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Gender Equality Oversimplified: Using CEDAW to Counter the Measurement Obsession

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Document pages: 28 pages

Abstract: Global measurements have become foundational for understanding gender equality as well as for directing resources and policy development to address gendered inequalities. We argue in this article that attempts to quantify gender (in)equality globally have limited potential for successfully challenging gender hierarchies if compared to internationally agreed upon women’s rights standards. To make this argument, we start by contrasting the general assumptions underlying the measurement approach with feminist scholarship on gender equality. Second, we examine nine key measures of global gender equality — the majority of which are produced by influential international organizations — and show that their focus on “countability” perpetuates a narrow and misleading understanding of gender (in)equality. Third, we present the CEDAW Convention and associated review process as an alternative to the measurement approach. The comparison highlights the need for evaluative tools that attend to the complexity and fluidity of gender norms and focus on context-specific agency to confront gender hierarchies.

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