SWPER Global: A survey-based women's empowerment index expanded from Africa to all low- and middle-income countries

J Glob Health. 2020 Dec;10(2):020343. doi: 10.7189/jogh.10.020434.


Background In 2017, a survey-based women's empowerment index (SWPER) was proposed for African countries, including three domains: social independence, decision making and attitude to violence. External validity and predictive value of the SWPER has been demonstrated in terms of coverage of maternal and child interventions and use of modern contraception. To determine its value for global monitoring, we explored the applicability of the SWPER in national health surveys from low- and middle- income countries (LMICs) in other world regions.

Methods: We used data from the latest Demographic and Health Survey for 62 LMICs since 2000. 14 pre-selected questions (items) were considered during the validation process. Content adaptations included the exclusion of women's working status and recategorization of the decision-making related items. We compared the loading patterns obtained from principal components analysis performed for each country separately with those obtained in a pooled data set with all countries combined. Country rankings based on the score of each SWPER domain were correlated with their rankings in the Gender Development Index (GDI) and the Gender Inequality Index (GII) for external validation.

Results: Consistency regarding item loadings for the three SWPER empowerment domains was observed for most countries. Correlations between the scores generated for each country and global score obtained from the combined data were 0.89 or higher for all countries. Correlations between the country rankings according to SWPER and GDI were, respectively, 0.74, 0.72 and 0.67 for social independence, decision-making, and attitude to violence domains. The correlations were equal to 0.81, 0.67, and 0.44, respectively, with GII.

Conclusions: The indicator we propose, named SWPER Global, is a suitable common measure of women's empowerment for LMICs, addressing the need for a single consistent survey-based indicator of women´s empowerment that allows for tracking of progress over time and across countries at the individual and country levels.

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Developing Countries*
  • Empowerment*
  • Female
  • Global Health
  • Humans
  • Maternal-Child Health Services*
  • Poverty
  • Power, Psychological*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires