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Measuring women's progress in a global era


  • Sylvia Walby is Professor in the Department of Sociology, Lancaster University. Previously Professor of Sociology at the Universities of Leeds and Bristol. Author of Gender Transformations (Routledge, 1997) and Theorizing Patriarchy (Blackwell, 1990); editor of special issues of Social Politics (2005) and International Feminist Journal of Politics (2005) on gender mainstreaming. Her next book is Complex Social Systems: Theorisations and Comparisons in a Global Era (Sage, 2006).


To what extent has the Beijing +10 process led to the improvement of the lives of women? This paper addresses key issues involved in making such an assessment, in particular, the conceptualisation and measurement of gender equality. It starts with a consideration of three different perspectives concerning the conceptualisation of “improvement” as either economic development, human capabilities, or gender equality. This is followed by an analysis of the tensions between three different models of gender equality. The final section is a critical review of the operationalisation of these concepts and the collection of data necessary to assess progress on each of the 12 critical areas of concern of the UN Platform for Action. In particular, what are the best indicators? The paper engages with the development of international standards of gender equality with a focus on their application in the EU region.