by Eric Swanson, graphics by Martin Getzendanner, Data2X
Gender statistics are important because understanding the status of women and girls is important for the overall development of societies. Data2X, a collaboration of the UN Foundation, the Hewlett Foundation, and the office of Hillary Rodham Clinton, hosted a roundtable on March 1st in conjunction with the 45th meeting of the UN Statistical Commission to highlight the need for improved gender statistics. The roundtable was co-organized with the UN Statistics Division, UN Women, the World Bank, PARIS21, and OECD.
In welcoming the participants, Ruth Levine of the Hewlett Foundation, who chaired the round table, noted that we can only make women’s lives better if data are available to monitor their status, and, Stefan Schweinfest, of the UN Statistics Division, noted the confluence of interest in improving gender statistics and the call for a “data revolution” in development statistics. The post-2015 development goals now under discussion should include new and strengthened goals for women’s education, health, economic empowerment, political participation, and human security. But there are many gaps in the statistical record. Without a concerted effort to improve the scope and quality of gender statistics, meaningful targets cannot be set and progress will go unmeasured.
Background for the roundtable discussion was provided by a report prepared by Data2X: “Data2X: Mapping Gender Data Gaps.” On display around the room were eight posters summarizing various gender data initiatives currently underway. Mayra Buvinic of the UN Foundation represented Data2X at the roundtable, explaining that the purpose of Data2X is to improve the quality, usability, and openness of gender data available globally and at the national level for guiding policies and investments. Now that the mapping exercise is complete, the project is looking to establish partnerships with countries to pilot initiatives, beginning this summer.
The roundtable featured presentations from representatives of six developing countries (Mexico, Philippines, Brazil, South Africa, Uganda, and Palestine), who described both successes and obstacles to improving gender statistics. Speakers identified important gaps in the collection of data on women’s economic roles both in the labor market and in households. Women in poor and rural regions are particularly likely to be left out of the statistical record, as are young girls and youths making the transition from school to work. Disaggregation of existing data supplemented by time-use surveys could fill many gaps. Civil registration systems are a rich source of core demographic data, but they are often incomplete in developing countries. Other administrative records, such as those from health and educational services, contain valuable information, which should be made widely available. Several speakers suggested that “big data” might be used to augment traditional sources, but difficulties remain in validating such methods and respecting individual privacy. Official statisticians have an important role to play in maintaining the integrity of statistics used for public policy making. They must also play a dual role of responding to user demands for data and leading the development of new data sources and reporting methods.
A common theme was the importance of partnerships between statistical offices and other government agencies and with other national statistical offices and with international agencies. In response to the panel discussion, Johannes Jutting from PARIS21 said that Data2X has made great progress since its launch. The challenge now is to implement its recommendations for improving gender statistics without overburdening national statistical systems. National strategies for the development of statistics (NSDS) can be used to align initiatives for gender data with other priorities of the statistical system.
In closing, Ruth Levine observed that the roundtable had explored the intersection between the role of statistics in gathering information and the needs of users in the context of evolving social values while also exploring new innovative ways to respond to the call for a data revolution. Improvements to gender statistics, she said, can make a great contribution to the development data revolution.