Frequently Asked Questions - Gender Inequality Index (GII)

The GII is an inequality index. It shows the loss in potential human development due to disparity between female and male achievements in three dimensions: reproductive health, empowerment and the labour market. Overall, the GII reflects how women are disadvantaged in these dimensions.

The GII ranges between 0 and 1. Higher GII values indicate higher inequalities between women and men and thus higher loss to human development. There is no country with perfect gender equality. All countries suffer some loss in achievements in key aspects of human development when gender inequality is taken into account. The GII is similar in method to the Inequality-adjusted Human Development Index (IHDI)—see Technical Note 4 for details. It can be interpreted as a combined loss to achievements in reproductive health, empowerment and labour market participation due to gender inequalities. Since the GII includes different dimensions than the HDI, it cannot be interpreted as a loss in HDI itself. For more details, please refer to the discussions in this paper and Technical Note 4 for the current methodology.

The GII includes reproductive health and measures empowerment beyond the female literacy and primary education. It also reveals gender disparities in labour market participation and avoids using flawed sex-disaggregated income measures.

Like all composite measures, the GII has some limitations. First, it does not capture the length and breadth of gender inequality. For example, it captures national parliamentary representation but excludes participation at the local government level and elsewhere in community and public life. The labour market dimension lacks information on employment and the quality of jobs. The index misses other important dimensions, such as unpaid work, and the fact that many women carry an unfair burden of caregiving and housekeeping. Asset ownership, childcare support, gender-based violence and participation in community decision-making are also not captured in the GII, mainly due to limited data availability.

The GII relies on data from major publicly available international databases, including the maternal mortality ratio from World Health Organization (WHO), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), World Bank Group and United Nations Population Division; adolescent birth rates from the UN Department of Economic and Social Affair’s World Population Prospects; educational attainment statistics from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics educational attainment tables and the Barro-Lee data sets; parliamentary representation from the International Parliamentary Union (IPU); and labour market participation from the International Labour Organization (ILO).

It is true that reproductive health indicators used in the GII do not have equivalent indicators for males. In this dimension, the reproductive health of girls and women is compared to what should be the societal goals—no maternal death and no adolescent pregnancy. The rationale is that safe motherhood reflects the importance society attaches to women’s reproductive role. Early childbearing, as measured by the adolescent birth rate, is associated with greater health risks for mothers and infants; also, adolescent mothers often are forced out of school and into low-skilled jobs.

Only 1 out of 162 countries included in the GII has female shares of parliamentary seats equal to zero. Because the functional form is multiplicative, we replaced the zero value with 0.1 percent to make the computation possible. The rationale is that while women may not be represented in parliament, they do have some political influence. The relative rank of the country is sensitive to the choice of the replacement value. The lowest observed non-zero female shares of parliamentary representation was 1.0% for Yemen.

The GII provides insights into gender disparities in reproductive health, empowerment and labour market participation in 162 countries. It can help governments and others understand the extent of gender inequalities in empowerment. The component indicators highlight areas in need of critical policy intervention. The GII, like any other global composite index, is constrained by the need for international comparability. But it could be readily adapted for use at the national or local level.