Cornell University

Measuring and Conceptualizing 'Gender Equality'

Thursday, April 12, 2018 at 12:00pm to 1:00pm

Rockefeller Hall, 190
Central Campus

For decades, feminist scholars have been making important assertions in the field of international relations in particular, that gender matters when it comes to domestic and international politics and that gender equality means more than the rights and inclusion of women into the political sphere.  As positivist scholars have entered the foray in support of the first claim, they have often made mistakes related to the second claim; they have tended to equate and conflate gender equality with observable indicators related to women such as the number of women in parliament.  This oversight has largely been out of expedience.  Due to the nature of positivist research, studies on “gender equality” require measurement and scholars have used whatever indicators are available, such as the proportion of women in parliament, in order to demonstrate the importance of “gender equality” in explaining international conflict, civil war, repression, and other phenomena that are deemed important by “mainstream” political scientists. On one hand, using positivist methods to “mainstream gender” has been enormously beneficial in demonstrating that gender matters in political science.  On the other hand, it has risked undermining some core tenants of feminist theory.  This latter issue has perhaps contributed to a rift between positivists who believe that gender equality is measurable and feminist scholars who do not always believe that it is.   In this paper, we aim to bridge this gap. We make the provocative claim that gender equality is not measurable, but that other important, related concepts are. We offer an alternative; positivist scholars should use four distinct concepts instead of gender equality when studying phenomena of interest:  women’s inclusion, women’s institutional rights, women’s vulnerabilities, and societal beliefs about women.  These concepts focus on women’s role in society and are related to—not equivalent to—gender equality.  In addition to providing a new conceptual framework, we also provide scales of these four concepts using latent variable modeling.  This technique avoids many of the problems associated with current measurement schemes.  We then use our scales to demonstrate how better conceptualization and measurement can alter existing theories such as the feminist peace theory. 

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