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07 April 2021

We need a regional picture of gender inequality in the UK

Caitlin Schmid

We're working on an index to build our understanding of these disparities


A UK sub-national gender equality index: challenges in developing a conceptual framework

Read the briefing


Gender inequality remains a tenacious problem in the UK, affecting multiple dimensions of women and men’s lives — from the gender pay gap, the prevalence of sexual harassment and gender-based violence, to disparities in health and life expectancy. Mounting evidence shows that where people live impacts multiple socio-economic outcomes, highlighting the importance of capturing regional variations in gender inequality across the UK. Yet to date, no measure of gender inequality exists below the national level, leaving gaps in our knowledge of women and men’s differential experiences.

To address this, the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership is leading a project, funded by the King’s Together Seed Fund, to pilot an index measuring regional variation in gender inequality across the UK. Combining data from surveys, administrative resources and big data, the index will measure how differently women and men’s experiences are structured according to where they live. In turn, this will facilitate evaluation of campaigns and policy interventions addressing gender inequality as well as helping researchers investigate its relevance to other outcomes.

In the first phase of this project, a stakeholder workshop was organised in November 2020 to consult both leading experts and potential users on the conceptual framework of a sub-national gender equality index. A central aim of the workshop was to identify the key indicators relevant to the gender inequality context across the UK that should be included. The process of selecting concrete measures and assessing their usefulness further led to a fruitful discussion of the opportunities and challenges involved in the development of this index. These related to intersectionality, data availability and quality, relative vs. absolute levels of equality, the level of measurement and the aggregation of scores.



The workshop collaboration resulted in the formulation of six guiding principles for the development of a useful sub-national UK gender equality index:

  1. Identifying differences on the local area level could sharpen the focus on gender inequalities across the UK and strengthen the evidence base for local campaign groups and policy makers. Complex trade-offs between different definitions of “local” were revealed, however. These are dependent on data availability, spatial variation, policy relevance and scope for actionability. To identify the most appropriate and feasible level of measurement, these factors need to be examined further.
  2. Relevant domains to include in the index are: Power & Participation, Education & Skills, Economic Resources, Unpaid Work & Care, and Violence.
  3. Adopting an intersectional approach is crucial to shedding light on the multiple manifestations of gender inequality as well as its intersection with other forms of inequality across the UK.
  4. To guarantee conceptual adequacy and maximise index usability, the UK needs to increase efforts to collect reliable data disaggregated by protected characteristics on both the national as well as the local level.
  5. Alongside gender differences (i.e. relative levels), the index should aim to capture regional variation in achievement levels of both women and men (i.e. absolute levels).
  6. Whether the index combines the indicator values into an overall score for each local area or keeps them disaggregated, it is essential that the underlying data are easily accessible and interpretable. This will facilitate analysis of local area differences in absolute levels of achievement and increase the relevance and usefulness of the index for policy, research and activism purposes.


Benefits and opportunities

If the above principles can be fulfilled, a sub-national UK gender equality index would offer a bespoke tool to measure gender inequality while also capturing its geographical variation. This index would fill a gap by combining gender-differentiated indicators across relevant dimensions of gender equality in the UK.

The evidence it generates could help evaluate policy interventions aimed at tackling gender inequalities, as well as helping to better target limited resources. Finally, the index could help strengthen a dialogue between regions, local authorities or neighbourhoods, facilitating knowledge-sharing of effective policy strategy and gender equality campaigns which is of particular interest in the context of devolution.

Taken together, the multiple benefits signal that the development of a UK sub-national gender equality index following the above principles would offer a valuable resource to policymakers, researchers and activists across the UK.


Caitlin Schmid is a Research Assistant at the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership, King’s College London, and a Doctoral Researcher at the University of Manchester.