Indicating Gender — Status

This post is prompted by Jaya Ramji-Nogales’s discussion of the recent OECD Social Institutions and Gender Index. In her very thoughtful post – with which I entirely agree — she discusses the problems of “empirically measuring and ranking intangible phenomena such as social norms,” And she notes that the OECD publication was not entirely successful.But at least it tried.

In conjunction with a recent conference on state security in Norway, I examined six reports on state weakness to determine their approach to the use of gender equality as an indicator of state fragility or failure. These six reports were issued between 2005-2008 by highly influential U.S. foreign policy institutions, including private and public agencies, and one of them was co-authored by Susan Rice (before she became our Ambassador to the UN). While measures of gender equity are included in other assessments, such as the OECD’s index, the UNDP’s Human Development Report , or Freedom House’s evaluation of global freedom, this simply shows the integration of gender into development or civil liberties markers; these assessments are not self-conscious analyses of state security and fragility, unlike the 6 reports I examined. Apart from the USAID report, the other 5 reports did not use gender as an assessment tool.

Indicators and assessment tools can be important components in establishing state policies and practices towards developing countries. Consequently, the components that comprise each of these evaluative efforts are signs of what is considered critical to ensuring state stability. Donor agencies are increasingly using various indicators to help them evaluate country performance in order to ensure that their resources will be used most efficiently and effectively. While indicators are imperfect – they are subject to errors in measurement, and they take thin slices of complex issues — they are useful, within these limitations, for providing broad-brush pictures of a country’s status. But not if they don’t include gender at all. Gender equity provides a useful measurement of state security, as Fionnuala Ni Aolain, Dina Haynes, and I argue in our forthcoming book. Nonetheless, its significance is virtually unrecognized in numerous evaluations of state fragility, thereby leading to the risk that gender will remain unrecognized in efforts to promote state stability.

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1 Response

  1. Jaya Ramji-Nogales says:


    Thanks for opening up this dialogue! I agree with your point that a carefully crafted evaluation of gender equality should be a part of any comprehensive assessment of state fragility, and that the challenges inherent in measuring hidden gender discrimination shouldn’t lead us to leave issues of gender equality out of the discourse altogether. While the OECD’s approach with SIGI was flawed, there are other methods that could be used to assess gender equity for the important purposes you describe.