Gender-sensitive data must inform infrastructure planning and investment – a briefing for CSW63

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Download the full CSW63 briefing here.

The 63rd Commission on the Status of Women (CSW63) begins this week at the UN Headquarters in New York. It is the global space for moving forward gender equality and the empowerment of women, with thousands of representatives from UN entities, CSOs and governments in attendance.

In 2019, CSW considers the priority theme ‘Social protection systems, access to public services and sustainable infrastructure for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls. This reflects a recognition that systems, services and public infrastructure can play a pivotal role in the lives of women and the pursuit of gender equality.

Social services, including access to healthcare and education, can have a profound impact on women’s health and opportunities. Access to water, transport and trading infrastructure such as roads and market buildings, can significantly impact how women spend their time each day – from collecting water to selling goods at market.

In his report ahead of CSW63, United Nations Secretary General, António Guterres said “In [SDG] target 5.4… there is an explicit acknowledgement of the importance of public services, infrastructure and social protection policies for recognising and valuing unpaid care and domestic work.

Throughout the world, this work is disproportionately carried out by women and girls. It sustains families, societies and economies, but remains poorly supported. As a result, women and girls face constraints in the realization of their rights to education, employment, participation, leisure and rest.”

Image of a woman in Nepal sitting at a sewing machine. She wears a bright blue top and green pants and has her left hand on the sewing thread.
A woman sits at her sewing machine. Alice Floyd / IWDA

Measuring women’s time

One of the keys to understanding  women’s infrastructure, public services and social protection system needs and priorities, is measuring how they use their time.

We know that women work more hours overall than men when paid and unpaid work are counted. More of women’s work is unpaid and informal – tasks associated with caring, domestic duties and collecting resources for the home disproportionately fall to women and girls.

This informal and unpaid work lies outside most current economic, social and poverty measures, making this work invisible, and impossible to plan services for.

A solution: individual level measurement of time-use

Measuring how individuals use their time each day is a powerful way of making visible gendered differences across activities. From who collects firewood, to the number of hours spent per day in paid employment – this data can give valuable insight into the gendered differences of time-use.

Time-use is one of 15 key dimensions of life measured by the IDM survey – a new individual level, gender sensitive measure of multidimensional poverty that can act as a powerful complement to existing data by generating granular, gender-sensitive information about the lives of individuals.

The primary aim of the time-use dimension is to understand total labour burden by measuring categories of time-use. Participants are asked a series of questions relating to three themes:

  • time spent on paid and unpaid work
  • the extent of concurrent demands on time (the extent of multitasking)
  • time available for rest, leisure and personal care

By asking questions at the individual level about time-use, the IDM can improve understanding of how time is used by men and women around the world. It can show the extent to which certain activities (such as unpaid care work) fall disproportionately to women and girls and how this varies between rural, urban and informal settlements.

By collecting data about 15 dimensions of life – including time-use – from each individual respondent, the IDM can also make visible how time is linked to deprivations in other areas of life, such as education, access to water and sanitation services, energy/fuel use, or paid work.

A woman in Nepal stands with her back to the camera, in the middle of the entrance to her house. She is holding onto her young child and they're both looking out at the garden.
A woman cares for her child at home. Alice Floyd / IWDA

Supporting governments and CSOs

Individual-level data about 15 key dimensions of life, combined with demographic and geographic information, can highlight who is deprived, in which dimensions, and show links between deprivations. This detail can inform the development of targeted, effective policy. It can make the invisible visible, revealing patterns of deprivation linked to gendered roles and responsibilities in particular geographic areas, and how access to infrastructure, social protection and public services affects the lives of individuals and particular groups. This can provide powerful evidence and insights for policy makers, program designers, advocates and development practitioners about priorities for action.

For example, IDM data collected in Fiji showed an important connection between gendered responsibilities inside the household, access to fuel/energy and health outcomes.

Women are responsible for fetching fuel for cooking, as well as cooking for the household in Fiji. They are exposed to harmful cooking fumes for, on average, 1 hour and 45 minutes per day, compared to an average of 24 minutes per day for men.

This is an illustration, showing from left to right: a flame with lines rising vertically, 105 mins is at the top. Then there is an illustration of a woman, an illustration of a man, and a final flame with fume lines rising vertically and the text: 25 mins. This illustration represents average exposure time to harmful cooking fumes in Fiji.

Because of this higher exposure to fumes, women experience fume-related health problems at twice the rate of men, and these health issues are more likely to be severe.

This example demonstrates the connection between gendered roles in the home, access to cooking fuel and health outcomes. It can provide valuable guidance to local or national governments looking to address women’s health and access to cleaner cooking options.

Through understanding connections like these, governments and CSOs can prioritise investment in systems, programs and infrastructure that will support women’s health, reduce gendered time burdens and support gender equality.

The IDM is a powerful tool for planning sustainable infrastructure investment that will help reduce gender inequality, and tracking its impacts. This granular picture can make visible barriers that are otherwise invisible, and support leaders to leave no one behind.

Download the full 4-page brief on time-use here, produced for CSW63.


Are you in New York for CSW63? Join our parallel event:

When: March 20, 2:30pm

Where: UN Church Building, Floor 10

Lily Be’Soer, Voice for Change (VfC) Director, will discuss findings from a VfC study on violence against women and girls in Jiwaka Province, Papua New Guinea. Women’s daily burden of work was identified by women as ‘slavery’ and the most serious form of violence they experienced.

Joanne Crawford, from the IWDA Individual Deprivation Measure (IDM) team, will share how the IDM can provide insights into disparity within the household, linked to gendered roles and responsibilities, by measuring poverty at the individual level.

More info here.