Friday, November 5, 2010

UN Gender Inequality Index: Squandering Human Resources

Good and Not So Good News

The good news is that 5 of the countries with the greatest improvement on the UN Human Development Index from 1970-2010 are Arab countries.

The countries improving most since 1970 are: Oman, China, Nepal, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Laos, Tunisia, South Korea, Algeria and Morocco.

The 10 highest ranking countries overall are: Norway, Australia, New Zealand, the United States, Ireland, Liechtenstein, the Netherlands, Canada, Sweden and Germany.

The 10 lowest ranking countries overall are: Mali, Burkina Faso, Liberia, Chad, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Burundi, Niger, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Zimbabwe.

On my way to exploring the good news, I was disturbed to discover the results of the UN Gender Inequality Index, which are less flattering. Not that this is news, but seeing it in glowing colour and black and white numbers still takes one aback. Also not news is that gender inequality persists in the West and in the most developed countries.

The Gender Inequality Index (GII)
The disadvantages facing women and girls are a major source of inequality. All too often, women and girls are discriminated against in health, education and the labour market — with negative repercussions for their freedoms. We introduce a new measure of these inequalities built on the same framework as the HDI and the IHDI — to better expose differences in the distribution of achievements between women and men.

Gender inequality varies tremendously across countries—the losses in achievement due to gender inequality (not directly comparable to total inequality losses because different variables are used) range from 17 percent to 85 percent.

Countries with unequal distribution of human development also experience high inequality between women and men, and countries with high gender inequality also experience unequal distribution of human development.

The Full Table of the Gender Inequality Index by country includes a number of measurements: Maternal Mortality Ratio, Adolescent Fertility Rate, % of Women's Seats in Parliament, % of the population over age 25 with at least a secondary school education (male and female), Labour force participation rate (% of total population of men, of women), % of married women ages 25-49 using any form of contraception, at least 1 antenatal healthcare visit (%), % of births attended by skilled personnel.

The table shows the countries by 2010 HDI ranking, then their ranking on the GII by 2008 results.

The 10 countries with the best gender equality are: Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland, Norway, Belgium, Germany, Finland, Italy, Singapore.
All are in the Very High Human Development category.

Countries that are #11-20 on the GII: France, Japan, Iceland, Spain, Cyprus, Canada, Slovenia, Australia, Austria, S. Korea.
Also all in the Very High Human Development category.

Assorted countries of interest: New Zealand 25, Ireland 29, UK 32, USA 37, China 38, Malaysia 50, Indonesia 100, Pakistan 112, Bangladesh 116, India 122.
Their ranking on the Gender Inequality Index tends to follow ranking on the Human Development Index, ie the greater the gender inequality, the lower the human development ranking.

MENA countries: Israel 28, Kuwait 43, UAE 45, Libya 52, Bahrain 55, Tunisia 56, Algeria 70, Jordan 76, Qatar 94, Iran 98, Syria 103, Morocco 104, Sudan 106, Egypt 108, Mauritania 118, Iraq 123, Saudi Arabia 128, Yemen 138.
No rankings are available for Lebanon, Occupied Palestinian Territories [sic], Oman.
Saudi Arabia stands out as being in the High Human Development Category but being very low in the Gender Inequality Index.

The 10 countries with the worst gender inequality are: Cameroon 129, Côte d’Ivoire 130, Liberia 131, Central African Republic 132, Papua New Guinea 133, Afghanistan 134, Mali 135, Niger 136, Democratic Republic of Congo 137, Yemen 138.
All of these are in the category of low overall human development.
Some countries which would be among the lowest have no ranking on the Gender Inequality Index.


The Human Development Index (HDI)
The first Human Development Report introduced a new way of measuring development by combining indicators of life expectancy, educational attainment and income into a composite human development index, the HDI. The breakthrough for the HDI was the creation of a single statistic which was to serve as a frame of reference for both social and economic development. The HDI sets a minimum and a maximum for each dimension, called goalposts, and then shows where each country stands in relation to these goalposts, expressed as a value between 0 and 1.

