Understanding inequality in the Pacific – we need more data

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This is an image showing women sitting together in a hall in Bougainville. They are women's human rights defenders and they are listening to a speech that's underway.
Women's Human Rights Defenders in Bougainville. Harjono Djoyobisono / IWDA

The High Level Political Forum (HLPF) gets underway on 9 July at the UN Headquarters in New York. It’s the central platform to follow up and review progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and brings together leaders, civil society and policy makers from around the world.

The theme in 2019 is ‘Empowering people and ensuring inclusiveness and equality’. The HLPF will focus on reviewing the following goals:

  • Goal 4: Quality education
  • Goal 8: Decent work and economic growth
  • Goal 10: Reduced inequality
  • Goal 13: Climate action
  • Goal 16: Peace and justice, strong institutions
  • Goal 17: Partnerships to achieve the Goals

To design gender-responsive, fit for purpose, effective and efficient programs and policies that challenge inequality, policy makers need to understand the areas of people’s lives where they can have the greatest impact.

There are growing calls for more granular data that can give visibility to the parts of women’s lives that are often discounted or hidden through the collection of household data – such as the time required each day to collect household resources and the hours spent caring for family members –  and how this influences women’s opportunities outside the home.

The IDM is one measure contributing to addressing this data gap – generating individual-level information about 15 key areas of life. It is gender-sensitive, and because it collects data about 15 dimensions, including time-use,  from each individual respondent, the IDM is able to show how different areas of life can intersect and overlap to impact inequality.

Time-use data in the Pacific

While there has been significant progress in the use of time-use surveys in recent years, there is still a lack of time-use data to inform infrastructure, social policy and public services in the Pacific region.

We’ve pulled together key points from four studies that are helping to close this gap:

Voice for Change

Women’s human rights organisation Voice for Change, based in Jiwaka, Papua New Guinea, published the results of a community survey in 2015: Violence against women and girls in Jiwaka Province, Papua New Guinea. The survey focussed on violence against women and girls (VAWG) but also shed light on the everyday lives of men and women in the Highlands area, and contributed to the evidence-base showing domestic work is disproportionately shouldered by women and girls.

Labour burden and work-related forms of VAWG were considered among the most serious forms of violence by women participants in the survey. These included:

  • Women’s daily burden of work, which was described by survey participants as ‘slavery’
  • Drunken men destroying women’s market stalls and stealing money
  • Husbands taking their wives’ money

VAWG – particularly over-work and financial exploitation – were seen as a normal part of life in Jiwaka. For women, this constant fear of violence affected their ability to move freely, undertake economic activities, access education and participate in community life.

UN Women and the Asian Development Bank

A 2018 report from UN Women and the Asian Development Bank, Gender Equality and the Sustainable Development Goals in Asia and the Pacific: Baseline and pathways for transformative change by 2030 , notes that:

  • Less than half of the countries in the region have collected time-use data at least once.
  • Only six have mainstreamed time-use surveys in their national statistical systems and collected data regularly.
  • People are living longer, ‘increasing the demand for care and pressure on health services’, at the same time that ‘patterns of urbanisation and migration are rapidly changing the safety net of the family as a traditional source of care.’

The World Bank

The World Bank undertook a time-use and gender study in 2017: Household Allocation and Efficiency of Time in Papua New Guinea . The study aims to better understand labour dynamics in the agricultural sector in Papua New Guinea. Although the research ‘did not address the underlying dynamics of intra-household decision making’, it confirmed its outcomes:

  • Men and women do not share the same activities or tasks in the household
  • Women work significantly more hours than men overall
  • Less of this work is paid, which reflects a gendered and unequal distribution of unpaid domestic work
  • When paid and unpaid work is counted, women work on average 2.7 hours more per day than men in cocoa-growing areas and 1.7 hours more per day in coffee growing areas.

The Individual Deprivation Measure

An IDM study collected data on 15 key dimensions of life, including time-use, in 2015/2016 in Fiji. Some of the key findings illustrate how different dimensions of life can overlap to deepen deprivation, and also signal appropriate investments from policy makers:

  • Gendered responsibilities for cooking mean women are disproportionately exposed to and impacted by cooking fumes.
  • Gendered differences in exposure to fumes intersected with location to influence the amount of time an individual was exposed. Women in informal settlements spent most time exposed to fumes.
  • Women’s exposure to fumes related to heating and cooking has serious health consequences.
  • Primary responsibility for water collection rests with women and children. In rural settlements, distance travelled to access water was up to 90 minutes each day.
  • Walking a longer distance to a water source reduces the time available for other productive activities or rest.

Read the full Fiji report here.

While these studies help to address data gaps in the Pacific, it’s clear more research is needed if the lives led by people across this diverse region are to be visible in data, and inform policies to ensure we leave no one behind. Time-use data provides insights into inequality within the home, making visible the unpaid household and care work traditionally undertaken by women. By incorporating time use, access to infrastructure (water, sanitation, fuel/energy) and access to services (health, education) in the one tool, the IDM can inform efforts to reduce inequality within the home and build understanding of women’s access to education and economic empowerment.

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