September 21, 2014

The Gender Data Problem We Should Be Talking About

Written by Kathy Calvin, President and CEO, UN Foundation

This post originally appeared on LinkedIn here. Reposted with permission.

This post is part of a series in which Influencers and members discuss how to drive change that matters. Read all the posts here.

Data privacy, security, and mining – these are all important issues that certainly deserve discussion. But there is one data issue that hasn’t gotten enough attention: the gender data gap.

The problem is that right now many countries don’t have robust data on the lives of girls and women – or the data they have is bad because of gender biases and difficulties collecting it.

As world leaders gather at the United Nations this month to discuss the world’s most important challenges, closing this gap must be part of the conversation. Good data is essential to our efforts to empower girls and women – and empowering girls and women is essential to promoting health, prosperity, and stability around the world.

The gender data gap presents many challenges for meeting development goals. For example:

  • Maternal mortality numbers in most countries are based on estimates, rather than actual numbers, due to under-reporting and misclassification. This means that we do not exactly know the number of girls and women who die in or around childbirth each year.
  • Many countries do not have data on marriage and divorce. Because of this, and further complicated by the fact that many children are not registered at birth, child marriages go unregistered and girls’ age at marriage is often unknown.
  • And women who sell goods on a small scale from their homes don’t count in employment figures everywhere. The World Bank has found that only nine countries in Africa have reliable data on the share of women in non-agricultural wage work.

It is often said that you can’t manage it if you can’t measure it. To fully address the challenges facing girls and women, we need a complete and accurate picture of their lives. Fundamentally, data is about more than counting people – it’s about making sure people count.

The good news is that we can solve these problems. There are steps we can take to identify gaps, increase disaggregation of data by gender, and correct biases in data collection, but we need the collective will to take action.

While various groups have been working on these challenges, there has been a need for a common platform to serve as a base for collaboration and knowledge sharing. That’s why in 2012, then-U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced Data2X, an initiative to build partnerships to power the gender data revolution.

Data2X, which is led by the United Nations Foundation with support from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and ongoing engagement with Secretary Clinton’s office, works with a variety of countries, UN agencies, non-governmental organizations, regional bodies, and private sector partners to improve the collection and use of gender data.

As a first step, the initiative identified gender data gaps across the areas of health, education, economic opportunities, political participation, and human security. It’s now in the process of building partnerships to close the holes in the areas of big data and gender, women’s work and employment, and civil registration and vital statistics (such as birth, death, marriage, and divorce records). This is just the beginning, and the list will continue to grow.

While the gender data gap is a technical topic, it has practical implications for the lives of girls and women around the world – providing an accurate picture of their lives and guiding policies to expand opportunity. As Secretary Clinton says, “Data not only measures progress, it inspires it.”

To start a gender data revolution, we need more than experts and academics, we need people around the world to raise their voices and make this is a priority on the global agenda. Our shared success will mean stronger data, but more importantly, stronger opportunities for girls and women everywhere.