The United Nations development program is a program aimed and geared towards helping developing nations towards real development. Obviously development can’t by any means take place without the presence of gender equality. In United Nations development program has developed two methods in order to measure both women’s development as well as women’s empowerment. The two conceptual indexes that measure women’s development and their empowerment are the GDI and the GEM indexes. I do not believe that these indexes are accurate because they operate under a system of classification developed by the UNDP of levels subjective to only high, medium and low human development; unfairly this resulted in extremely low measures for Arab countries.
Primarily we must acknowledge that women should be expected to equally participate in the development process and to reciprocate the obvious benefits that come from this development. The real problem however is that the development policies have never offered an equal opportunity and equal benefits to women. The majority of policies neglect gender relations from either the planning, implementation, monitoring or even evaluation of the projects; based on this many developmental have failed. Even though the focus of this paper is on women, both gender based indexes measure the development and empowerment of both men and women, hence a gender based index not a female based index.
In essence the Gender development index is a measure for the achievement of both women and men in three important dimensions: life expectancy, educational attainment and adjusted real income (after taking note of inequality between women and men). In essence the GDI is the HDI (Human development index) however taking into consideration gender inequalities. On another end the Gender empowerment index is one that focuses on three variables that reflect women’s participation in political decision-making, access to professional opportunities and earning power. A lot of Arab countries objected to this since these sub indexes are extremely low in Arab countries and do not substantially translate the realities of third world countries.
In order to answer your question concerning whether these two measures are actually appropriate in measuring women’s status and decision making power further, the actual method of calculating such factors have to be looked upon with greater scrutiny. Primarily the Gender development index as we said measures life expectancy, educational attainment and income levels. Certain allowance is made for women’s biological edge in calculating life expectancy. This index uses two measures to measure educational attainment: Literacy rate and combined primary secondary and tertiary enrollment. It is important to note that 2/3rd of the weight of this equation are put upon just literacy. Income is measured based on calculation of male and female wages as a ration to the average wage, then it is multiplied by the ration of male and female in the labor force.
The male and female’s share are then divided respectively by the population share. If there is any gender disparity between proportional shares and earned income, average real gross domestic product is adjusted downwards. The size of the adjustment is based on the inequality. Both the GDI and the GEM reflect each member in the family’s earning power. If the GDI has a value of 1, it means that there is perfect gender achievement in basic abilities and that there is perfect gender equality. If it ranks 0.5, the GDI reflects the fact that women suffer double deprivation of gender disparity and low achievement in that specific country.
If we were to take a look at the GDI of Arab states in 1995 we would find a number of alarming problems with the actual index itself. Some of the data dates back from 1990, hence by all means outdated. The GDI itself is unweighted assigning only 1/3rd of value to income, education and health. The female income is grossly underestimated in many countries especially Egypt, the UNDP actually chose an older survey which had three times less women working in the agricultural field. Even though illiteracy weighs 2/3rd of the educational index, these very same countries have very high, high achievement rates. The index doesn’t take into account population size, or economic structures or levels of income none the less all countries are treated under the same criteria. Hence the results of the GDI were not very pleasing the Arab countries.
The results of the GEM index were even worse than those of the GDI for the Arab world. As mentioned before the GEM measures earned income shares, percentage share of administrative and managerial posts as well as professional and technical posts held by women. All Arab countries were below the 0.5 cut off line set by the UNDP, the UNDP concluded that the whole region has an aversion to gender equality as a whole. This index on its own has eliminated women working in the rural sector as they have obviously chosen to adopt and only urban model. This index doesn’t reflect any form of decision making power by simply to form a cut off line that stops short at white collar jobs, not to mention countries with strong rural and agricultural bases. Using the new classification system though it again seems that the whole Arab world is also at the low zone. I completely agree based on this that the GEM indicators are completely useless simply because they don’t match the criteria of developing countries; the reason why the indicators were made in the first place.
If we were to look at Kuwait for example it would again show how relatively incoherent the index rate seems to be. Kuwait has the highest GDI and GEM even though women do not have any rights towards political participation. The reason why the rate is the highest in the Arab world is because, the incomes are extremely high and because the government guarantees employment to everyone hence 99% percent of women are employed in the government. Women there don’t suffer any form of double burden; meaning that they have to work both at the work place and at home, respectively most of the work is done by imported servants. Using this very basic example we find that this index is very weak and doesn’t do much towards establishing gender equality.
Quite obviously it seems that the GDI and the GEM don’t measure anything, if they are to be used the following has to be changed. The actual source of income should be taken into consideration; whether this is a rent based (oil rich) economy that just distributes it’s wealth upon the people or if it is labor productive. The actual size of the population must be taken into account. Female economic activity must be measured inclusive of agricultural and formal sectors because not all countries have women working in the formal sector but rather in the agricultural sector. Final adjusting the national wage to take into account average wages in the informal sector. It doesn’t stop there the index should also equalize the standards between the literacy and the illiteracy component. GEM should focus more on percentage of women employers, number of self employed women and number of women owning land for example. In developing countries these are the factors that truly establish gender empowerment.
In essence these measures are not appropriate to measure women’s status unless the following changes had been put in place. Mind you however that this system works great for developing countries but doesn’t say much for developing countries. The system in place is bias towards high-income, non agricultural countries. I personally don’t understand how such index could even be used because if we were to take Saudi Arabia for example it would score great on the GDI and the GEM scale simply because it is a rentee economy. Women in Saudi Arabia can’t marry themselves, have no freedom of movement, can’t even walk alone with a mehrem let alone drive their own car however the score 6th highest on the GEM scale, this simply renders the whole equation unreasonable.
In all logic not accepting this scale I find very simply logical because if the obvious fallacies that can be derived from a scale that can’t be applied in countries inside the Arab world as a whole. Again I feel that the UNDP has put too much emphasis on money to establish women dependence, economic empowerment and gender empowerment are two completely different things that the UN and the UNDP continues to confuse. I don’t know I tend to agree with you that this is probably a purely political decision that makes the Arab world look extremely bad whereas the truth is quite different from that.