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Why a new measure of poverty?

There has been an increasing focus on gender and poverty within the global development agenda. But to date this focus has had limited impact on how poverty is conceptualised and measured. The consequence? No one knows how many women are in poverty.  As UN Women’s 2015-16 flagship Progress of the World’s Women report noted, while ‘women’s socio-economic disadvantage is reflected in pervasive gender inequalities across many dimensions of poverty, the absence of sex disaggregated data makes it difficult to establish if women are, across the board, more likely to live in poverty than men.’

In September 2015, 193 countries agreed to the Global Goals for Sustainable Development, committing to leave no one behind in achieving the Goals by 2030. This requires data about individuals, to see how factors such as sex, age, disability, geography and more affect outcomes.


Image from initial research in Fiji, a woman enumerator is sitting on a flax mat with four young men discussing the research.
Initial participatory research in Fiji


A desire to improve poverty measurement and asses the relationship between gender and poverty saw the establishment of an interdisciplinary international research collaboration to develop a just and justifiable measure of poverty that is gender sensitive and capable of revealing gender disparities.

The Individual Deprivation Measure (IDM) was the result of a four-year, three-phase research project collaboration involving thousands of participants across 18 sites in six countries. Funded by the Australian Research Council (Linkage Grant LP0989385) from 2009-13, the research to develop the IDM was hosted by the Australian National University (ANU) and conducted in partnership with the International Women’s Development Agency (IWDA), Oxfam GB, Oxfam America, the Philippines Health Social Science Association and the University of Boulder Colorado, with significant additional support from the University of Oslo.

Image of initial participatory research in Malawi: two men sit outside with an enumerator, discussing the research.
Initial participatory research in Malawi

Developing a new measure from the ground up

In developing the IDM, the research team started from the position that how poverty is defined and measured should be grounded in the views of women and men with lived experience of poverty.

We undertook significant field-based research in six countries and three sites in each country (urban, rural, highly marginalised), for each of the first two phases of research. These phases were led by local research teams, in partnership with local NGOs, to prioritise local contextual knowledge.


  • Pacific – Fiji
  • South East Asia – Indonesia, Philippines
  • Southern Africa – Angola, Malawi, Mozambique

Three age cohorts

Recognising that poverty and inequality can vary across the lifecourse, the research in these initial participatory phases involved three age cohorts:

  1. Young women and men – broadly those without reproductive or significant productive responsibilities
  2. Middle age people – those in the middle stages of life, often with overlapping productive and reproductive responsibilities
  3. Older women and men – individuals who may not be so heavily engaged in working to support themselves and their families, and whose children may have moved away.

A three-phase research design

PHASE 1: QUALITATIVE: Participatory research, to gain insight and understanding regarding how women and men with lived experience of poverty think it should be defined and measured poverty (~ 1,115 people).

PHASE 2: PARTICIPATORY RANKING: We returned to the same research sites to present back the dimensions we’d heard and asked people to rank them in importance, to gauge priorities and gaps (~ 1,800 people).

PHASE 3: DEVELOPING AND TRIALLING THE IDM: We built a multidimensional measure of poverty and trialled it in the Philippines via a nationally representative survey conducted by a professional survey firm, Pulse Asia (~ 1,800 people).

Image from initial participatory research in Angola: an enumerator site in a market with two women who are selling lettuce and sitting under a colourful umbrella.
Initial participatory research in Angola

The result? The IDM, a new measure of poverty

Ground-breaking conceptual work aimed at moving beyond critique of gender-blind, household-level poverty measurement has delivered a new measure that is feasible, internationally comparable and overcomes key limitations of existing approaches to measuring poverty and gender equity. The research report introducing the IDM also outlined a range of further work needed to refine and further develop the measure.

Read the Research Report presenting the original ARC research to develop the IDM.

The IDM research and measure was launched in Australia by Dr Jeni Klugman, then Senior Adviser at the World Bank, and a Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Women and Public Policy Program, at the Australian Council for International Development’s annual conference in October 2014:

Still image taken from the video, the image is of Jeni Klugman (Fellow, Women and Public Policy Program, Kennedy School, Harvard University) speaking at the ACFID conference.


In March 2015, the IDM was introduced to international audiences at a side event sponsored by the Australian Government and the International Women’s Development Agency at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.


Image of Joanna Hayter, Peter Versegi , Scott Wisor and Jeni Klugman at CSW to launch the IDM.
The launch of the IDM at CSW59. Joanna Hayter (then IWDA CEO), Peter Versegi (then Minister Counsellor at the Australian Mission to the United Nations), Scott Wisor (then Deputy Director, Centre for the Study of Global Ethics, University of Birmingham, out of picture) and Jeni Klugman (Fellow, Women and Public Policy Program, Kennedy School, Harvard University)

From concept to use

For any new measure to gain traction, it needs to tested and learning documented to inform refinement and subsequent use. This requires initial users that are willing to back innovation, take informed risks and recognise that potential can only be realised by taking a first step.

In 2014, the Australian Government, through the Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development program in Fiji, funded the first IDM study beyond the initial proof of concept trial in the Philippines.  The study focused on areas previously identified by a World Bank Poverty Mapping study as poverty hot spots, to explore the additional insights that could be gained by individual-level, gender-sensitive poverty measurement. This work was undertaken by the International Women’s Development Agency (IWDA), working with the Fiji Bureau of Statistics (FBoS).

The process of analysing the Fiji data revealed the power of the IDM, areas of uncertainty highlighting the need for further conceptual work on the basis of data from a wider range of contexts, and ways to effectively present the very large quantity of data the IDM generates.

Read the Fiji Report.

Read more about the study on the Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development website.

Image of Noelene Nabulivou, Joanne Crawford, and Dr Kylie Fisk at the panel event launch of the IDM Fiji report 'Exploring multidimensional poverty in Fiji' in Suva, 2017.
Noelene Nabulivou (Diverse Voices for Action and Equality), Joanne Crawford (IWDA), and Dr Kylie Fisk (IWDA) at the panel event launch of the IDM Fiji report 'Exploring multidimensional poverty in Fiji' in Suva, 2017. Photo: Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development

In 2016, the Australian Government made a further investment in the IDM as part of a wider focus on closing the gender data gap, supporting a four year program to ready the IDM for global use by 2020. This is supporting the further development and refinement of the IDM through a 4-year partnership between the Australian Government, the Australian National University and the International Women’s Development Agency.


Image of Hon Julie Bishop MP, Minister for Foreign Affairs launching the IDM at the 2017 ACFID conference in Canberra.
Hon Julie Bishop MP, Minister for Foreign Affairs launches the IDM at the Australasian Aid Conference, February 2017.

As the Minister for Foreign Affairs the Hon Julie Bishop MP said to the UN General Assembly in September 2016, “Globally, we capture data at the household level so it makes it impossible to assess the impact of poverty, for example, by sex, age, disability, ethnic background and other factors… Individual level data means we will be able to capture different forms of disadvantage and truly deliver on our commitment to ‘leave no one behind.”

Image of Jeni Klugman at CSW.
IDM at the Commission on the Status of Women

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