New measure of women's political empowerment

Feb. 16, 2017

A series of attempts to map women's political empowerment has been introduced by various UN bodies in recent years. These indices - which gives a country a certain score per year - has had several challenges, not the least that they only measure trends in the most recent years. Moreover, as these indices has been continuously improved and altered they lack in comparability even within this short period of time.

- The measure used until now has some weaknesses. Our new index covers more aspects of the process of women's political participation and has a wider scope in time and space. We hope that this will help researchers and policy makers who want to get a comparable measure across time in women's empowerment in different countries, says Aksel Sundström, one the authors of the recently released study that presents this index.


The measure now being launched by researchers in the V-Dem project, "Women's Political Empowerment Index", includes figures for a global sample of countries from 1900. This means that this index contains far more information than previous measures of women's rights and freedoms. The index's focus on women's "political empowerment" is a process that is understood as multidimensional, both about the extent to which women can participate in formal decision-making, but also how well women in the population of a country at a given time can be said to have opportunities to move freely and express their views.

This measure is, as well as other indicators of this project, based on a extensive expert survey in which thousands of experts from different countries scored how well a country performs in the different dimensions of this process. In some aspects of this index, it is the relative values that are the focus - for example, the proportion of politicians in the country's parliament that are women (compared to men). In other aspects, it is the absolute measurement that is in focus - for example, the extent to which women are considered to be able to move freely in society.

- What is also unique about this index is that one can easily get the numbers on one of the different dimensions of this measurement if it is what they want to investigate, says Aksel Sundström.

The new index shows that in general women's power and opportunity in the world has increased dramatically over the past century. However, there are some regions where development is still going very slowly, especially in countries in the Middle East and North Africa. For policy makers, it will be useful to track which regions are in need of special efforts and with future updates of the data it will be possible to follow on the development in the right direction.


More information:

Aksel Sundström, Pamela Paxton, Yi-ting Wang & Staffan I. Lindberg (2017) ”Women's Political Empowerment: A New Global Index, 1900-2012”, World Development.




Aksel Sundström, Post-Doc,

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