Equity Case Studies

Equity Case Study: Iraq- Designing an innovative analytical framework for an equity-focused situation analysis


By Abhijit Shanker

2 May 2012 - With a clear understanding of the growing inequities among the world’s peoples and particularly within its own national borders, UNICEF Iraq organized a workshop in collaboration with the government and key partners to design a framework for analyzing equity and deprivations among the children of Iraq. The resulting ‘equity analysis framework’ is both innovative and timely for the way it reflects a shift from defining equity and the discourse of poverty to a focus on child rights. This new framework lays the foundation for the equity-focused situation analysis scheduled to take place in 2012.


Iraq is emerging from over 30 years of constrained development due to a repressive government, economic sanctions and war. Despite its middle-income status, the combined hardships have inhibited national growth, deprived individuals of their rights and caused widespread inequities. Today the government seeks to address these challenges and safeguard the rights of future generations. Political will and financial resources supplied by a productive oil industry have the potential to support progress toward creating a more equitable society.

In this context, UNICEF Iraq took deliberate steps toward ensuring equitable growth and sought to gain a better, more detailed understanding of child deprivations. Over the course of 2010-2011, UNICEF led research and discussions with government and development partners for the purpose of producing an analytical approach to the insight gathering process that would provide a comprehensive understanding of the equity status of Iraqi children as well as indications of the types of programmes and policies needed to generate more equitable outcomes for their benefit.

UNICEF Iraq organized and hosted an Equity Analysis Workshop with the statistical departments of the Government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government, on October 18-20, 2011. The workshop yielded technical validation of the planning work to date, finalized the analytical framework and produced a plan for next steps, beginning with an equity-focused situation analysis (SitAn).

Strategy & Implementation

The equity analytical framework provides a foundation for both the quantitative and qualitative components of the 2012 SitAn. Built on the principles espoused by the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and A World Fit for Children (WFFC), the framework applies a holistic, child-centred focus to identify the number, type and severity of child deprivations, at what stage of childhood these deprivations occur, the child profile characteristics, and the child’s geographic and civic location.

The new approach, which quantifies inequities and measures degrees of multiple, overlapping deprivations as manifestations of inequity, is a shift from the traditional, one-dimensional focus on single issues faced by children, which overlooks the deeper inequities. Furthermore, because the new framework is based on Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) data, it offers the possibility of adapting it for use in other countries. If the data is available, the formulas and calculations that form the basis of the equity analytical framework can measure deprivations in any country and can provide a basis for inter-country or regional comparison.

After testing the approach using MICS 3 (2006) data, the Government of Iraq is moving toward a more holistic analysis encompassing all stages of a child’s life, in order to advance equity as defined by the Government of Iraq Ministry of Planning’s Central Organization for Statistics (CSO) and in line with UNICEF’s global mandate. The CSO has developed a database using surveys from various national strategies such as education development, poverty alleviation, the National Development Plan (2010-2014), and the MDGs. It is anticipated that the new child-centred, equity-focused analytical approach will guide planners and policy makers in Iraq and other countries and lead to a powerful set of policy recommendations, more targeted policies, and improved interventions in poverty reduction plans.

Progress & Results

The development of the framework’s methodology began in early 2010 following a request from the CSO for UNICEF’s support in building its capacity for statistical analysis as part of the 2011 MICS 4 implementation. The methodology was developed using MICS 3 and revalidated using MICS 4 data. In discussions with the CSO Head, UNICEF advocated that more attention be placed on systematically generating data specific to children’s issues. These discussions led to an agreement that UNICEF would support CSO and the KRSO (Kurdistan Region Statistics Office) in creating and developing the capacity of a team of seven analysts (government staff) who would eventually comprise the Equity Analysis for Children Team (E-ACT). When UNICEF launched a renewed focus on equity in mid-2010, UNICEF Iraq integrated the newly developed equity conceptual framework and the equity-focused, child-centred methodology as the core and guiding objective for training of the E-ACT. Its capacity development plan includes statistical training, building familiarity with priority children’s issues (CRC, CEDAW, MDGs and WFFC frameworks) and statistical analysis techniques to implement the child-level equity analysis.

Following completion of the E-ACT training, UNICEF formalized a collaborative partnership with E-ACT, which proved instrumental in the design of the methodology. A technical advisory board was also formed within the Ministry of Planning to provide oversight and validate the framework.

Around the same time, UNICEF Iraq held a series of advocacy meetings with the Prime Minister’s Advisory Council on the concept of equity, which resulted in the Government’s embrace of the UNICEF agenda. With growing cognizance of UNICEF’s approach to equity, the Prime Minister’s office has requested additional support with social policy initiatives and coordination.

The equity analysis framework evolved after more than a year of rigorous analysis led the E-ACT. Close collaboration on the design of the methodology has ensured government ownership of the framework as well as institutionalization of the equity approach. The equity concepts and analytical dimensions were introduced once there was confidence among the team to carry out basic analysis.


Participants in the validation workshop recognized a key challenge in applying a multi-dimensional and life cycle-based assessment approach to the current SitAn development process, which concentrates on specific indicators and typically results in a fragmented understanding of children’s status. To obtain a more complete understanding of the children of interest and their context, consideration of several indicators simultaneously is needed since many issues have a concurrent impact.

The new multi-dimensional life-cycle approach offers detailed insight into the real situation of children because it is child centred, so it provides a way to sidestep the SitAn’s fragmented perspective. The child-centred approach also identifies the geographic areas where the most disadvantaged children reside as well as their specific patterns of deprivation. Therefore, the challenge resides mostly adopting the 2012 SitAn, which will be the first one in Iraq that applies this child-centred approach.

