I was born in Austin, Texas, but my parents are first-generation immigrants from India. A few summers after I had gotten my first period, my family and I made one of our many trips to see family in India. I had brought my own sanitary napkins, but I struggled to maintain my own menstrual hygiene while in India because of the lack of clean toilets. I wondered what Indian women did while on their periods, especially if they were in even more rural areas. I became so curious, I turned to my mom, and finally to my grandma, who told me she used to use a rag or cloth when she was on her period. At that time, I couldn’t understand how you could keep using one rag while on your period, because in America we don’t have to think twice about it. As I did more research, I learned from UNICEF that 28% of the students in India do not go to school during their period, due to lack of facilities and materials. They’re forced to hide due to cultural taboos, which means they can’t often dry their cloths properly and they can pick up dust which can lead to infections that can greatly alter their lives. I knew we had to do something.
I raised over $4,500, or 292,000 Rupees by reaching out to friends, family, and local businesses in the Indian community in Austin and found incredible support. We bought the machine and had it transported to Dityakhedi, Rajasthan, near where my father grew up. My family then went to India to help set up the machine and hold educational discussions with the young women of the villages about puberty, menstruation, and menstrual hygiene, which was all nonexistent in their school curriculum. The education piece was my favorite part. We used the Hindi Menstrupedia video resources and Hindi brochures we made from scratch. After we brought the information to the girls, we then opened the conversation and discussed these topics. They asked so many questions and really seemed receptive to the information. In our first trip, we visited 4 different villages and discussed with about 150 girls. After those discussions, we knew we had to continue. That’s how The MAHI (Menstrual Awareness and Hygiene in India) Project came to be. Because of this, I was chosen as one of the top ten outstanding Gold Award projects in the country, earning the National Young Woman of Distinction Award and Scholarship, which opened even more doors for me.
After a year, however, I had gotten a bit older and wiser, and I learned that my initial approach had many flaws. The machine was not being used to its full capacity in Rajasthan, and I did not want it to fall into disuse. I realized that this wasn’t a failure, but rather a learning opportunity and a first step in a very long journey where we’re constantly trying to improve. We made the decision to move the machine to Kerala, in South India, where we worked with low-income school to partner with a group of unemployed women and create an ongoing initiative using the machine. This past March, my family visited one more time to take the educational piece to 5 different schools in the rural parts of Lucknow. There, we asked the girls if they talked to their moms or sisters about their periods or if they knew why periods happened, the girls shook their heads “no.” I knew that the even the educational piece was making a huge impact on the girls.
Devika Kumar is currently a sophomore majoring in International Relations and Global Studies, and Plan II Honors. Devika is a first-generation Indian-American and thus has a strong connection to the South Asian region. This background inspired her to create The MAHI Project (Menstrual Awareness and Hygiene in India), for which she was selected, as one of ten, to receive the National Young Women of Distinction Award. Through her long-standing study of the Spanish language and culture, she also has a special interest in Latin America and its development. Devika is also pursuing coursework in Economics with hopes to further study economic gender equality in developing nations.
The power of networks is a central interest for the Global Indices Network Project. We deconstruct indices of global ratings and rankings in order to study their connections and relationships, which reveal information about the power of the indices within the network. How linkages form in this network of indices, how many times an index is used in the creation of another index, and how much weight the information from one index holds in another index are some questions we address.
What does the networked power of global indices really mean for the GIN Project? For the purposes of our research, networked power has a much broader meaning than simple linkages between indices. These connections matter, but more generally, we are most interested in the indices’ power to influence the structure of other indices, as well as their power to change actions of real-life actors. Different conceptual measures of how an index influences the network can be found both within and from outside the immediate network of deconstructed indices. The directionality and overall connections within the network may constitute an index’s power; its ability to generate attention and to affect actors outside of the network space may also lend to its influence. These concepts of power are discussed in more detail below, with some examples from our preliminary network.
Within the Network
At the base, the networked power of global indices comes from the density of connections that an index has to other indices. That is, the more connections that an index has, the more relative power it holds in the networked ecosystem of global indices. This is related to the network concept of degree. In the collapsed network of our first batch of deconstructed indices, the Worldwide Governance Indicators - Rule of Law had the highest degree (the most connections with other indices, regardless of direction) at a total of 19 connected paths with other indices.
