How can we measure and monitor non-discrimination?

January 16th, 2009

Measuring inequality from a human rights perspective

Developing rigorous monitoring tools to measure government responsibility in the creation of socioeconomic inequalities -or in the aggravation of existing ones- has been a challenge for human rights advocates working on economic and social rights. Little work has been done on how to use socio-economic indicators to assess government compliance with its specific human rights obligations. The purpose of this report is to begin filling this methodological gap by illustrating how some of the existing methods used by development economists, social scientists and health researchers can be applied to assessing government efforts to eliminate inequality in health and education.

The measurement tools described in a forthcoming 2011 CESR report are primarily quantitative, and include a selection of basic descriptive techniques, including disaggregation and cross-tabulation of indicators by socio-economic and demographic characteristics. This straightforward approach can be a powerful tool to highlight inequalities across population groups, identify and understand some of the determinants of health status and educational achievement, and reveal associations between health and educational outcomes and socio-economic or demographic characteristics. It can also point to failures in supply-side and demand-side factors determining service provision and utilization. Sophisticated statistical techniques have been deliberately omitted because the goal of this report is to provide a collection of basic tools accessible to the average policy maker and human rights activist who lack the skills and knowledge required to interpret more complex statistical analysis.

Given the central role that government budgets play in policy design and implementation, this report also reviews methods to evaluate the incidence of public expenditure in health and education. Benefit analysis techniques can provide some insights into the extent to which governments are treating population groups unfairly.

Several examples from the education and health literature are discussed in detail to illustrate how these basic techniques can be creatively used to measure gaps in health and education and hold governments accountable for avoidable deprivations.