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16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence

New Index Measures How Safe, Not Just How Economically Equal, Women Are

A new global index from Georgetown University and the Peace Research Institute of Oslo is the first measure to bring women’s inclusion, justice and security together in a single ranking. Women & Girls spoke with leader author Jeni Klugman about why the world needs a new gender ranking.

Written by Jihii Jolly Published on Read time Approx. 5 minutes
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Nepali women walk through Durbar square in Bhaktapur, south-east of Kathmandu. Prakash Mathema/AFP via Getty Images

The world is full of gender rankings. From the World Economic Forum to the United Nations, there are many organizations that work to show how different countries are doing on equality for women and girls. But U.S. academic Jeni Klugman says these indexes are all missing something.

Existing measures may show how well or poorly women are doing economically, Klugman says, but they don’t tell us how safe a woman is in her society. That’s why she and her colleagues at the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security and the Peace Research Institute Oslo have launched a new measure: The Women Peace and Security Index.

It is the first index to rank 153 countries, which cover 98 percent of the world’s population, based on progress on women’s inclusion, justice and security. Iceland topped the ranking, followed by Norway and Switzerland, while Afghanistan was the lowest-ranked country.

Each index score is a composite of all three categories. While Iceland, which also topped the WEF Global Gender Gap ranking this year, did well in terms of inclusion and justice, it was outperformed by other countries when it comes to intimate partner violence.

The index defines “inclusion” as a women’s ability to make their own economic, social and political decisions, measured through indicators such as employment, access to cell phones and seats in parliament. “Justice” refers to both formal laws and informal discrimination in daily life. And “security” covers personal safety within families as well as society at large.

Women and Girls spoke to Klugman about how the index was born, and what it means for the world.

Women & Girls: Why did we need this index?

Jeni Klugman: The World Economic Forum, the UNDP and others prepare annual rankings that are very widely cited. But if you look at what is included, they’re very much limited to development and participation, things like secondary enrollment, employment and women’s representation in parliament.

All of those things are important, but our sense was that, if it’s not safe for women and girls in their community and society more broadly, then they’re really quite incomplete.

On the other hand, you’ve got a bunch of indices that look at conflict and predicting war. Those have quite comprehensive measures, sometimes dozens of indicators, but typically, nothing on the gender side. So we wanted to bridge the gulf.

Women & Girls: So you have a top dozen and a bottom dozen annual performers. How are they distinguished, and what is significant about them?

Jeni Klugman: The top dozen are distinguished by being generally peaceful and stable. They’ve [also] got consistently high scores across the different dimensions that we include. For example, few men in these societies think women shouldn’t work. All of them do well relative to their income per capita, so they’re all countries that are kind of overperforming.

There are a number of countries that do worse relative to their income, but all of the top dozen, other than Singapore, do much better than their income per capita. So, for example, Slovenia is 30 places higher on our index than it would be on a per capita income ranking.

Bu no country performs well across all of the dimensions. So there’s room for improvement everywhere. For example, the Nordic countries have high rates of intimate partner violence. And that’s a key challenge for them. In some of the other European countries, the rates of women’s employment are relatively low.

At the bottom, countries are marked by high levels of conflict. But you can also see that they have bright spots as well; for example, in Afghanistan, women’s parliamentary representation. They are also regionally quite diverse. They’re in south Asia, the Middle East, Africa. Development indices often have a number of countries in sub-Saharan Africa at the bottom, [but] actually, we have countries across several regions in the bottom dozen.

The other point that comes out is there are countries in every region that do much better than the global average. We don’t expect every country in the world to perform as well as Norway or Iceland.

But look at what’s happening in your region and see that, for example, Nepal is doing quite well in south Asia. Or Namibia is doing well in the context of sub-Saharan Africa. These comparisons to neighbors are very important in showing the feasibility of improvement. So the countries that are doing worst don’t need to look as far as Iceland. They can just look at neighbors who are doing better and see what’s possible there.

Figure 2.3 from the index.

Women & Girls: There are still very large data gaps when it comes to security and inclusion, at least from institutional sources and the U.N. Where did your data come from?

Jeni Klugman: We had to adopt an approach that was cognizant of those deficits, but we also wanted to have some key principles, for example, to rely on published data, and to ensure that for any particular country that was included, the data was available for at least eight of the 11 indicators. Most of the data that we use comes from either the World Bank or the U.N.’s population-based sources.

Our main innovation is that we used data from the Gallup World Poll, for example, for the community safety measure [we looked at the question]: “Do you feel safe walking in your neighborhood at night?”

We also use it for the measure of discriminatory norms. There’s a question that they’ve just started asking: “Do you think it’s perfectly acceptable for women to work outside the home if they wish to?” That is really quite a promising measure of discriminatory norms. And, in fact, it performs quite well, so you get a big range across countries.

Women & Girls: What were you not able to include in the index due to data gaps?

Jeni Klugman: One of the key areas where still know that there are deficits is on intimate partner violence. So there, we use lifetime rates rather than current rates of violence, because not enough countries collect it on a regular basis.

Another is on the overall organized violence measure. That’s just a measure of violent deaths in the country, so it’s a more general measure of insecurity in the society.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

This is part of a series of articles to mark the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence campaign.

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