However, it is not simply the number of connections that matter in our network - the directionality of a connection is even more important. In terms of our network, in-degree comes from the number of connections other indices borrow from a certain index, and out-degree comes from the number of connections an index borrows from other indices. The Global Competitiveness Index had the highest in-degree, with 17 other indices that borrowed from it. This could be an example of what we are looking for in a “powerful” index. If there is a change in the quantitative value or the methodology of such a highly connected index with a high in-degree, all the other indices that are connected – dependent – on that index will be affected, and a ripple effect will occur in the network. Meanwhile, if an index has high out-degree, it would be susceptible to changes in indices that it borrows from. The Worldwide Governance Indicators - Voice and Accountability had the highest out-degree with 18 connected paths. This means that it borrows from (and is prone to being affected by changes in) 18 other indexes.
As aforementioned, however, the number of direct one-to-one connection paths is not the only important factor to consider in defining the power of an index. In a network, connectivity needs to be considered as a whole in terms of the entire network. That is, an index that influences a number of other indices, which themselves go on to influence a larger number of yet other indices, and so on along the network pathways, would be able to exert more influence in the network through intermediary connections. This is related to the network concept of eigenvector centrality, which is a relative measure of centrality in the overall network as a whole, measured on a scale of 0 to 1. When taking all of the connections in the network into account, the index with the highest level of eigenvector centrality was the Ease of Doing Business Index, with an eigenvector centrality value of 1. While the Ease of Doing Business Index itself is directly connected to only three other indices (Basel Anti-Money Laundering Index, Global Competitiveness Index, and Millennium Challenge Corporation Country Scorecard), all three borrow from the Ease of Doing Business Index. Especially, through its connection with the Global Competitiveness Index, many more indices that borrow from the Global Competitiveness Index end up indirectly borrowing from the Ease of Doing Business Index.
This leads us to believe that there may also be indices with “hidden” power. When a lesser connected, lesser known index is connected to a powerful index, its influence over the entire network of indices has the potential to be amplified, indirectly, through this connection to the powerful index. For instance, the Country Credit Ratings has only one connection with another index, but because that connection is with the (highly influential) Global Competitiveness Index borrowing from the Country Credit Ratings, its power in the overall network is very high, with an eigenvector centrality value of 0.9703.
Outside the Network
Although looking at the power of global indices within their network gives us an explicit understanding of what networked power is in the structural sense, it is not necessarily the most tangible or practical way of conceptualizing power. In reality, the network structure that we are interested in at the GIN project is more or less irrelevant to the unquestioning user of an index. In this sense, looking outside the network can give a different perspective in conceptualizing power. We look at external network power mainly in terms of the attention given to an index, the external network of users it generates, and the power to influence action of such users.
In this external network, higher levels of attention toward an index are generated by the number of times an index is utilized and referenced in mediums such as journal articles, newspaper articles, or online posts. This is a self-propagating process, where additional users pick up and reference more visible indices with more ease, with the more frequently referenced indices becoming established proxies for the social phenomena they represent. Through repeated use, the information contained in indices grow power to influence academic analyses, news stories, and public opinion. A simple search of articles within the time range of 2013 to 2018 found that the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (17000 hits on Google Scholar and 445 hits on Factiva), the Corruption Perceptions Index (14500 hits on Google Scholar and 1318 hits on Factiva), and the Global Competitiveness Index (11800 hits on Google Scholar and 1458 hits on Factiva) were the indices that were most heavily referenced in academic studies and frequently cited in the media.
Going a step further in this external network of users, another way to define the networked power of an index is in how much leverage it holds in actually shaping the behavior of its users. National governments, international organizations, and advocacy groups produce indices that rate and rank countries to advance their political and organizational mission and exerting influence (Cooley and Snyder, 2015). In some cases, these indices become a mechanism of international governance in which rankings bring both financial consequences and political naming and shaming. In countermeasures/response to these scorecards, countries may choose to alter their policies, tailoring policies to improve scores and rankings. This type of action-altering influence can be seen as another form of the power of global indices.
We are still in an exploratory phase of networked power. With our ongoing analysis, we hope to refine our understanding of power in both the internal and external networks of global indices. Diving deeper into our database of deconstructed indices and identifying indices with varying types of power will be our next step.
Cooley, A., & Snyder, J. (2015). Rank Has Its Privileges. Foreign Affairs, 94(6), 101.
Hanneman, R., & Riddle, M. (2005). Introduction to Social Network Methods. Retrieved from http://faculty.ucr.edu/~hanneman/nettext/
Eun Young is a PhD student at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin. Her research interests encompass topics of national statistics and open data for policymaking in the international development context, evaluation of foreign aid effectiveness, and transnational policy transfer.