Measuring gender advocacy, accountability and the Sustainable Development Goals

By Albert Motivans
September 10, 2019

The Sustainable Development Goal Gender Index is the most comprehensive tool to measure progress towards gender equality aligned to the SDGs. It is unique in the breadth of its approach and analytic framework, and in its development by a partnership that spans civil society and the private sector.

The index goes beyond SDG 5 on gender equality to highlight issues across 14 of the 17 goals that include key outcomes of gender equality, as well as the enabling environment for achieving gender equality such as climate change, water, clean energy, tax policies and public finance. These latter goals are often overlooked and gender-blind in the SDG indicator framework, despite representing issues that are crucial for achieving SDG 5 and gender equality more broadly.

How the index works

The index is based on 51 issues that provide the “big picture” across the SDGs, as well as for progress towards gender equality for individual goals such as poverty, nutrition, health, education and others. It draws on both official SDG and complementary indicators, and reflects “inputs” (such as laws, policies and norms) that affect the lives of girls and women; the voice of women on a range of issues; and “outcomes” such as maternal mortality ratios, secondary graduation rates, etc.

The index covers 129 countries, representing 95% of the world’s population of girls and women. The indicators are based on data that is in the public domain. Many of the indicators are compiled and quality-assured by national governments and custodian agencies with a formal role to monitor the SDG framework. Other indicators are regularly collected or calculated by non-governmental organizations, research institutes and polling firms.

The index is defined and driven by the needs of gender advocates. Indicators were selected based on needs assessments, consultations and technical reviews conducted with gender advocates, policymakers, and stakeholders across different sectors at the community, national, regional and global levels.

Using the index for advocacy and accountability for girls and women

The purpose of any index is to present a complex or cross-cutting issue, like gender equality, in a summary and more understandable way — and is often presented as a national ranking. The index provides a bellwether for overall levels of gender equality and by individual SDG. It also provides the opportunity to assess patterns across countries, goals and indicators. As each of the SDGs covered in the index is based on three to five indicators, it is possible to further unpack the index to the underlying indicators, which is essential for explaining the reasons for a good or poor score.

The index can help to answer questions like:

— How near or far is my country to achieving the SDGs from the perspective of girls and women?

— How does my country rank on the index in relation to other countries?

— How does my country’s overall or goal scores out- or under-perform in comparison to other countries or regional benchmarks?

— Which issues/indicators are driving the overall or goal score for my country?

— For which issues/indicators does my country out- or under-perform in comparison to other countries or regional benchmarks?

— How do scores for my country in one SDG (e.g., SDG 4: Education or SDG 16: Justice) relate to scores in another SDG (e.g., SDG 8: Work)?

— How does gender equality relate to specific country contexts (e.g., conflict-affected, with internally displaced populations, facing climate-related disasters or with high rates of violence)?

For future rounds of the index — starting in 2021 and every two years thereafter — it will be possible to assess progress towards the targets, with the current index serving as the baseline. It will be able to answer questions such as:

— How has the ranking of my country changed since 2019? What accounts for the change?

— For which goals/indicators is my country progressing in terms of gender equality? For which goals is it falling behind?

— How quickly is my country progressing or falling behind in terms of gender equality? How does it compare to the pace of change in other countries?

Interpreting the results of the index: reading the data table chart

The index results are available on the Gender Advocates Data Hub — which provides several ways to visualize country index scores, including the overall data table, by regions, SDGs or partner countries.

The score for an individual SDG is made up of the average of the indicators for that goal. Each of the indicators is standardized on a scale of 0 to 100, where 100 reflects meeting the global target. The closer a score is to 100, the closer a given country is to having achieved gender equality. The scoring rubric is presented by color, whereby green represents a higher score, yellow a middle score and red a lower score.

By accessing the online index data, it is possible to create a table with country scores across all of the SDGs. The example below highlights the score for SDG 8: Gender Equality in the Workplace for Namibia, which scores (83.49) near the top for countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Namibia performs better on gender equality for this goal than any other SDG, though it also scores above average on SDG 2: Nutrition, SDG 5: Gender Equality and SDG 13: Climate Change.

For more information on the background and methodology for the index, as well as different ways to visualize the index data, see


Plan International hosts Equal Measures 2030 — an independent civil society and private sector-led partnership that connects data and evidence with advocacy and action, helping to fuel progress towards gender equality, working globally and with national civil society collaborations in Colombia, El Salvador, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Senegal and Tanzania.


For more articles of this nature, sign-up to receive our From Plan to Action, a quarterly newsletter that highlights the technical work of Plan International USA.