Development Centre

Discriminatory laws and social norms still hamper gender equality, says OECD Development Centre SIGI 2019


7/12/2018 - The pace of progress on gender equality around the world remains slow, despite advances in some countries, according to the 2019 edition of the Social Institutions and Gender Index (SIGI).

Since the last edition of the SIGI in 2014, 14 countries criminalised domestic violence and 15 countries strengthened their legal frameworks to delay the age of first marriage by eliminating legal exceptions allowing girls to marry. Similarly, some social norms that are detrimental to equality have become less prominent. For instance, social acceptance of domestic violence has decreased respectively from 50% in 2012 to 37% in 2014 and 27% in 2018.

However, in many of the 180 countries covered by the database, political commitments, legal reforms and gender-sensitive programmes are still not being translated into real changes for women and girls. Despite regional variations, gender-based discrimination remains stubbornly persistent and hard to address. Throughout the world, 16% of girls aged 15-19 have been married before turning 18 in 2018 compared to 19% in 2012. At this pace, it will take over 100 years to eradicate girl child marriage.

“The last few years have seen an unprecedented surge in support for women’s rights. And as much as  acknowledging the facts is a decisive step forward, now is the time to turn the rhetoric about gender equality and women’s empowerment into action”, said Juan Yermo, Deputy Chief of Staff of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’ Secretary-General, while presenting  the fourth edition of the OECD Development Centre’ SIGI today in Brussels.

First launched in 2009, the database looks at the gaps that legislation, attitudes and practices create between women and men when it comes to rights and opportunities. It also points at where more efforts are needed to achieve effective equality. The SIGI covers four dimensions in the areas that affect the life course of women and girls. Specifically, the new data highlights progress and remaining challenges regarding women’s rights in the family (e.g. early marriage), physical integrity (e.g. female genital mutilation, violence, sexual and reproductive health and rights), access to productive and financial assets (e.g. access to land, workplace rights), and civil rights (e.g. political representation).

This fourth update of the SIGI contains a new cross-country ranking which classifies 120 countries according to their level of discrimination in social institutions; 180 individual country notes including comprehensive information on legal frameworks and action plans to protect women’s rights and promote gender equality; and a new database summarising all discriminatory laws, social norms and practices worldwide.

The new data points out the importance of enforcing new legislation to enhance equality and abolish discriminatory laws, including through gender-transformative programmes and action plans. Laws -what is legally feasible - and social norms - what is socially acceptable - are double-edged swords for women: they can act as either barriers or drivers of change. Social expectations on gender roles still stigmatise working mothers and women in politics, negatively affecting their economic and political leadership: globally, half of the population believes than children will suffer when their mother does paid work outside the home, and that men make better political leader than women. Similarly, laws continue to subordinate women’s status to their husband’s authority: 41 countries recognise the man solely as the head of household; 27 countries legally require women to obey their husbands; 24 countries require women to have permission of their husbands or of a so-called legal guardian (brother, father) to choose a profession or work.

Drawing on the wake-up call carried out by thousands of women around the world, progress has been made, but the path towards achieving gender equality remains slow. Gender-based discrimination remains a lifelong and heterogeneous challenge for women and girls. Locally designed solutions combined with adequate legislation are needed for more social change to take hold. SIGI’s new Policy Simulator enables policy makers to explore reform options and assess their likely effects on gender equality in social institutions. It enables users to compare a specific country with a range of other selected countries.


>> More information on SIGI 2019

-          Access the SIGI 2019 results:

-          180 country notes:

-          The Gender, Institutions and Development Database (GIDDB 2019):

-          Policy Simulator:

Media queries should be directed to the OECD Development Centre’s Press Office (email:; tel: +33 145 24 82 96).

About SIGI

The OECD Development Centre’s Social Institutions and Gender Index (SIGI) is a unique cross-country measure of discriminatory social institutions, defined as formal and informal laws, social norms, and practices that restrict the rights, access to empowerment opportunities and resources for women and girls.

The SIGI is an official data source for tracking progress towards Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) indicator 5.1.1, which measures whether legal frameworks promote, enforce and monitor gender equality.


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