International Women’s Day – celebrating progress towards closing the gender data gap

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Image of a young woman sitting on a stoop, looking up. She is wearing a purple top, and the wall behind her is a light pink. She has a pensive and content look on her face.
Alice Floyd / IWDA

Friday, 8 March is International Women’s Day – an opportunity for the global community to acknowledge and celebrate the progress made throughout history towards gender equality.

This year’s focus is balance for better – focussing on the work that still needs to be done to forge a gender-equal world.

There are so many role models, icons and legends in the global women’s movement that we could discuss, but this year we’ve decided to focus on some of the key people and key moments from the last 25 years that have significantly advanced efforts to balance gender data.

We’re celebrating the people and moments that have played powerful roles in closing the gender data gap.

Gender data is crucial to our understanding of the lives that women lead. From the number of women in the formal economy, to the amount of time women spend cooking, collecting fuel or caring, – data can make the invisible visible, and help ensure that policies and programs developed by governments, businesses and CSOs positively advance the human rights of women and girls.

We’ve pulled together six key moments from the last 25 years that have driven momentum to close the gender data gap. Join us in celebrating International Women’s Day by sharing the moments you think have mattered most in closing the gender data gap, on Twitter.

The Fourth World Conference on Women. UN Photo / Milton Grant

1. 1995: The Beijing Platform for Action calls for sex-disaggregated data

The Fourth World Conference on Women, in September 1995 was a historic meeting for women’s rights, bringing together 17,000 participants and 30,000 activists from around the world. After two weeks of discussion and debate, the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action was agreed – “the most progressive blueprint ever for advancing women’s rights”.

Included in the declaration, was a call for national, regional and international data to “ensure that statistics related to individuals are collected, compiled, analysed and presented by sex and age and reflect problems, issues and questions related to women and men in society”.

This declaration sparked a lot of the efforts to close the gender data gap, that continue to this day.

2. 1998: India runs its first time-use survey

Time-use surveys are a powerful tool for governments and planners to understand how people – regardless of gender – spend their time. Feminist economists have long pointed to the importance of these surveys to acknowledge the full extent of women’s work – including unpaid care, domestic work, volunteering and the collection of household resources like water, fuel and food. Without this work, formal economies could not function, and it is clear from a growing body of data that when informal work is counted, women work longer hours than men.

Time-use surveys have been in use by a handful of European countries for decades, however the Beijing Platform for Action resulted in a new focus for all countries to collect this data. In 1998, India undertook its first time-use survey – reaching over 18,000 people across 6 states. In the years that followed, more countries ran time-use surveys, such as Benin (1998), Mauritius (2003) and Costa Rica (2004), however only 65 countries currently collect time use data, this gap remains to be closed.

3.    2007: launch of the Global Gender Statistics Program

The Global Gender Statistics Program was launched in 2007. It is mandated by the UN Statistical Commission, implemented by the United Nations Statistics Division and coordinated by the Inter-Agency and Expert Group on Gender Statistics.

The main goal of the program is to enhance countries’ capacities to collect, disseminate and use reliable statistics and indicators to assess the lives of men and women in gender-sensitive and policy relevant areas.

The Program:

  •  improves coherence among existing initiatives on gender statistics through international coordination
  • develops and promotes methodological guidelines in existing domains as well as in emerging areas of gender concern
  • strengthens national statistical and technical capacity for the production, dissemination and use of gender relevant data
  • facilitates access to gender relevant data and metadata through a newly developed data portal (forthcoming).

4.    2013: agreement on a Minimum Set of Gender Indicators

A key achievement of the Global Gender Statistics Program, has been the establishment of a Minimum Set of Gender Indicators – comprised of 52 quantitative and 11 qualitative indicators. These indicators address the key policy concerns identified in the Beijing Platform for Action and “represent a significant step forward in identifying priorities in the production of harmonized gender statistics and facilitating national, regional and international assessment of progress towards gender equality.

Image of meeting at the United Nations to discuss the Sustainable Development Goals. This photo shows the two main screens behind the UN podium with SDG 1: No Poverty projected onto them.
Sustainable Development Goals announcement at the United Nations in New York. Cia Pak / UN Photo

5. 2015: Sustainable Development Goals call for gender data to track progress

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – also known as the 2030 Agenda or the Global Goals – are an ambitious framework for people and planet. They were agreed by 193 countries in 2015, with the unifying call to action: leave no one behind.

