As we have mentioned, there are thousands of indicators used to measure improvements in the lives of women. We identified the most important ones—both outcome measures and determinant-level measures— based on the following criteria:
- Indicator is used to measure efforts around improvements in women’s lives by authoritative international social sector organizations (e.g. the World Bank, World Health Organization, World Economic Forum, etc.).
- Multiple reputable sources agree on the indicator’s importance.
- Indicator is linked to improvements in women’s lives globally (not region or population specific).
- Indicator is linked to improvements that have the greatest impact on the most women (for instance, in the case of health, indicators linked to the largest causes of premature death for women globally).
- Indicator is linked to improvements in women’s lives across multiple dimensions. For example, educational attainment is linked with favorable outcomes in education, health, personal safety, and economic empowerment. This criterion is not required for an indicator to make our list, but helped the most important indicators rise to the top, and formed the basis of our list of ’Ten Best Bets’ for funders.
Using the above criteria, our review of the literature uncovered a set of agreed upon outcome measures that are used globally to measure progress in each of the five dimensions. The outcome measures we identified are valuable because:
- Evidence links them to real improvements in the lives of women and girls.
- They represent a synthesis of the work of well-established development and social sector players such as the United Nations (UN), Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), and International Center for Research on Women (ICRW).
- There is consensus around the use of these indicators for measurement purposes, which allows for comparability across efforts and the ability to learn from existing work being done across sectors.
We wanted to ensure that the set of indicators we identified in this report were actionable/practical. Therefore, for each dimension of women’s lives, we looked not just at the overall outcome measures but also at the determinants of those outcomes. For example, maternal mortality ratios are a widely agreed-upon outcome measure for women’s health. A key underlying factor that positively affects maternity mortality ratios is the presence of a skilled attendant at birth. In other words, the presence of a skilled attendant is a determinant of maternal mortality ratios. These key determinants can serve as points of intervention and help donors understand how they can influence the outcomes they seek.
The determinants we identified are valuable because:
- By telling us how progress can be made, they are useful for identifying interventions that link to the positive outcomes we identified.
- They synthesize the research literature and perspectives of stakeholders working globally to improve women’s lives.
In taking a holistic lens, we found that many of the determinants of women’s overall well-being are not women-specific (e.g. access to healthy food, clean water, etc.). Because these issue areas may not be traditionally seen as “women’s issues,” they are overlooked at times. For example, in the field of “gender lens investing,” indicators related to water and nutrition aren’t considered in gender screens, even though research clearly points to increased access to clean water and better nutrition as critical to improving the lives of women.
Many of the issues affecting women that have received significant donor attention globally did not make our list when we focused on the issues that affect the most women worldwide. One such example is obstetric fistulas, which, though devastating, affect a relatively small proportion of women globally. Meanwhile, other issues that affect huge numbers of women globally are relatively overlooked. For example, mental health is the leading cause of disability for women globally, yet there have been relatively few high-profile philanthropic efforts aimed at addressing women’s mental health.