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Towards 2030 UN Agenda on Sustainable Development Goals: Technical Challenges in Measuring the Gender Inequality for Asia Pacific

Aggarwal, Bhavya and Chakraborty, Lekha S (2015): Towards 2030 UN Agenda on Sustainable Development Goals: Technical Challenges in Measuring the Gender Inequality for Asia Pacific.

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Abstract

Against the backdrop of UN 2030 Sustainable Development agenda, this paper analyses the measurement issues in gender based indices constructed by UNDP and suggests alternatives for choice of variables, functional form and weights. Despite their relevance, the composite indices like Gender Development Index (GDI) and Gender Empowerment Measure (GEM) have been criticized for their technical flaws and later replaced with Gender Inequality Index (GII). While GII conceptually reflects the loss in achievement due to inequality between men and women in three dimensions- health, empowerment and labour force participation – we argue that the assumptions and the choice of variables to capture these dimensions remain inadequate and erroneous, resulting in the partial capture of gender inequalities. Since the dimensions used for GII are different from HDI, we cannot say that a higher value of GII represents loss in HDI due to gender inequalities. However, while it is debatable the advantages of using GII over GDI (GDI is equally distributed equivalent of HDI which measures gender gap in three dimensions of human development-health, education and command over economic resources), one of the main drawbacks of using GII is that along with the inequality indicators of women vis-à-vis men, it also takes absolute indicators that are defined specifically for women- like maternal mortality rate (MMR) and adolescent fertility rate (AFR). The corresponding values for men for these absolute variables are taken as 1 which is unrealistic and leads to overestimation of the gap between women and men’s health standards. The technical obscurity remains how to interpret the index by combining women specific indicators with indicators that are defined for both. GII is a partial construct as it has not captured many significant dimensions of gender inequality. Though this requires a data revolution, we tried to reconstruct GII in the context of Asia-Pacific using three scenarios: (i) improving the set of variables incorporating unpaid care work, pay gap, intra-household decision making, exposure to knowledge networks and feminisation of governance at local levels; (ii) constructing a decomposed index to specify the direction of gender gaps and (iii) an alternative index using Principal Components Index (PCI) for assigning weights. The choice of countries under the three scenarios is constrained by data paucity. The results revealed that UNDP GII overestimates the gap between the two genders and using women specific indicators leads to a fallacious estimation of gender inequality. The estimates are illustrative. The implication of the results broadly suggests a return to GDI for capturing the gender development, with an improvised set of choices and variables

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