Gender Development Index: Comparative Analysis of South Asian Countries

Contribution By : Dr. Muhammad Shahid

Gender Development Index (GDI) or Gender-related Development Index is introduced in the human development report of the United Nation Development Program (UNDP). Besides GDI, Gender Empowerment Measurement (GEM) index was also used to measured gender inequality. Both GDI and GEM measure gender gaps in the process of human development. The report accounts for disparities between men and women in in three basic dimensions in human development including health, education and standard of living.

Gender Development Index report is very useful to assess the existing gaps between men and women and help design effective, gender-focused policies to eliminate these gaps. The latest gender development index ranked Pakistan 152 indicating that women are lagging behind their male counterpart in this country. The troubling aspect of the Gender Development Index report is the lower ranking of Pakistan among the regional South Asian countries. HDI value for female indicates that India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Maldives and Bhutan performed better than Pakistan and Afghanistan. Pakistan with HDI value of 0.464 for female is only ahead of Afghanistan with HDI value of 0.411 for female.

The further examination of the report reveals that GDI value for Pakistan 0.747 is higher than Afghanistan with the value of 0.723. The rest of the countries including India with a score of 0.829, Bangladesh 0.895, Sri-Lanka 0.938, Nepal 0.897, Bhutan 0.893 and Maldives with a GDI score of 0.939.

Data on female life expectancy in the South Asian countries indicate that Afghanistan ranked at the lowest with average life of 66 years for female followed by Pakistan with 68.1 years. The remaining countries in the gender development index scored greater than Pakistan and Afghanistan. Female life expectancy at the time of birth in India is 70.7, Bangladesh 74.3, Sri-Lanka 80.1, Nepal 71.9, Bhutan 71.8 and female life expectancy at the time of birth in Maldives 80.5.


When it comes to educational attainment for female in the South Asian countries, this is very unfortunate that Pakistan ranked at the lowest. Expected years in school for female in Pakistan is 7.8 years. Afghanistan performed better and the expected years of schooling for female are 7.9 years. India 12.9, Bangladesh 11.6, Sri Lanka 14.2, Nepal 12.7, Bhutan 12.2 and expected years of schooling for female in Maldives is 12.2 years.

Policy Options on the Table:

Gender Development Index is an important tool to explore gender gaps in our communities. Data indicates that women are disadvantaged when we talk about economic participation, educational attainment, and access to health facilities. This discrimination or gap is caused by political, social as well as economic factors. Family structure, society, cultural values, schools, prevailing stereotypes about women’s productivity and unequal treatment of women by the market are responsible for this widening gap between men and women.

The current roles available to women in the society foster desperation and frustration among women. The development of separate women-centered institutions to create productive opportunities for women is critical. This will increase their financial independency, end patriarchal culture and male domination from the society. Other gender-related reforms include public provision of child-care facilities, nationalized health care, and investment in social infrastructure, day care to increase the chances for women to increase participation and optimize their productivity and government efforts to expand job opportunities for women. Besides government initiatives, private employers should also offer more flexible work schedules, paid leaves for pregnant women and some kind of compensation for absence from work due to parenting.

No one can deny the role of institutions to accommodate the different needs and interests of women. Institutional arrangements and legislations by the government to protect women are critical but oppression of women cannot be eliminated till some fundamental changes occur in the society including changes in the institutions of marriage and family. Restricting ourselves to only legal reforms would not be sufficient to end disparities and liberate women. Genuine gender equality demands genuine freedom. Genuine equality would be attained only when women held equal power and were no longer dependent on men for financial support. Besides institutional arrangements by the government, we also need to dismantle the existing stereotype that women are less productive and are uniquely suited for the roles of care-giver and homemaker.

Denying more than half the population a full opportunity to participate and contribute to economic activity is alarming. We need to make our economy and society more inclusive by increasing women’s participation in the workforce, closing the pay gap between men and women, and helping more women advance into leadership roles.


About the Author:

The author has a PhD Degree in Economics from PIDE and has 15 years’ experience as a journalist with state owned electronic media, PTV News. Author also teaches Public Policy, Governance, Poverty and Development, Political Economy and Development Economics as a visiting faculty member.

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