SDG Gender Index Construction

In 2018, in response to the urgent need for tools to support data-driven analysis and to hold governments accountable for gender equality in the context of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Equal Measures 2030 (EM2030) and partners launched the pilot SDG Gender Index. The pilot index included 43 indicators across 12 of the 17 official goals and was tested in six focus countries. The pilot index used a mix of official gender-related SDG indicators developed by the Inter-Agency and Expert Group on SDG Indicators (IAEG-SDGs) and complementary indicators. Indicator scores were based on the relative position of a country to lowest and highest performing countries.

Drawing on several technical consultations and a formal review by the COIN team at the EU Joint Research Centre, EM2030 refined the initial index framework, introduced two new goals (SDG 9 and SDG 11) and revised the indicator framework. Other design issues were considered and adopted in relation to weighting, introduction of targets, and presentation issues. The resulting 2019 SDG Gender Index includes 51 indicators across 14 of the 17 SDGs and covers 129 countries across five regions.


The scale-up of the index was built upon the methodological framework of the pilot index. The design was adapted to increase the number of countries covered by the index and to ensure that it was transparent and easy-to-use for gender advocates around the world.

The index builds upon a standalone set of between three and five indicators for each goal. In the spirit of our approach that all indicators – even those not included in the official SDG framework or not traditionally considered “gendered” issues – capture important dimensions of gender equality, and the importance of country-generated data, the overall index is calculated based on the individual indicators, based on a threshold of at least 85% of the indicators (or 44 of the 51 indicators). The index scores for each of the 14 goals are calculated based on a threshold of 75% available data. The goals are calculated separately due to the need to not impute missing data, but to rely on data provided by national governments. A country could miss one goal and still be included in the index (e.g. China, Iraq, and Ireland).


The approach of the index is that examining gender-focused issues and data under each goal, even where no gender-specific official indicator exists, provides a more complete picture of both the goal itself and its relationship to gender equality. With the scale-up of the index from the pilot phase, existing indicators were assessed. In addition to new indicators for SDG 9 and SDG 11, the index includes 15 new or adjusted indicators. Some indicators from the pilot index were dropped due to poor data coverage (e.g. lacking coverage in higher income countries), some were altered to make use of improved data sources (e.g. the index includes a revised measure of women’s participation in senior government roles), and others are wholly new indicators (e.g. indicator on the proportion of female justices).

If the index is to serve as an accountability tool, it needs to enable users to measure distance to SDG targets for indicators, make regional comparisons, and trace scores over time. The approach to setting targets was to use official SDG targets where they existed and to set ideal high threshold targets for others (e.g. the target for women’s participation in parliament is gender parity or 47–53%). Categorical variables (none of which were binary) were adapted into composite indicators and assigned scores. Actual percentages and composite scores were normalised on a 1–100 scale to generate indicator scores on a common scale – where a higher number is closer to reaching the target.

Issues and Indicators

The 2019 SDG Gender Index examines gender focused issues and data under each Sustainable Development Goal – even where no gender-specific official indicator exists – and provides a more complete picture of both the goal itself and its relationship to gender equality. Explore the included issues and indicators below.

Indicators Used

The following criteria were used to guide the selection of indicators for the 2019 SDG Gender Index.

Beyond Existing Gender Indices

The 2019 SDG Gender Index goes beyond existing gender indices that, for the most part, focus on a few key domains of gender equality. While these issues are crucial for gender equality, they do not reflect the impact of a wide range of interrelated and vital issues for girls and women, including nutrition, water, sanitation, energy and fiscal and tax policies. Indeed, some of these areas are relatively or entirely ‘gender blind’ in the official SDG framework, with no gender-specific indicators. The more holistic approach of the 2019 SDG Gender Index to monitor gender progress across the SDGs is one of its key distinguishing features.

Three existing gender indicator frameworks were consulted in the design of the index:

  • UN Women’s SDG Indicator Framework maps gender-related indicators in the SDGs, and more recently, the UN Women Turning Promises into Action report noted that only 54 of the 232 SDG indicators explicitly target girls or women, or call for reporting that is disaggregated by sex, and that sufficient and regular data are available for only ten of these at present. While UN Women is exploring gender issues across all of the SDGs, it has no current plans to create a gender index on these issues.
  • The UN Minimum Set of Gender Indicators agreed by the UN Statistical Commission in 2013 to guide national production and international compilation of gender statistics is a collection of 52 quantitative indicators and 11 legal/policy indicators addressing relevant issues related to gender equality. It covers seven SDGs and 11 of its 52 indicators are included in the 2019 SDG Gender Index.
  • The Ready to Measure study produced by Data2X is another helpful tool. It presents 20 indicators (16 identical to or closely related to the official SDG indicators and four complementary indicators) that are currently ready to report. It covers gender issues in five SDGs. Seven of the 20 indicators in the Ready to Measure are included in the 2019 SDG Gender Index.

JRC Statistical Audit of the SDG Gender Index

In 2019, the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) conducted an audit of the EM2030 SDG Gender Index in order to ensure the transparency and reliability of the index. The audit focuses on two main issues in the index: the conception and statistical coherence of the framework (hierarchical structure of indicators); and the impact of modelling assumptions on the index rankings.

Download the JRC Statistical Audit here