The education component of the HDI is now measured by mean of years of schooling for adults aged 25 years and expected years of schooling for children of school going age. Mean years of schooling is estimated based on duration of schooling at each level of education (for details see Barro and Lee, 2010). Expected years of schooling estimates are based on enrolment by age at all levels of education and population of official school age for each level of education. The indicators are normalized using a minimum value of zero and maximum values are set to the actual observed maximum values of the indicators from the countries in the time series, that is, 1980–2010. The education index is the geometric of two indices.

The life expectancy at birth component of the HDI is calculated using a minimum value of 20 years and maximum value of 83.2 years. These are the observed maximum value of the indicators from the countries in the time series, 1980–2010. Thus, the longevity component for a country where life expectancy birth is 55 years would be 0.554.

For the wealth component, the goalpost for minimum income is $163 (PPP) and the maximum is $108,211 (PPP), both observed minimum observed during the same time series.

The decent standard of living component is measured by GNI per capita (PPP US$) instead of GDP per capita (PPP US$) The HDI uses the logarithm of income, to reflect the diminishing importance of income with increasing GNI. The scores for the three HDI dimension indices are then aggregated into a composite index using geometric mean. Refer to the Human Development Report 2010 Technical notes [339 KB] for more details.

The HDI facilitates instructive comparisons of the experiences within and between different countries.

The Inequality-adjusted HDI (IHDI)
Reflecting inequality in each dimension of the HDI addresses an objective first stated in the Human Development Report 1990. The 2010 Report introduces the Inequality-adjusted HDI (IHDI), a measure of the level of human development of people in a society that accounts for inequality. Under perfect equality the HDI and the IHDI are equal. When there is inequality in the distribution of health, education and income, the HDI of an average person in a society is less than the aggregate HDI; the lower the IHDI (and the greater the difference between it and the HDI), the greater the inequality. We apply this measure to 139 countries.

The average loss in the HDI due to inequality is about 22 percent—that is, adjusted for inequality, the global HDI of 0.62 in 2010 would fall to 0.49, which represents a drop from the high to the medium HDI category.


All rankings have flaws, biases, and are to be taken as only one piece of information in a more complex puzzle. However, as rankings go, the UN indices are relatively well respected, and general trends are more reliable than exact figures. There is no doubt that gender inequality squanders human potential and compromises the wellbeing of all members of society.

The GII rankings are mainly based on access to professional health care for reproductive health, and on cultural paradigms about women: marital ages, age at first pregnancy, number of pregnancies, and contraception. Other highly reliable studies show that as education, and particularly education for women, increases marital age rises, as does the age at first pregnancy, and the total number of pregnancies, along with general reproductive health. Also, the age at first pregnancy is more important in terms of maternal health than the age of marriage. Where women marry young but wait to have children their overall health statistics are improved, over situations where women marry young and have children immediately.

Saudi Arabia stands out for a number of reasons. It is not only a high state income country, but is one in the high Human Development Index category. Yet, there but for the grace of a single ranking it would be in the bottom 10 of the ranked countries on the GII. Saudi Arabia at 128 is closer to Yemen at 138 on the GII, yet Saudi Arabia ranks 55 on the HDI to Yemen's 133. Sudan the lowest ranking of the MENA countries on the HDI at 154, ranks higher at 106 than Saudi does on the GII. The state income disparities go without saying.

Given that educational levels for Saudi women are generally high, especially among the younger women, that is, among those primarily comprising the child-bearing cohort, other factors must be more predominant in Saudi than in other countries. These factors seem to be a combination of cultural ones that also impact reproductive health, and labour force participation in particular.

A high value on early marriage and high natalism, and preclusion from the workforce seem to conspire to keep even educated women home and having more children than they might otherwise. Contraception is discouraged, hard to obtain, and knowledge about it plagued with misunderstandings. Concerns about gender segregation impact access to professional health care in some settings. Very few Saudi women are in the workforce (estimates range from 5-15%). There are also few women in government positions, which in itself tends to reflect the number of women in a country who are in the active workforce, public or civil service, and societal institutions.

