Over the next decade, the impact of women on the global economy—as producers, entrepreneurs, employees and consumers—could be at least as significant as that of China’s 1 billion people. In Africa alone, tapping into women’s economic potential would be the equivalent of having an additional half-billion individuals contributing to the economy and stimulating growth. Yet in Africa and the rest of the world, there is a wide gap between potential and reality. In a sizable number of countries, women often face economic, social and institutional obstacles to exercising their fundamental rights. Although significant progress has been made towards gender equality in Africa, much more remains to be done. To measure the extent of this issue at country level, many gender-related indices have been created—among them the Global Gender Gap Index (GGI) from the World Economic Forum, the Africa Gender and Development Index from the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, the Gender Inequality Index from the United Nations Development Programme, and the OECD’s Social Institution and Gender Index (SIGI).
Most indices of gender equality measure gender-differentiated outcomes in areas such as health, education and employment, and SIGI focuses on the factors underlying gender inequality, measuring social institutions (which are mirrored by societal practices and legal norms) that discriminate against women. The new Gender Equality Index (GEI) developed by the African Development Bank (AfDB, or the Bank) combines both gender-differentiated outcomes and social institutions that explain gender gap in countries, addressing the institutional dimension, in addition to the social and economic dimensions, as a factor in the gender gap. The GEI compiles data from many sources, reflecting the status of women around Africa along three dimensions of equality: economic opportunity, social development, and law and institutions. It provides hard evidence on the challenges facing African women, but it also highlights where progress is being achieved. It reflects the combined gain in achievement in three key dimensions of human development (human economic opportunity, human social development and human equality in law and institution) when gender equality is taken into account. And it provides a rich source of evidence on how empowering women can yield important development returns.