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New Index Indicating Increased Power and Opportunities for Women

News: Feb 20, 2017

A new index makes it possible to compare women's freedoms and rights over time and space in an entirely new way. The index, developed by the research programme Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) at the University of Gothenburg, shows that women's power and opportunities have increased dramatically over the last 100 years.

Various UN bodies, such as the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), have made numerous attempts to map women’s political participation from a global perspective. However, these assessments only show the development in recent years, which makes the data problematic to use in comparative studies.

"All previous indexes have had some weaknesses. Our new index covers a larger number of aspects of the process of women´s political participation and has a greater range in time and space," says Aksel Sundström, postdoctoral researcher in political science.

The new Women’s Political Empowerment Index is based on country ratings of dozens of aspects of women’s power and opportunities from thousands of experts from around the world. The collected data covers practically all countries in the world from the year 1900 to the present.

The researchers have looked at both relative values, such as the share of members of a country’s parliament who are women, and absolute measures, such as to what extent women are able to act and move around freely in society.

The focus of the index – women’s political empowerment – should be understood as a multidimensional process that concerns not only how well women can take part in formal decision making but also for example how well they are able to express their opinions at a given point in time.

"What’s unique about the index is that it is so easily accessible. Anybody can download it for free and look at data on whatever aspects of empowerment they want to know more about," says Sundström.

Women’s power and opportunities on the rise
The new index shows that, overall, women’s power and opportunities have increased dramatically across the world in the last 100 years. Yet the progress remains slow in certain regions, for example in countries in the Middle East and North Africa.

Policy makers will find it useful to be able to target interventions to specific regions, and future updates of V-Dem’s data will make it possible to monitor whether the development is moving in the right direction.

ABOUT V-DEM AND THE WOMEN’S POLITICAL ENPOWERMENT INDEX
V-Dem is co-hosted by the Department of Political Science at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden and the Kellogg Institute at the University of Notre Dame, USA. It consists of a global network of researchers (36 regional leaders, 170 country coordinators and 2800 country experts), who together collect relevant data from practically all countries in the world.

V-Dem’s database, which comprises 16 million observations for 173 countries and 115 years, is the largest of its kind and enables detailed and nuanced analysis of practically all aspects of democracy. It consists of 350 unique indicators of what democracy is or should be as well as 5 different democracy indexes and 37 indexes for different aspects of democracy.

The database was awarded a prize for best database by the American Political Science Association in 2016.

The Women’s Political Empowerment Index can be downloaded for free on V-Dem’s website: https://www.v-dem.net/en/

An article about the index was published recently: Aksel Sundström, Pamela Paxton, Yi-ting Wang & Staffan I. Lindberg (2017) ”Women's Political Empowerment: A New Global Index, 1900–2012”, World Development, http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0305750X17300323

For more information, please contact:
Aksel Sundström, postdoctoral researcher in political science, tel. +46 (0)76 239 6118; email: aksel.sundstrom@pol.gu.se

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