Gender is understood differently depending upon your perspective. Consider cultural differences – for instance, in Thailand there are 18 genders that are part of the common language, and in India, the Hindi word for gender also means penis. 

Trying to measure gender equality and equity globally becomes near impossible because of the diversity of perspectives and understandings of gender. If you’re wondering how you measure gender equity when it seems immeasurable, here’s the answer: Use proxy indicators. These are measurements that can substitute for gender equality without using the term, “gender.”  

What are proxy indicators?

Proxy indicators, also known as indirect indicators, can approximate or reflect a phenomenon in the absence of a direct sign or measure. They are often the best option in circumstances where it is hard to measure change directly, such as in integration of gender equality and equity. Proxy indicators are frequently used to understand complex issues like gender equity that cross multiple sectors and issue areas (ie economics, health, workforce, etc.).

International couple taking a selfie in a market

Proxy indicators to measure gender equity 

Gender frameworks like PAHO’s “Guide for analysis and monitoring of gender equity“ and JHPIEGO’s “Gender Analysis Framework” are foundational to understand how gender power relations map to inequitable health outcomes. We used these two frameworks to identify proxy indicators for gender equity in health data that you can use when conducting a gendered analysis of your health data. 

Proxy Measures for Gender Relations 

  • Education level
  • Employment
  • Time spent doing domestic/household chores
  • Autonomy to leave the house alone
  • Norms around gender-based violence
  • Income level

 Proxy Measures for Women’s Agency 

  • Participation in household decision-making
  • Investment in girls’ education
  • Role in the labor market
  • Bargaining power in a marriage

Proxy Measures for Utilization of Health Services

  • STI/HIV testing rates by gender
  • Childbearing rates by age
  • Age of marriage
  • Rates of sexual assault and rape

These types of proxy indicators are a vital tool to measure gender equity in health data. We need to be collecting and analyzing proxy indicators within our health data systems (CRVS, mortality surveillance, cancer registries, etc.), so as to conduct comprehensive gendered analysis that improves health outcomes for women, girls, and people who are non-binary and transgender.