Gendering Human Development Indices: Recasting the Gender Development Index and the Gender Empowerment Measure for India

31 Dec 2009


The report ranks states and union territories in India in gender development and empowerment through calculation of Gender Development Index and Gender Empowerment Measure to reveal gender-based disparities that can be used by policymakers and analysts.

Gender relations are the key to understanding the inequalities between men and women. These inequalities are expressed in many ways - explicit and implicit. The explicit measures are well known and are revealed in statistics depicting differences in the sex ratio, child infanticide, literacy rates, health and nutrition indicators, wage differentials and ownership of land and property. The implicit relations are embedded in power relations and hierarchies and are more difficult to measure. Located in the household, in custom, religion and culture, these intra-household inequalities result in unequal distribution of power, unequal control over resources and decision-making; dependence rather than self-reliance; and unfair, unequal distribution of work, drudgery, and even food. For governments and concerned citizens seeking to redress these inequalities, gender disaggregated data and indices are a means of determining the issues that they must address and monitor to determine the effectiveness of their actions.1 Gender disaggregated data and indices are tools that can be used to identify gender inequalities, determine the issues that must be addressed, take steps to redress the inequalities, provide feedback on the effectiveness of actions and re-prioritise allocation of resources.

United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) annual Human Development Reports (HDRs) have successfully shifted the development debates and attention from uni-dimensional, income or Gross Domestic Product based indices to the inclusion of non-income and multi-dimensional variables in measurement of development. The Human Development Reports were preceded by efforts of several social scientists to devise more welfare-sensitive measurements or indices of development that incorporate variables other than income. For instance, Morris2 tried to measure Physical Quality of Life based on an average of three indicators, basic literacy rate, infant mortality, and life expectancy at age one. Similarly, Drewnovsky and Scott3 combined a large set of social variables in the areas of nutrition, shelter, health, education, leisure, security, and social and physical environment to prepare a Unitary Index. In each of these indices the effort is to use one or more indicators to capture attainment with regard to different dimensions of development.

UNDP’s Human Development Reports draw attention to the fact that human development is a process of enlarging people’s choices. The Human Development Index (HDI) introduced by UNDP in 1990 is a simple average of three dimension indices that measure average achievements in a country with regard to ‘A long and healthy life’, as measured by life expectancy at birth; ‘Knowledge’, as measured by the adult literacy rate and the combined primary, secondary and tertiary gross enrolment ratio; and ‘A decent standard of living’, as measured by estimated earned income in Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) US$. However, a nation “does not have to be affluent to treat women and men equally.”

The goals of human development cannot be achieved without the development and empowerment of women. However, the reality that women face is that of disparities in access to, and control over, resources. The need to include gender sensitive measures of human development was recognised as early as the second HDR. Therefore, in 1995, the UNDP introduced two new indices: a Gender-related Development Index (GDI) and a Gender Empowerment Measure (GEM).

The Gender-related Development Index adjusts the average achievements in the same three dimensions that are captured in the HDI, to account for the inequalities between men and women. The Gender Empowerment Measure focuses on opportunities and captures gender inequality in three key areas: ‘Political participation and decision-making power’, as measured by women’s and men’s percentage shares 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 and women’s and men’s percentage shares of professional and technical positions; and ‘Power over economic resources’, as measured by women’s and men’s estimated earned income (PPP US$). The GEM was intended to measure women’s and men’s abilities to participate actively in economic and political life and their command over economic resources. UNDP’s HDRs have estimated HDI each year since 1990 and GDI and GEM since 1995.

Human and gender development indicators are tools that have been successfully used for advocacy, ranking of geographical spaces, and as a tool for research to capture improvement in human well-being more reliably than per capita income. Further, these can be used in the political sphere as they focus on social sectors, policies and achievements.5 As Johansson6 points out, among the strengths of the HDI are its policy relevance and acceptability based on:

1) Conceptual clarity that facilitates its power as a tool of communication;

2) Reasonable level of aggregation;

3) Use of universal criteria and variables; and

4) Use of standardised international data explicitly designed for comparison.

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