Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Reducing the gender data gap is a multiplying factor of societal progress

“If we’re serious about narrowing the gender gap and helping more girls and women, then we must get serious about gathering and analyzing the data that tells the tale”.

The contribution that women make to societal progress is widely acknowledged, whether it is producing food, negotiating peace agreements or ensuring that children are immunised. UNDP’s Human Development Report shows that gender inequality can reduce a country’s progress in health, education and standard of living by up to 85 percent. We also know that women are still discriminated against in many areas and that much more needs to be done to achieve gender equality, especially with the 2015 deadline for the Millennium Development Goals approaching fast.

But what about the gender data gap?

Despite the wealth of data that we have today thanks to modern technology advances, there are huge data gaps for basic gender-related indicators, especially in developing countries: basic indicators such as maternal mortality remain under-reported, often because many women in poor countries do not come into contact with official surveys or do not have access to basic health facilities; other areas where data is patchy or of poor quality includes: at what age women have their first child, how many hours of paid and unpaid work women perform, if women own the land they farm, how many women are internet users, how many women are involved in decision-making in their local governments, to name a few. In other cases, there is data but not enough data coverage or it isn’t collected regularly: for example, for the share of women in non-agricultural wage work in Africa, there is only data for 9 out of 47 countries. Why is it important to know such data in detail? Because incomplete, poor quality or missing data can lead to erroneous interpretations of the data and therefore give us at best an incomplete, or even worse, an incorrect picture of development challenges.

As such, I believe that reducing the gender data gap is a prerequisite to achieve gender equality and meet the development goals. Without such data, how can policy makers make the right decisions? Improved data availability, accuracy, detail and coverage would make a huge difference in accelerating development and societal progress, as it would better inform and shape policy goals. By investing in collecting and analysing data on women and gender equality, we would significantly increase the benefits for society, as we become more aware of where more efforts and resources are needed.

“Data not only measures progress, it inspires it. (…) what gets measured gets done”.

According to the World Bank, the lack of good and comparable data is due, in part, to ineffective data capturing methodologies and a lack of official statistical systems in developing countries, so more capacity building is needed at that level. Also, more political will is needed to gather gender statistics, as it is not always a priority in some countries, even if statistical systems are in place. And finally, there is also the problem that good gender data may exist but it is not being used or analysed. This summer, in July, the U.S. government announced a new initiative called Data 2X, which will contribute to strengthen the international capacity to produce and analyse data, including gender data, and the World Bank launched the Gender Data Portal, a clearinghouse of all the gender-related statistics and analysis carried by the bank. Both initiatives were launched at the “Evidence and Impact: Closing the Gender Data Gap” conference hosted by the U.S. Department of State and Gallup. 

The Data 2X initiative will work towards ensuring that data producers and users train in gender-sensitive techniques and gather key data organisations such as the UN, the World Bank, the OECD, PARIS21 and Gallup to develop a roadmap on how to fill the priority gaps in gender-sensitive data.

The new Gender Data Portal, which will be continuously updated as new data comes, allows users to create maps, figures and charts using country-level data, and also highlights huge gender data gaps – for example there is no data on wage gaps in developing countries, because of the lack of comparable data across these countries, and there is little data measuring women’s voice and agency beyond women’s representation in national parliaments.
At the conference, World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim also insisted on the need to direct the data back towards developing countries:

“By making country data accessible, we can help empower men and women in the real world to become agents of change. This is important, because it’s only with sufficient country demand for better gender equality that we will ultimately succeed.”

Let’s hope that this new data push will soon lead to visible positive changes for our societies. We need to make sure women are counted to fully capture their contributions to a country’s economy or to global stability, and so that we know where aid should be allocated to accelerate progress towards development goals. This goes without saying that efforts should also start at local level and women and girls should play a central role in the process of identifying gender-sensitive indicators.

Estelle Loiseau
Gender Team, OECD Development Centre

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