SIGI conceptual framework

Key concepts of the SIGI
The OECD Development Centre defines social institutions as formal and informal laws, social norms and practices that shape or restrict the decisions, choices and behaviours of groups, communities and individuals. Social institutions set the parameters of what decisions, choices or behaviours are deemed acceptable or unacceptable in a society and therefore play a key role in defining and influencing gender roles and relations.

Social institutions are not fixed, and there are often significant variations across countries, regions and communities. They are also in constant flux and change over time, albeit slowly. While social institutions in themselves are not inherently good or bad, discriminatory social institutions are those that restrict or exclude women and girls and consequently curtail their access to opportunities, resources and power which negatively impacts upon development outcomes. Through their influence on the unequal distribution of power between men and women in the private sphere of the family, in the economic sphere, and in public life, discriminatory social institutions constrain the opportunities of men and women and their capabilities to live the life they value. It is on these discriminatory social institutions that SIGI is focused.

Social Institutions

The concept of social institutions has been adopted by several disciplines to draw attention to the role of ‘culture’ or social relations in limiting or enabling individual or collective agency. The most prominent theorist of social institutions, North (1990, p.97), describes institutions as “the humanly devised constraints that structure political, economic and social interaction. They consist of both informal constraints (sanctions, taboos, customs, traditions, and codes of conduct), and formal rules (constitutions, laws, property rights).” The ‘social’ aspect of social institutions refers to the way in which formal laws, informal laws, social norms and practices influence social relations or human interactions. By focussing on the ‘social’ element of institutions, the SIGI seeks to understand the extent to which the institutions that govern social behaviour and relationships, particularly gender roles and relations, have an impact on development outcomes.

Social institutions operate at and exert influence on a number of levels and involve multiple actors such as the state, market, household and community, which further adds to their complexity. While religion and culture are not necessarily interchangeable with social institutions, it is important to recognise the complex inter-relationship between religion, culture and social institutions. Religion and culture can have a significant influence in shaping social institutions by defining the parameters of what is deemed acceptable in relation to gender roles. For example, women’s restricted rights to divorce and inheritance or women’s restricted rights to participate in public space are often justified by religion or by the application of religious law. The SIGI is not intended to be a value judgement or ranking of different cultures, religious practices or the overall level of development of the countries. Rather, it is a comparison of key discriminatory social institutions that have a negative impact on women’s development outcomes.

The United Nations Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW, 1979) describes "discrimination against women" as any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field (Article 2, CEDAW, 1979).

Following this, discriminatory social institutions refer to social institutions where women are treated unfavourably, restricted or excluded. Examples include social norms which devalue women’s role in the family, practices that restrict women’s control over their bodies such as domestic violence, or laws which exclude women’s equal access to public space. While the SIGI focuses on discrimination experienced by women as a group, women’s experiences of discrimination are often compounded by additional layers of marginalisation such as age, socio-economic status, marital status, ethnicity, religion and urban/rural location. While it is outside the scope of the SIGI to explore all of these complexities at length, the detailed country notes that complement the SIGI scoring provide a contextual analysis of discriminatory social institutions, including the various intersectionalities that influence them.

Discriminatory social institutions can also limit and restrict men’s opportunities, for example, where social norms reinforce that a man must be the primary breadwinner or be the head of the household. The same social norm that condones violence against women and girls also normalises aggressive masculinities, which in turn limit men’s opportunities and behaviour. However, the SIGI primarily focuses on the negative development outcomes that are caused by discriminatory social institutions which restrict women and girls’ economic and social roles.

 What are we measuring and why?

2012 SIGI sub-index
What are we capturing
Discriminatory Family Code
Legal Age of Marriage
Early Marriage
Parental Authority
Social institutions that limit and restrict women’s decision-making power and status in the household and the family
Women’s low status in the family is linked to reduced educational attainment and economic outcomes, including income-generating opportunities, for women and girls
Women’s lower bargaining power in the household is linked to increased child malnutrition and inter-generational transfer of poverty
Early marriage is linked to higher adolescent fertility rate, high maternal mortality and higher infant mortality
Restricted Physical Integrity
Violence Against Women – Laws, Attitudes and Prevalence
Female Genital Mutilation
Reproductive Integrity
Social institutions that limit and restrict women and girls’ control over their bodies
Violence against women is linked to reduced access to economic resources in the household and economic opportunities outside the household
Violence against women and lack of access to reproductive health is linked to poor health outcomes for women and girls, including maternal mortality and vulnerability to HIV
Son Bias
Missing Women
Fertility Preferences
Social institutions that foster intra-household preference for sons and the devaluation of daughters
Potential demographic crises and serious social consequences stemming from skewed sex-ratios
Son bias is linked to reduced educational attainment and economic opportunities for girls
Restricted Resources and Entitlements
Access to Land
Access to Property other than Land
Access to Credit
Social institutions which restrict women’s access to, control of, and entitlement over economic and natural resources
Women’s lack of access to resources is linked to reduced economic opportunities
Women’s lack of control over assets is linked to lower investment in family nutrition and welfare and greater vulnerability of families to poverty
Women’s lack of ownership and control over productive assets is linked to lower agricultural production and food insecurity
Restricted Civil Liberties
Access to Public Space
Political Voice
Social institutions that restrict women’s access to, participation and voice in the public and social spheres
Women’s restricted access to public space is linked to limited access to education and economic opportunities
Women’s participation in public decision-making is linked with the accountability of governments