Today I Learnt: How to Understand the Gender Inequality Index

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Gender Inequality Index is a measure used in addition to the Human Development Index to understand where countries stand in development and highlight the gendered differences. The Human Development Index(HDI), developed by Pakistani economist Mahbub ul Haq, is used by the United Nations to study the quality of life across countries. The HDI is comprised of three components – life expectancy (longevity of life), an education level (literacy rate, attendance and enrolment in education) and per capita income (size of economy with respect to the population of the country). Besides this, the Gender Inequality Index (GII), introduced by the UN Development Project, studies gender disparities in reproductive health, empowerment and participation in the labour force. As of 2018, India ranked 122 out of 162 in the Gender Inequality Index. The GII is interpreted as a percentage and indicates the percentage of potential human development lost due to gender inequality. The world average GII score in 2011 was 0.492, which indicates a 49.2% loss in potential human development due to gender inequality.

Reproductive Health

Gender Inequality Index is one of the first indicators to include reproductive health as an aspect of gender inequality. There are two features under this – the Maternal Mortality Ratio (MMR), the data for which come UNICEF’s State of the World’s Children, and the adolescent fertility rate (AFR), the data for which is obtained through the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, respectively. A low MMR implies access to adequate health care during the time of pregnancy and birth. A high AFR, which measures early childbearing, results in health risks for mothers and infants as well as a lack of higher education attainment. It implies higher rates of child marriage, higher drop out rates for females as the mothers fall in the age bracket of 15-19. India reported an adolescent fertility rate of 12.07% in 2018.


The empowerment dimension is measured by two indicators: the share of parliamentary seats held by each sex, which is obtained from the International Parliamentary Union, and higher education attainment levels, which is obtained through United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization(UNESCO). Access to secondary education is linked to higher economic independence, greater exercise or choice and greater involvement of women in the public sphere. It also reflects lower dropout rates and is also linked to lower Adolescent fertility rates and child mortality rates. Women participation in electoral participation is still fewer, with only 25% of parliamentarians being women. Women running for election face numerous challenges—including addressing discrimination or cultural beliefs that limit women’s role in society, balancing private, family and political life, gaining support from political parties and securing campaign funding. They may also face violence, harassment and intimidation. India stands at the 144th position out of 188 countries.

Also Read: Female Workers in the Informal Sector face a larger brunt of the COVID Economic Crisis

Labour Market Participation

Labour market participation is described as women’s involvement in the workforce. This includes paid, unpaid involvement and those women actively looking for work. Labour market participation is higher in countries where women have higher literacy levels and secondary education. Higher labour force participation leads to greater economic independence, control over family resources and decisions, and marks several attitudinal shifts towards women’s employment and education. Higher participation also means lower fertility rates – lesser women are away from the workforce due to pregnancy and childcare.

Also Read: Lack of Paternity leaves in India And The Issue of Gendered Workspaces

The GII acts as a nascent indicator, quantifying only the basic markers of development. Across these subsections, it becomes imperative look into nuanced places of women in society. For instance, while female labour force participation has been steadily increasing, women are much more likely to employed in the informal sector. Further, access to contraceptives, safe abortions and family planning is also important for holistic reproductive health.

Anureet Watta is an Intern at SheThePeople TV