From these rankings, and other relevant information, one can conclude that a greater presence for Saudi women in the workforce and in public life would be an asset to all of Saudi society. Though high state income, and admirable efforts in public health and public education help put Saudi Arabia in the High Human Development Index category, a commensurate ranking in gender equality would be a distinct improvement, and probably put Saudi Arabia among the more developed countries.

The Arab States generally rank poorly on the GII, as do South Asian, and subSaharan African ones. Given that a number of Arab States also have low state incomes, this clustering speaks not only to income but to culture, and to culture rather than religion.

Country map of the 2010 UN HDI: high development categories in deepest green-black to light green; medium in yellow-green through yellow to deep orange; low in red through brown to ruddy-black; not available in grey. The full 2010 Report is available here. Interactive tools for exploring the report are available beginning here. Individual country reports may be accessed here.

Your thoughts, comments, impressions, experiences?
Any surprises?
Alternate hypotheses about reasons or solutions?
How do you feel about your own country's ranking?
Is it an accurate reflection of your experience or beliefs?

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RenKiss said...

It's quite a complex issue. I do get how reproductive rights plays a role in gender equality. After all, having control over your production gives you quite a lot power (i.e. when you decide you want to have children, how many you want, etc.) Even simply having access to effective contraception can make a huge difference. But people don't like this.

When women can decide when they want children or not, then this of course means they can pursue things like education and careers. But when you live in a culture when you're expected to be married and have children, then yes this can prevent many young women from getting an education and jobs.

As far as how the United States ranks on this issue. For me it may seem like the US is ahead, but there are people here who trying to fight it, like trying to make it difficult for women to obtain birth control. One example would be laws making it legal for a pharmacist to deny a woman emergency contraception, because to them it goes against their beliefs to dispense it. It's something that doesn't happen often and as far as I know such laws haven't been passed, but it still worries me.

Haitham هيثم Al-Sheeshany الشيشاني said...

informative! Thx.

Human capital is the real source for all other resources!

Gender inequalities regarding this is alarming!


Majed said...

I think what makes KSA and Yemen so close to each other,in Gender Inequality Index,despite the vast difference in resources, is the fact that, Yemen has very high maternal mortalities, when I used teach there, I lost a 14 years old student to delivery complications, may Allah have mercy on her innocent soul, she was very cute and lively child, she used to suggest me her girl friends for marriage, also yemen has very hight adolescent fertility, very poor maternal healthcare, and very little births attended by skilled personnel.

Otherwise Yemen has much less gender bias, we boast having female judges since as early as 1969, and women taxi driver as early as 1950s (a taxi driver we used call aunt Aisha has just stopped driving she is 70 years old now ) drove 50 years with Zero traffic ticket record, we also have women commercial pilots and women in all army branches, and parliamentarians etc.(I am talking mostly about the southern part of yemen, there are cultural difference betwee south and north)In general they are more open and and embracing to new ideas than many arab countries.

If not for corruption and external Interferences I believe Yemen would have done much better than many arab countries.

Majed said...

I appologize for this inconvenience, This is the contiuation of the 1st paragraph of my earlier comment.

On the other hand,Saudi women have all the advantages women in developed countries have,but the saudi society is culturally APPARENTLY (I won't say hypocratically) too male dominant , I say that, because in a strange way, practically women here do control men behind the scenes, as women actually lead men by their nose rings, women are the defacto masters of the household, some times it seem as if male and female have made certain arrangements, and agreed to devide the roles they play to the society between them, men to play the role of typical rigid and fierce tribal male , women to play the role of the oppressed and subdued poor female, unfortunately they played these roles so long ,that, it eventually inseparably grew on them, and they have come to believe it, and the keeping up appearances made women queens only in their houses and confined circles, and if all women did not act selfishly, and each of them little strained the nose ring string in her hand, they would have made great difference for all women, but , those who can make difference are quite because they are happy and content, because it is very rare that people feel for others,as usually who lives in heaven think everybody else is living in heaven too, and I think that what makes KSA so close to Yemen in GII.


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