Colombia makes intersectionality the focus of its data collection approach

An employee of the ministry of health wearing protective gear talks to a woman who will undergo a rapid test for COVID-19 in Bogota, Colombia. Photo by: Luisa Gonzalez / Reuters

WASHINGTON — Colombia’s gender data unit has adapted the way it collects information during the coronavirus pandemic to ensure it is capturing disaggregated data on how COVID-19 is impacting different groups of people, including women.

Colombia’s National Administrative Department of Statistics, known by the Spanish acronym DANE, is accustomed to administering lengthy questionnaires — with around 200 questions — to households in person. In the early days of the pandemic, data collection shifted to phone calls because home visits were not possible during quarantine.

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This required using listed phone numbers and asking fewer questions, “because if the questionnaire was so long, we were afraid they [wouldn’t] answer,” said Karen Andrea García Rojas, gender statistics adviser at DANE. “We took this situation as a learning opportunity to generate … some innovation in official statistics by creating new, permanent operations by phone.”

Although in-person survey data collection resumed in August, García Rojas said DANE will also continue conducting social pulse surveys by phone, in part because this model is much cheaper than putting staff members out in the field.

Data collected during the pandemic shows that women have been more impacted by coronavirus lockdowns and quarantine requirements as they are likely to work in the service sector, including in jobs that are not considered essential but require face-to-face contact. Domestic workers in Colombia are mostly women and have experienced a disproportionate rate of job loss.

Colombia’s gender data unit was formed in 2015 to boost the production of gender statistics.

Last year, in recognition of the need for even more granular data, DANE formed an additional unit to promote differential and intersectional approaches in its statistical production, inspired by the five Inclusive Data Charter principles from the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data. Known by the Spanish acronym GEDI, the unit is staffed by economists, psychologists, anthropologists, and external advisers including lawyers and geographers.

GEDI operates out of the office of DANE’s director to ensure its work receives attention at the highest level. Its intersectional approach includes gender but also other indicators such as citizenship or migration status, location, ethnicity, ability, income, and educational level.

“We are always looking [at] not reinforcing … stereotypes,” García Rojas said, noting the purpose of GEDI is to ensure “no one is left behind” when it comes to data collection.

COVID-19 delays gender data collection on Colombian border

Strict quarantine orders from the Colombian government have prevented CARE from conducting a planned rapid gender assessment. In the meantime, the international humanitarian organization has pivoted to aid in the response to COVID-19.

GEDI advises DANE’s technical areas on adaptation and adoption of methodologies that include the differential and intersectional approach to data collection in all stages of the statistical process. This can mean suggesting new questions or more inclusive language to gather more robust and accurate data. GEDI also develops guidelines for mainstreaming the differential and intersectional approach in all phases of DANE’s statistics production process.

DANE is constantly consulting toolkits and recommendations from other countries, organizations such as the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean and UN Women, and academics, García Rojas said, to ensure it is using the most up-to-date and innovative approaches. It works to determine how to best link a gender perspective with what is possible in terms of the collection and generation of sex-disaggregated data.

García Rojas said DANE faces more challenges in collecting gender-disaggregated data from some sectors because of the way different Colombian organizations and departments gather, analyze, and share data. The statistics office is currently working with other institutions involved with cases of violence against women — inluding police departments, health systems, and courts — to ensure any particular woman can be tracked from a data perspective across those entities.

“We are always looking [at] not reinforcing … stereotypes.”

— Karen Andrea García Rojas, gender statistics adviser, DANE

Land use records, which can be a source of contention in Colombia due to the country’s decadeslong internal conflict, are also difficult to assess in a gender-disaggregated manner.

“In the information that is part of other public institutions, part of national statistical systems, we have big challenges because they are not controlled by us,” García Rojas said. “We have the leading role, but the standardization of concepts and variables is always a big challenge, I think, in our region.”

García Rojas said DANE is working to increase its communication with the public to provide information about its data collection and better distribute its findings. As the office began its phone-based survey during the pandemic, it conducted a large public relations campaign using television ads to explain the initiative and hopefully increase participation.

There has also been an effort to produce more editorial materials that include DANE’s analysis, rather than just annexes with statistical information that are not accessible to the general public or to policymakers.

Devex, with support from our partner UN Women, is exploring how data is being used to inform policy and advocacy to advance gender equality. Gender data is crucial to make every woman and girl count. Visit the Focus on: Gender Data page for more. Disclaimer: The views in this article do not necessarily represent the views of UN Women.

About the author

  • Teresa Welsh

    Teresa Welsh has reported from more than 10 countries and is currently based in Washington, D.C. Her coverage focuses on Latin America; U.S. foreign assistance policy; fragile states; food systems and nutrition; and refugees and migration. Prior to joining Devex, Teresa worked at McClatchy's Washington Bureau and covered foreign affairs for U.S. News and World Report. She was a reporter in Colombia, where she previously lived teaching English. Teresa earned bachelor of arts degrees in journalism and Latin American studies from the University of Wisconsin.