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Making the data revolution a gender data revolution

By Shaida Badiee and Claire Melamed

If there was a competition for the most repeated and least reliable statistic in the development business, then the oft-repeated ‘fact’ that 70% of the world’s poor are women might just win it. It might be true, it might not. But, shockingly and surprisingly given how often it’s used, there’s not really any way of knowing if it’s true.

worldfish-data-entry-bangladeshThe ubiquity and uncertainty of the 70% figure tells us two things about the data revolution. Firstly, that people want good data on gender – the over use of this dubious statistic indicates a demand out there that needs to be filled. Secondly, that at the moment we don’t have it – in many countries we don’t even know how many women there are, let alone how poor, or how healthy, or how well educated they are, or what work they do, or how they spend their time. The data revolution must be gendered.

Gendering the data revolution means thinking about gender at two levels. Firstly, of course the data itself. In the IEAG report, we pointed out how ‘gender inequality and the undervaluing of women’s activities and priorities in every sphere has been replicated in the statistical record’.

Currently, data suffer from several gender blind spots. Firstly, too often gender simply isn’t recorded. This makes data much less useful than it could be. Knowing the number of people in a country living under $1.25 a day, for example, is one thing. But if, say 80% of those people are women, then that implies a very different set of problems and solutions to if the split is 50-50 between women and men. If most recorded violence is domestic violence against women, this implies very different policies to if violence is mainly men attacking other men. Gender disaggregated data is needed to make women visible and to make good policy. In this respect, gender is just one of many blind spots in much of the data that are produced – numbers on disability, or ethnicity, for example, are also often lacking but are essential for diagnosing and solving the inequalities and exclusion that drive poverty.

It’s not just women themselves who are invisible. Some of the issues most important to their lives are also uncounted and therefore invisible in policy agendas. Labour market statistics designed by women, for example, would almost certainly take into account time spent on domestic work. Surveys in Kenya, Mozambique and Liberia, for example, found that over half of all women cited childcare responsibilities as a constraint on them achieving their livelihood ambitions. In Kenya the figure was over 80 per cent.

Not measuring the realities of the working lives of half the population will mean worse employment policy. Attempts to increase productivity through, for example, offering workers more training, will be of no use to people whose time is already unacceptably squeezed between the different types of work they are required to do. Employment policy using data collected with a gender lens looks different in significant ways – and the same is true of other areas.

Collecting data that more accurately reflects the experiences of women, and that provides policy makers with the raw materials for better, more gender sensitive, policy, is one part of the gender data revolution. But there is a second – putting data in the hands of women themselves.

The data revolution is not for just more data about people – it’s also more data for people – putting data and information in the hands of women themselves, so they have the tools to demand accountability. In many countries, women have less education, and, when they have the chance to specialise, are less likely to do maths, economics or computing than their male counterparts. If new technology is one of the defining characteristics of the data revolution then women are lagging behind there too – in Africa, Asia and Latin America women’s mobile phone ownership is less than men’s, often a lot less.

How can the data revolution be a gender data revolution? There are two priorities

  • Women need to become more visible in data. This means collecting more data, through well-functioning civil registration systems, it means disaggregating all data by gender as a matter of course, and it means collecting data on the things that matter most to women’s lives.
  • Women need to become active users of data. Many already are. But data literacy programmes must make a special effort to reach out to girls and women, compensating for the often unstated social norms that reserve maths, computing and similar disciplines for boys and men.

There is much hype and hope around the data revolution. For it to be made real, the revolution needs initiatives like Data 2x, showing, again and again, that without paying attention to half the world’s population, the hype will be just hype and the hope will not be realised. The data revolution must be gendered, can be gendered, and will be gendered.

image: A woman enters data in a logbook, Bangladesh (CC Worldfish)

4 Comments

  1. Interesantísimo el comentario!! Supondrá, como en tantos otros aspectos un gran desafío éste del “género”. Encontré, investigando, que no sólo la mujer es invivible en países en las que viven en extrema pobreza, como pueden ser algunos países africanos o de América Latina y el Caribe. Ahora, “Y qué es la violencia de género?”. el hecho de que no se defina jurídicamente con precisión, hace que actos que responden a este tipo de violencia, se incluyan en las estadísticas como homicidios en caso de robo, o violencia familiar a causa del abuso de alcohol, y en el peor de los casos, que las propias víctimas estén tan desprotegidas que hasta ni se animan a decir su lamentable situación. Aunque es muchísimo más lamentable que los órganos oficiales de países no hagan figurar en estadísticas o se informe a la prensa de tan crueles y lamentables casos. Me animo a decir, discretamente, que hoy por hoy, hay países que excluyen a hombres tanto como mujeres de as posibilidades de trabajo y desarrollo personal, por razones de política partidaria. Es grave la exclusión, el ocultamiento de la verdad allí donde se conoce. Inmensos esfuerzos para aquellos países y territorios donde las costumbres patriarcales o machistas someten a las mujeres y niñas de un modo totalmente indigno. Es imprescindible empoderar a la mujer desde la infancia tanto como para modificar las costumbres. Acercarle a la mujer los medios para que pueda desarrollarse como un individuo digno. También, es imprescindible que no se prive a la mujer, del contacto con sus hijos, ya que ella cumple la función del desarrollo sensible en el niño mientras que el padre lo hace en la función formadora. Poder equilibrar, si ha de “copiar” para su personalidad una formación distorsionada, toda vez que sea dónde sea, hay que lograr restituir el valor de la “Familia” con los roles genuinos que deben desarrollar cada uno de sus integrantes. Existen en distintos países, niños/niñas que no han sido registrados como nacidos, lo que incluso nos demuestra que ni siquiera podemos saber sino de manera aproximada cuál es la población humana del planeta. el registro civil apenas aporta algunos datos. Me temo que la invisibilidad es un problema estructural de los países que no se deciden a ser sinceros, que no respetan a la gentes, sus necesidades, sus individualidades. En materia de discapacidades, sólo los organismos no gubernamentales, de solidaridad pueden aportar datos sobre el tipo de discapacidad, el grupo etáreo y algunos datos importantes, pero estas instituciones no abarcan la totalidad de un país. Si estructuralmente está fallando el servicio de Salud, poco o nada se sabrá sobre el tema. Intentar que os países miembros que se han comprometido a llevar a la currícula escolar la enseñanza sobre Derechos Humanos, en niños, en adolescentes, porque es una manera de incorporar a la vida autoestima, que la niña o la mujer a la que se violenta y que permanece en silencio, obviamente no posee. Este país, que figura en el puesto 47 del primer grupo como un país con muy ben desarrollo, ve crecer día a día la violencia de género llegando por lo general, a un importante número de muertes. Estoy persuadida que el Grupo encontrará los modos de que realmente la Revolución de Datos sea una Revolución de Datos de Género., Muchísimas Gracias. Siempre les llegue mis felicitaciones y los mejores deseos de progreso. Mirta Irma Ceballos

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  3. Thank you for this important piece! It is critical to apply a gender lens to this data revolution, lest women be left behind. I’d recommend readers take a look at this beautiful interactive tool, part of Bread for the World Institute’s 2015 Hunger Report, which sheds light on the massive gaps that remain in data on women. It shows that nearly 80 percent of data on essential gender indicators does not exist. You can view the tool here at: http://www.hungerreport.org/missingdata

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