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Why Poverty: Solar Mamas

Updated Thursday, 6th September 2012

Interrogate gender inequality by looking at the stories behind the figures in this video

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Is it possible that as human development improves gender equality declines?  We’ll find out in this video.

The disadvantages facing women and girls are a major source of inequality around the world.  All too often women and girls are discriminated against in health, education and the labour market, with negative repercussions.  The United Nations Development Programme has introduced a new measure of these inequalities to better expose differences in the distribution of achievements between women and men; it’s called the Gender Inequality Index.

The Gender Inequality Index provides insights into gender disparities in three dimensions: reproductive health, empowerment and the labour market.  It does this through five indicators.  Reproductive health is measured by two indicators.  The first is the maternal mortality rate.  This is the number of women who die in childbirth per 100,000 live births.  The second indicator is the adolescent fertility rate.  This is the number of births per 1,000 women aged 15 to 19 years old.  Empowerment is also measured by two indicators: educational attainment at secondary level and above; and the percentage of women in the legislature of the country.  Labour market has just one indicator, which is women’s participation in the workforce.

The data from the three dimensions is merged to produce one value for each country between zero and one, with zero representing complete equality and one representing complete inequality.  In order to see the loss as a result of gender inequality to the development of countries, let’s plot the Gender Inequality Index against the Human Development Index (HDI).  Follow what I’m doing with my mouse in a few moments to do this.  The HDI is a composite index like the Gender Inequality Index.  It measures three basic dimensions of human development: a long and healthy life, access to knowledge and a decent standard of living.  A country with a good human development will be close to one and a country with poor human development will be close to zero.

Now I’ve delved further into the data we can see how these two indicators relate to each other or how they correlate and how the relationship has changed since 1995.  Each point represents a country, and by placing the cursor on a point the name of the country will appear.  The size of the point is dependent on the population of that country and the colour relates to where they are on the Human Development Index, with red most developed and blue as the least developed.  By watching the animation what we notice is that the points move left and gently upwards.  This means that since 1995 to 2011 country’s gender inequality index has been falling, or gender equality has been improving, the leftward shift of points, and that their human development scores have been moving closer to one.  This means their human development is improving, the shift upwards.

At the start and end of the animation the points lie along a diagonal line that stretches from the top of the Y axis to the end of the X axis.  This shows there’s a strong relationship between gender equality and human development.  The greater the gender equality, the greater the human development; however, we can’t say that gender equality causes greater human development, or that greater human development causes gender equality.  This is because the relationship could just as easily be down to chance.  We don’t have enough evidence based on the two indicators plotted in the diagram to establish a cause and effect relationship.

Let’s watch it again.  What we can also say is that over the 16 tracked years gender equality improves more than human development as the points move further left improving gender equality than they rise improving human development.  There are some other interesting things to look at.  Let’s watch what happens to China, which is now named.  At the beginning of the animation China is following the trend as its gender equality is improving.  See how it moves left?  But in 2000 the gains are reversed as China begins to shift right, indicating that gender equality is worsening before finally stabilising.  China consistently improves its human development over the period moving upwards.  Indeed its human development improves so much so that it changes colour from green to yellow.  This is a further indication of improved human development.  Although this improved human development has not been accompanied by falls in gender equality since 2000.

The case of China suggests that increases in human development can also happen alongside declining gender equality; however China does not seem to be following the general trend in this respect.  One country that’s seen quite dramatic change in achieving greater gender equality in recent years is the United Arab Emirates (UAE) which is now labelled.  Watch the animation again.  You may not have spotted the UAE until close to the end of the animation, because it’s only then that its improving gender equality becomes so marked, rapidly sweeping leftwards towards the top of the animation.  United Arab Emirates human development has also improved over the 16 years as it started as a country shown in yellow and ended in red.  This suggests that improvements in gender equality can be extremely rapid when the political will exists to empower women.  But the cultural tradition can constrain women and thwart the potential for them to be agents of change for their community and country too.

What do you think about the insights revealed by these stats?  Visit the OpenLearn site to share your views and see credits and links for all sources used in this video.








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