Assessing human development progress: from households to individuals, from gender-blind to gender-sensitive

Crawford, Joanne Charlotte; Pogge, Thomas; Wisor, Scott; Bessell, Sharon; Alkire, Sabina (2014). 'Assessing human development progress: from households to individuals, from gender-blind to gender-sensitive' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, 2-5 September 2014, Athens, Greece.

Determining whether a society is becoming more or less just and equitable requires, at minimum, credible, reliable measurement of deprivation and gender equity. Current approaches measure poverty at the household level and are blind to intra-household distribution. In 2014, poverty data still cannot be accurately disaggregated by sex, or by age, although we know that both factors shape access to resources and opportunities and the ability to convert opportunities into functionings.  Dominant money-focused and multidimensional measures of poverty also leave out dimensions of human life that are particularly important to poor women, or poor men, obscuring the gendered experience of poverty. Existing composite gender equity measures can't be meaningfully applied to poverty data in compensation because they have limited relevance to poor women and men. This leaves us with deeply inadequate means to reveal who is poor, in what ways and to what extent with a granularity that shows where disparities are greatest and enables targeted responses by policy makers.

As global conversations focus towards a new development framework post-2015, decisions about what to measure to assess progress against agreed goals will shape data collection and the visibility of issues. At minimum, we need to be tracking human development progress in a way that enables us to see what is changing, for whom, to what extent, and whether there are any systematic issues that alert us to structural barriers.  Arguments about the 'best' indicators to assess specific goals are vital – what we measure matters and reflects what we value.  We also need a means of assessing whether progress in priority areas is translating into overall improvements for individual women and men if we are to know whether and to what extent efforts are transforming lives, so action can be adjusted accordingly.

An international research collaboration has developed the Individual Deprivation Measure (IDM), a new measure of poverty, and of gender equity among poor women and men, which considers 15 dimensions of human life that go beyond satisfaction of immediate survival needs to incorporate key areas that poor women and men consider important for moving out of poverty: food, water, shelter, sanitation, health care, education, energy/cooking fuel, family relationships, clothing/personal care, violence, family planning, the environment, voice in the community, time-use, and respect and freedom from risk at work. By measuring at the individual rather than the household level, using a five interval scale rather than a binary approach, the IDM makes it possible to investigate the distribution of deprivation within households and reveals the nature and extent of deprivation and gender disparity.

At the 2012 HDCA conference a panel introduced the research project, qualitative and quantitative findings from 6 countries, and thinking regarding the construction of a new measure.  The final report from this research initiative confirms the feasibility and benefit of measuring poverty at the individual level, using a gender-sensitive measure informed by the perspectives and priorities of poor women and men.  The IDM is now ready for use by governments, international development agencies, non-government organisations, and local communities interested in improving the measurement of poverty and gender disparity.  Data is captured through a low cost, easy to administer survey that quickly generates gender-sensitive, multidimensional poverty assessments. 

This panel will present the new measure, outline how it improves on existing measures of poverty and gender equity, and consider areas of uncertainty and potential refinement. It will conclude by arguing that the benefits of the IDM can be best realised by a developmental approach that combines use with close reflection, analysis and refinement as necessary.

Panel coordinator: Joanne Crawford, Research and Policy Advisor, International Women's Development Agency

Thomas Pogge, Director of the Global Justice Program and Leitner Professor of Philosophy and International Affairs at Yale University, will outline the rationale for the research, particularly for individual-level multidimensional poverty measurement, developed through a process of public reason. He will note the importance of assessing the circumstances of individuals if the global community is to effectively measure human development progress post-2015 and 'leave no one behind' (High Level Panel).

Sharon Bessell, Senior Lecturer, Crawford School of Public Policy, The Australian National University will speak to the importance of grounding multidimensional poverty measurement in the views of poor women and men about what constitutes poverty and what is required to move beyond it.  She will outline the participatory feminist methodology employed in the research and its limitations. She will also argue the need for future participatory research with children to inform the extension of the IDM to evaluate childhood deprivation.

Scott Wisor, Lecturer in Philosophy, Deputy Director of the Centre for the Study of Global Ethics, University of Birmingham, who led the final research write up, will introduce the IDM and how it works to provide a measure of poverty and of gender disparity among poor people.  He will briefly speak to the survey tool, scoring and weighting and the results of the IDM trial in the Philippines, including regarding gender differences, intra-household differences, urban-rural differences and comparison with the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI). He will note areas of uncertainty, potential future refinements to dimensions and indicators,generating participatory weighting schemes, improving context sensitivity, and seeking feedback on the IDM from research participants.

Sabina Alkire, Director of the Oxford Human Development and Poverty Initiative and a key figure in the development of the MPI and the broader class of Alkire-Foster multidimensional poverty measures, will critique the IDM, noting strengths and areas requiring further clarification and refinement.

Joanne Crawford will close the panel, speaking to the importance of 'lifting the lid on the household' and introducing individual-level multidimensional poverty measurement that takes account of a wider range of dimensions, and makes visible the relationship between gender and poverty. Joanne will argue that it is more than problematic that in 2014 we cannot say with accuracy what percentage of the world's poor are women and men, and that the benefits of the IDM can be most quickly realized by an iterative use, reflection and refinement approach.

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