The SWPER index for women’s empowerment in Africa


Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5 explicitly states that it aims to achieve the empowerment of all girls and women by 2030, reinforcing the need to have a reliable indicator to track progress. The objective of this study was to develop a novel women’s empowerment indicator from widely available data sources, broadening opportunities for monitoring and researching women’s empowerment. The index, entitled the Survey-based Women’s emPowERment index (SWPER), was developed by the International Centre for Equity in Health, led by Fernanda Ewerling and Aluísio Barros. Marcelo Tyszler and Anouka van Eerdewijk from the Royal Tropical Institute contributed as co-authors.

Data from Demographic and Health Survey data from 34 African countries, targeting currently partnered women, were used to identify items related to women’s empowerment present in most surveys. Principal component analysis was used to extract the index components. Three dimensions of empowerment were identified: attitudes to violence, social independence and decision-making. All three of these dimensions had moderate to high correlations with the Gender Development Index, suggesting that the indicator measures relevant aspects of women’s empowerment.

SWPER has the potential to widen the research on women’s empowerment and to give a better estimate of its effect on health interventions and outcomes. It allows within-country and between-country comparison, as well as time trend analysis, which no other survey-based index provides. The SWPER index therefore has the potential to make a substantial contribution to achieving the SDGs by providing researchers and institutions with the necessary tools for tracking the empowerment of girls and women.

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