Dr. Jeni Klugman, managing director of the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security (GIWPS), introduced a new global index to measure female peace and security in an on-campus launch event at Georgetown University on November 21 in the Mortara Center for International Studies. The discussion of the index, moderated by Dean of the School of Foreign Service Joel Hellman, highlighted the innovative aspects of the index’s three measures—inclusion, justice, and security—and focused on the index report’s key findings.
GIWPS created the index in collaboration with the Peace Research Institute in Oslo and the government of Norway, drawing its inspiration from the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly those concerning gender equality (Goal 5) and peace, justice, and strong institutions (Goal 16). The index was first launched on the eve of the annual UN Security Council debate on women, peace, and security that took place on October 27, 2017.
“The operating principle that guided our efforts [in developing the index]was a recognition that women are at the center of efforts to achieve sustainable peace through inclusion, justice, and security,” Ambassador Melanne Verveer, the executive director of GIWPS, said.
Verveer also emphasized the crucial role that the security of women in a given society plays in predicting the potential for future instability and conflict.
In an interview with The Caravel, Dr. Klugman, who spearheaded the index development, spoke of her background as an economist and her work on the UN Development Programme Human Development Reports as important motivations behind her work.
“My background includes working on the Human Development Report, so I have some familiarity with both the value of indices…[and their]shortcomings,” Dr. Klugman said.
The new index aims to fill-in the gaps of existing gender indices, which tend to be limited to a particular aspect of women’s position in society—for example, girls’ education—and to take a more holistic view of women’s experiences by measuring inclusion, justice, and security through various indicators.
Inclusion takes into account traditional socioeconomic and political factors like education, employment, and parliamentary representation, as well as more innovative indicators such as access to cellphones. Justice encompasses both formal and informal practices including legal discrimination and discriminatory norms, measured through men’s attitudes towards women’s employment. Security incorporates not only organized violence but also community safety and intimate partner violence.
The index ranks 153 countries covering more than 98 percent of the world’s population. Iceland leads the world as the best country for women, while Syria and Afghanistan share the status of worst performer, highlighting the importance of ongoing conflict in determining women’s status in society. The U.S. ranked twenty-second overall, lagging behind on women’s representation in government and showing rates of intimate partner violence which are ten percent above the average for developed countries.
The poor performance of the U.S. is emblematic of the overall unevenness of countries’ rankings across different dimensions. For example, the United Arab Emirates appeared in the top third of countries globally but performed very poorly in the area of legal discrimination.
“Very few countries are in the top for all indicators,” Dr. Klugman explained.
A newly developed indicator attempted to measure discriminatory norms within countries by asking men the following: “Do you think it is perfectly acceptable for a woman to be in paid work, if she wants to?” The index finds that one quarter of male respondents in fragile states answered negatively. Over half of male respondents in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Yemen, and Pakistan responded negatively.
In the realm of security, intimate partner violence was found to be the most common form of violence experienced by women globally. Singapore ranked lowest in intimate partner violence at six percent, while Angolan women experienced the highest rate of intimate partner violence at 78 percent.
In regards to community security, Dr. Klugman addressed the importance of measuring people’s own perceptions of safety to predict their behavior.
“If you don’t feel safe, for example, in your community, it may affect whether or not you get a paying job,” Dr. Klugman explained. “Perceptions affect people’s own behavior, so even if it’s unfounded fear of…assault in the neighborhood, the fear of assault affects what people can do.”
Dr. Klugman plans to tour the globe to present the index to other institutions and to update the index every two years.
The ultimate goal of the new index, according to Verveer, is to “influence policy makers, government officials, advocates to look at [the index]and see where [we are]not achieving, whether it’s in a given country or more generally, the kinds of goals that we all subscribe to.”
The index has been endorsed by prominent women including former-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Deputy Secretary-General of the UN Amina Mohammed. Former U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power pointed out the relatively low U.S. ranking on Twitter.
Dr. Klugman hopes that the issues that the index addresses will provoke discussions beyond the academic and policy-making circles.
“[The index] is not something that…is only relevant to Syria or Afghanistan. It’s something which, I think, affects all women and girls around the world to varying extents, and men and boys as well, because we’re living in a shared society.”
Considering the salient public debate around the question of sexual assault and harassment by prominent public figures in the U.S. and the success of the #MeToo campaign around the world, it is clear that the issues of women’s peace and security continue to dominate public discourse. The WPS index provides an important and comprehensive tool for exposing the shortcomings of even the most advanced countries and uncovering connections between women’s position in society and conflict. It remains to be seen whether nations around the globe will use the index to create meaningful solutions or implement cosmetic changes to increase their standing relative to rival states.
All infographics were taken from the Women, Peace and Security report, found on the GIWPS website.