Workshop discussions also addressed the availability and quality of data and the resulting nature and choice of indicators. The MICS and equity review highlighted a number of issues with survey and data quality, including use of the wealth index, disaggregation, analysis stretching, sample size, staff capacity, and over-sampling. A number of discussions concerned the nature of the indicators proposed for measuring multiple deprivations, which derive directly from Iraq’s MICS 3 and MICS 4 data. While the MICS tool is designed to produce the best estimates of internationally comparable indicators that inform on the situation of children and women, using MICS data for the child-centred analysis is not a purpose for which it was designed specifically, so there are some limitations and caveats worth taking into account, namely:

  • The child-centred approach combines information collected at different levels (household and individual), which can affect the precision of the estimated figures of multiple-deprived children;
  • Standard indicators are defined for children of certain ages, but it would be useful to collect information on a broader range of ages and issues, such as child discipline methods, child labour, or female genital mutilation; and
  • In general, information on adolescents’ situations is scarce; hence the chances to identify their deprivations are lower compared with younger children. This fact is especially relevant in a country like Iraq (and generally across the Middle East) because of the very high proportion of adolescents.

UNICEF Iraq’s MICS 4 data processing and dissemination has not yet been finalized and acknowledgement has been made that the results of the child-centred analysis using the data will be completed later. Moreover, since the child-centred approach will be new to all UNICEF staff and partners, the choice was made to release the familiar MICS 4 results in the standard report format first. In this way, the new approach and its contribution will be better understood, and any potential confusion between MICS 4 and the child-centred analysis will likely be avoided.

Lessons Learned

The development of the equity analysis framework has proven to be a complex project, as much in its methods as in the challenges it poses to people’s long-held beliefs insofar as the concept of equity constitutes both reality and the perception of that reality. UNICEF Iraq realized early on that, in order to recognize equity or its absence among the children in a country or region, it would be absolutely necessary to have critical partners on board. Therefore, we identified and engaged key counterparts in the government from the start of the concept development process in order to build the capacity of a core group of dedicated analysts. We also involved specialized subject matter experts on a range of key topics, including education, health and nutrition, to ensure that the selection and definition of deprivations would be accurate, comprehensive and reflective of the Iraqi context.

Using reliable data sources, such as MICS, and basing the methodological framework on internationally accepted and used approaches (University of Bristol’s multidimensional child poverty measure; Oxford University Poverty & Human Development Initiative’s Multidimensional Poverty Index) provide a solid base for development of an equity-focused, child-centred analytical framework. Yet analysis is only part – even if an essential one - of the task; the challenge of translating acquired knowledge into feasible policies and programmes remains. UNICEF Iraq and its partners are mindful of this issue and making every effort to expand the analysis to the policy development and programme management arena.


The new equity analysis framework reverses the standard evaluation approach, measuring every child against every relevant indicator rather than applying each indicator to measure each relevant child. The framework applies a child-centred analysis that identifies the most deprived children by looking at overlapping deprivations across the child’s life-cycle stages from maternity, birth and infancy through early childhood to adolescence. The methodology also helps explore relationships among compounded deprivations, both within each life-cycle stage and from one stage to the next, and among multiple risk factors, such as poverty, gender, mother’s education, urban and rural settings.

The results obtained so far by applying this new methodology make a strong starting point for any SitAn because they identify children with multiple deprivations, their locations, and the kinds of deprivations that can compound. Its holistic approach facilitates the process and flows naturally into the analysis of the role of community-level determinants of inequities and possible modalities of intervention. Furthermore, it points toward integrated interventions and highlights the salience of potential areas of coordinated programming.

Potential Application

The child-centred equity analysis framework can be easily adapted for use in other countries where MICS or similar survey data is available. The formulas and calculations that form its basis can measure deprivations in any country and provide a basis for inter-country and inter-region comparison. Results from two other MICS 3 country datasets made trends apparent and revealed the possibility of applying the same indicators in various countries to support policy and advocacy recommendations and programming. UNICEF Iraq has applied the framework to MICS 4 data by easily adapting the developed SPSS syntax, which it has made available upon request.

Owing to its complementarity with the per-capita expenditure poverty approach, the equity analytical framework can help create synergies among various mechanisms for addressing poverty issues - in Iraq or in any country with a Poverty Reduction Strategy - within the context of an inter-agency approach. The technical concepts of the methodology are based on already operational and UN-endorsed definitions of multidimensional deprivations. The framework therefore allows for developing national capacity and ownership, and facilitates its applicability as a policy and planning criterion. Finally, it is an especially useful tool for equity-focused situation analysis in any UNICEF programme.

Next Steps

A Core Technical Committee (CTC) chaired by the government and consisting of staff from line ministries, academia/think tanks, civil society, and UNICEF Iraq, will review and incorporate technical feedback into the document. Its advice and recommendations will relate directly to the queries raised during the workshop that require deeper analysis, specifically related to the indicators and life cycle stages. The engagement of the CTC will solidify a determination of the indicators and life cycle stages and expedite finalization and endorsement of the framework for publication. Once endorsed, the methodology will be applied to Iraq’s MICS 4 results, which are currently being finalized. The results of the MICS 4 analysis are expected to enrich understanding of the situation of children in Iraq, which will inform policy recommendations to promote equitable development and better protect the rights of all children in Iraq.

Final review and approval of the quantitative (first stage) analysis portion of the framework should be completed by the end of January 2012, at which point the CTC is expected to become the SitAn Steering Committee, in order to ensure continuity between the two phases of the analysis. The SitAn is expected to be completed by the end of July; UNICEF Iraq anticipates completing the SitAn process earlier than usual because of the intensive preparatory process.



New enhanced search