in various ways. All highlight the importance of better data and methodological transparency.

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