Types of gender development indicators

There have been a few significant attempts at developing indicators for measuring gender related issues. Of these, three important ones are discussed here:


On the occasion of the UN World Conference in Beijing, the UNDP Human Development Bureau prepared and released The Human Development Report 1995 subtitled Gender and Human Development. The report highlighted the disparities among men and women in various indicators of Human Development around the world. The most important contribution of the report is the introduction of two special indices for measuring gender inequality, the GDI (Gender-related Development Index) and the GEM (Gender Empowerment Measure).

The Gender-related Development Index (GDI)

It was in 1995, the UNDP brought out the Gender-related Development Index as a method for assessing gender inequality. The variables used in GDI are similar to those used for the Human Development Index; these being education, health and income. While the HDI measures average achievement, the GDI adjust the average achievement to reflect the inequalities between men and women in the following dimensions:

• A long and healthy life, as measured by life expectancy at birth.
• Knowledge as measured by the adult literacy rate and the combined primary, tertiary and gross enrolment ratio.
• A decent standard of living, as measured by estimated earned income (PPP US$).

The Gender Empowerment Measure (GEM)

Focusing on women‘s opportunities rather than their capabilities, the GEM captures gender inequality in three key areas:
• Political participation and decision making power, as measured by women’s and men’s percentage share of parliamentary seats.
• Economic participation and decision-making power, as measured by two indicators – women’s and men’s percentage shares of positions as legislators, senior officials and managers, women’s and men’s percentage share of professional and technical positions.
• Power over economic resources, as measured by women’s and men’s estimated earned income (PPP US$).

Some Facts from the Human Development Report 2009

HDR 2009 ranks 155 countries on a global scale in terms of their GDI. It is clear from the GDI estimates that in no society do women enjoy the same opportunities as men. The top rank is enjoyed by Australia with a GDI value of 0.966 – compared with a maximum possible value of 1.000 showing perfect equality. Most of the countries with a high GDI are also countries with high HDI since GDI is discounted (for gender inequality) HDI. Therefore an interesting data to analyse is the gap between a country‘s GDI rank and its HDI rank since this shows how equitably basic human capabilities are distributed between men and women.

The countries showing GDI ranks markedly higher than their HDI ranks include – Belgium, Spain, Finland, Denmark, Barbados among the countries with Very High Human development (HDI >0.8) and Bulgaria, Romania, Trinidad and Tobago among the High Human Development and only Mangolia and Tonga among the countries with Medium Human Development (0.8>HDI >0.5) and none from the countries with Low Human Development (HDI < 0.5). So we may say that poverty is bad for gender equity but the reverse is not true meaning not all countries with High Human Development have small gaps in their HDI and GDI ranks.

It is -9 for Austria, -6 for USA, Kuwait and UAE, -5 in case of Ireland and Luxembourg which are among the very High Human Development list. Among high Human Development list Saudi Arabia is worst at -7, among Medium Human Development countries Jordan and Syrian Arab Republic has -8 and none of the low human development countries have less than -1. Therefore as mentioned by the HDR 1995, income is not the decisive factor. The decision to invest in the health and education of people, irrespective of gender, seems to cut across income levels, political ideologies, cultures and stages of development.

Critique of GDI and GEM

The GDI has been criticized for failing to take into account important aspects such as the quality of community life, human rights and access to basic amenities. Issues such as violence against women or restrictions placed on women’s capacity to be mobile or household allocation of resources do not get any reflection in the GDI. Income or education levels cannot fully capture the specific disadvantages experienced by women.Recognizing the importance of gender based power imbalances, the UNDP has recognised the fact that movement to gender equality is a political process. For this the Gender Empowerment Measure has been formulated to reflect variables that take into consideration women’s political participation, their access to professional positions and their earning power.

The GEM is also criticized because it too is based only on three variables and therefore defines empowerment very narrowly. It ignores legal and human rights and does not take into account cultural constructions and related practices that disempower women.

The GEM has also been criticized on the grounds that its components were related to characteristics of power more appropriate to the developed countries. The argument was that there would not be professional associations of women and there would be few women in parliament in developing countries, but in these countries participation of women in other types of organisations such as cooperatives, trade associations and community organizations may indicate empowerment which is not reflected in the statistics on which GEM is based.It has been argued that majority of women in underdeveloped countries are doing work that is invisible to valuation in the mainstream male-defined world of statistics relating to work and income. The GDI and GEM indices based on per capita income and work participations rates therefore, are not accurate measures for the developing countries.