Wednesday 10 September 2014

A gender-sensitive Human Development Index (HDI)

The latest Human Development Report (HDR) comes with interesting news on gender inequality. This is because, in addition to the gender inequality index (GII), UNDP has calculated male and female human development indices (HDI) separately. Comparing the "female" and the "male" HDI yields a new index called the Gender-related Development Index (GDI).

There is a huge difference between the GII and the GDI.
The familiar GII has focused on three dimensions regarding the situation of women and girls: reproductive health (maternal mortality ratio and adolescent birth rates), empowerment (measured in terms of women's presence in parliament seats and in secondary education), and economic participation (percentage of females and males aged 15 and older in the labour market and labour force). Constructed in a very complex manner, the GII has been difficult to interpret and a bit clumsy to use.  

The new GDI is radically different. Rather than examining specific aspects that are suspected to contribute to (or hamper) gender equality, it takes into account all data that forms the human development index - data on health, education, and command over economic resources. 

The GDI looks at the bottom line: what are the differences between women's and men's human development indices in a country? UNDP points out that on average, the female HDI value is 8% lower than male HDI. In four countries, the female HDI is 30-40% below the male HDI: Afghanistan (40%), Niger, Pakistan and Yemen. Conversely, in Slovakia, the difference between men's and women's HDI is exactly zero.
In 15 countries, women's HDI is above men's: Sweden, Finland, Slovenia, Estonia, Lithuania, Poland, Latvia, Argentina, Uruguay, Belarus, Russia, Barbados, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, and Mongolia (HDI rank: 103), listed here in the order of their HDI rank. Intriguing! This unusual form of gender inequality can be caused by poor male HDI data, often due to below-average male life expectancy. Men and boys tend to be disproportionally involved in violence, alcoholism and other forms of risky behaviour.

Countries that rank high in terms of HDI are not necessarily near the top in terms of GDI: for instance, Switzerland ranks 3rd in terms of its HDI, but 76th in terms of gender-related development. Conversely, Mongolia is 87th on the HDI list, but 8th on the GDI ranking. Lesotho is 162nd regarding its HDI, but 43rd for the GDI. Some countries on the HDI list do not yet have a GDI rank - it is probably still difficult to get fully sex-disaggregated data from all countries. That makes it a bit complicated to draw accurate comparisons between HDI and GDI ranks, espcially near the lower end of the HDI list. But it is still exciting.

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