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Tackling the root causes of gender inequalities in the post-2015 development agenda

France research, February 2013

Deloitte, Diversity, Economic and social contextIn order to identify progress and opportunities for improvement, traditional measures of gender equality have focussed on high level outcomes such as education, political participation, employment and mortality rates.  Are these measures enough to understand the underlying drivers of inequity, such as social norms, laws and practices?  

In 2009 the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) launched the Social Institution and Gender Index (SIGI) to identify and quantify the impact of discriminatory social institutions on women and girls.  The SIGI relies on quantitative and qualitative data that has been confirmed with country and regional subject matter experts.  In 2012 OECD researchers applied that the SIGI to countries within 6 major regions (e.g. East Asia and the Pacific) and provided unique insights which will help move the gender agenda forward.  For example, whilst Europe and Central Asia scored well on traditional indicators such as employment and education, the SIGI identified high levels of bias towards sons within families, manifested in female mortality rates and the share of males as the last child.  

When the invisible becomes visible it helps challenge complacency and provides a channel for intervention to redress discriminatory social institutions “that restrict or exclude women and girls and consequently limit their access to opportunities, resources and power which negatively impacts upon development outcomes”.  (Cerise and Francavilla, 2012).  Without these insights there would be a continuing pattern of endogeneity, for example, early marriage for girls leads to less education and ultimately to less women decision-making power in the household, reinforcing the discrimination pattern for the next generation.


The aim of this research was to identify and understand discriminatory social institutions in terms of their impact on gender inequality.  Additionally the research sought to identify regional differences and the gaps or similarities between traditional equality measures and SIGI indicators, for example in relation to employment, education, child health and security.  


The SIGI evaluates countries on 14 variables that are organised into the following five sub-indices or groups:

  1. Discriminatory Family Code: Legal age of marriage, early marriage, parental authority and inheritance
  2. Restricted Physical Integrity: Violence against women (laws, attitudes and prevalence), female genital mutilation and reproductive integrity (the ability to exercise reproductive autonomy)
  3. Son Bias: Missing women (e.g. female infanticide or insufficient care to baby girls) and fertility preferences (preference towards having male children as indicated by the share of males as the last child)
  4. Restricted Resources and Entitlements: Access to land, access to credit and access to property other than land
  5. Restricted Civil Liberties: Access to public space and political voice.

Each of these sub-indices is weighted equally in the SIGI score.  The SIGI allows for partial compensation, meaning that “high inequality in one dimension can be only partially compensated with low inequality on another dimension”.   The SIGI assumes that discrimination is linked to deprivation, and deprivation “increases more than proportionally when inequality and discrimination increases”.


The SIGI’s focus on discriminatory institutions revealed the following:

  1. Regional differences in discriminatory social institutions
    Sub-Saharan Africa showed the highest level of discrimination in the Discriminatory Family Code, Restricted Physical Integrity and Restricted Resources and Entitlements sub-indices.  South Asia showed the highest level of discrimination in Son Bias.  The Middle East and North African region showed the highest level of discrimination for the Restricted Civil Liberties sub-index (see Figure 2 below).

    Regional differences in different dimensions of discriminatory social institutions

  2.  Higher levels of women in vulnerable employment in countries with higher levels of discrimination in the family
    Discriminatory social institutions correspond to women’s access to quality jobs.  In particular, in countries with higher levels of discrimination against women in the family, more women were found to be in informal employment, where they have less social protection and a greater risk of poverty.
  3. Higher child mortality rates in countries where women’s physical integrity is highly restricted
    The average infant mortality rate was found to be more than three times higher in countries with high levels of restrictions on women’s physical integrity compared to those countries with low levels of restrictions.
  4. Lower primary school completion where women have lower status and decision-making power in the family
    “Where women have greater status and power in the family, children are more likely to complete primary school”.
  5. Greater political instability in countries where women’s civil liberties are highly restricted
    Countries with a high level of restriction on women’s civil liberties also showed a higher average political instability score compared to countries with lower levels of restrictions on civil liberties.  


The SIGI reveals drivers of gender inequality that are not visible through standard equity measures, and in particular drivers which shape the economic and social outcomes for women and girls.  These insights are critical to help countries develop impactful action plans to meet UN Millennium Development Goals by 2015.

Whilst employers may not have direct influence over many of the sub-indices, employers can provide a powerful site for debate and communication, influence government policy makers and role model best practice (e.g. providing women with a voice in decision-making).   

To read the full article, see Cerise S. and Francesca F. (2012) “Tackling the root causes of gender inequalities in the post-2015 development agenda” OECD Development Centre, Paris.

Click here to download the PDF. 


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