Gender equality is both a stand-alone goal – SDG 5 – and mainstreamed across the other sixteen goals.

Work to achieve the goals is underway, with progress already being made in some areas. What is missing for many of the goals however, is comprehensive gender data to track progress against indicators.

Without gender-disaggregated data, we simply cannot track whether policies and programs are improving women’s lives or not. At the time of signing, while the SDGs prioritised gender equality, much of the data needed to measure progress against the SDGs did not exist.

According to a report by UN Women, in 2016 the global community:

–       lacked data to monitor 80% of the indicators for SDG 5

–       had adequate information for less than ¼ of key performance indicators to monitor gender-specific elements of the SDGs

Nevertheless, the SDGs continued the momentum to close the gender data gap by prioritising the gaps that must be filled by 2020 to track SDG progress.

Image of UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka speaking at the launch of
Phumzile Mlambo Nguka launches 'Making Every Woman and Girl Count' at the UN General Assembly, 2016. UN Women / Ryan Brown

6. 2016: UN Women launches Making Every Woman and Girl Count

This flagship program was launched during the 71st session of the UN General Assembly in 2016. Making Every Woman and Girl Count is a five-year, $65 million program spanning 12 pathfinder countries, with the goal of generating, prioritising and using gender data.

The program was created to “assist countries in making evidence-based and targeted policies to fully implement and track progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)”.

UN Women Executive Director, Phumzile Mlambo Ngcuka stressed at the program launch, “without gender data, there is no credible path to achieving the SDGs. Right now, we do not have the data to monitor 80% of the indicators for SDG5, on gender equality.”

Papa Seck, UN Women Head Statistician emphasized the influence this Program could have: “If policies are a destination, then data is the GPS to get us there. With adequate gender data then we can plan and optimize our efforts accordingly, adopting not only the best policies but also the most cost-effective ones.”

Image of Dr Mandy Yap and Papa Seck at the launch of the Centre for Excellence in Gender Statistics
IDM Researcher, Mandy Yap and UN Women Head of Statistics, Papa Seck at the launch of the Centre for Excellence in Gender Statistics.

Looking ahead: global efforts to close the gender data gap

The energy and momentum to close the gender data gap continues. Governments and Civil Society Organisations are investing in the expertise, research and collaboration needed to close the gender data gap.

As we continue to build on these foundations, here are just a handful of current players, investments and actions that we are greatly excited by:

·      Mexico: Global Centre of Excellence for Gender Statistics was launched in 2018 “to research and produce quality gender data… it will enhance south-south cooperation and allow us to better follow up on the implementation of the SDGs”

·      Australia: in 2016, then Minister for Foreign Affairs, Julie Bishop, said “gender equality is utterly essential to sustainable growth and development. To track progress, we need data… and gender-related data is simply not available and there is not enough agreement on data collection methodologies”. The Australian Government is now funding and contributing to various initiatives to close the gender data gap – from the Individual Deprivation Measure, to UN Women’s Making Every Woman and Girl Count.

·      Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation: Melinda Gates has repeatedly stressed we cannot close the gender gap without closing the gender data gap and said “we can’t make good decisions without good data”. In 2016, the Foundation announced a fund of $80 million to close gender data gaps and accelerate progress for women and girls.

·      Key global collaborations and individuals: From Data 2X, Equal Measures 2030, the Global Platform for Sustainable Development Data, and the partnership between IWDA and ANU to deliver the IDM Program, there is great energy and momentum around the world to close the gender data gap. Individuals like Papa Seck, Shaida Baidee, Sarah Hendricks, Caroline Criado-Perez, Francesca Grum, Caren Grown, Julie Bishop, Emily Courey Pryor, Joanne Crawford, Sharon Bessell, Kylie Fisk, Helen Suich, Mandy Yap, Trang Pham and Janet Hunt are forging partnerships and developing the next data sources to ensure we leave no woman or girl behind.

On International Women’s Day we stand on the shoulders of those who have come before us, and we proudly continue the work towards a more gender equal world.