According to experts, donor misalignment and weak plans for in-country data use are where gender data progress is more likely to get stuck. Photo by: Reuters

MISSOULA, Mont. — The salaries of two professional athletes could close the gender data financing gap in low-income countries, said Shaida Badiee, managing director of Open Data Watch.

It’s something she says to grab attention and illustrate an idea shared by many experts active in the gender data space: There are multiple reasons for the gender data gaps that existed long before COVID-19 — but financing shouldn’t be one of them.

As the pandemic continues, calls grow louder for sex-disaggregated data to guide policy and address impacts of a health crisis that could force an additional 96 million people into extreme poverty by 2021, 47 million of whom are women and girls.

This article is part of Focus on: Gender Data

This focus area, powered by UN Women, highlights 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.

Building a “core gender data system” capable of generating the gender data indicators for the Sustainable Development Goals should be a priority for all stakeholders, Badiee told Devex. But the surveys, censuses, and administrative systems included in a core gender data system have many other applications, making it challenging to break down the exact cost of just gender data.

“You cannot do an incremental cost of saying ‘This statistical system costs $50 million, of which $25 million is gender data.’ It's very difficult to do that…I mean, it doesn't make sense,” Badiee said.

“Existing funds that are being allocated for countries to improve their development to support the SDGs should allocate a small amount, even 1%, to gender data. Imagine 1% of $82 billion.”

— Shaida Badiee, managing director, Open Data Watch

Instead, a 2019 “State of Gender Data Financing” paper produced by Data2X, Open Data Watch, and Paris21 sought to attribute the full cost of data collection to the core gender data system, while recognizing that the benefits would be shared across many domains. The current gap in financing needed to sustain a core gender data system in low-income countries is between $170 million to $240 million a year between now and 2030, the paper found. Filling this funding gap would enable data collection activities for all 68 gender-relevant indicators in the SDGs.

Still, the question is not necessarily just one of funding, but rather the improved availability, reliability, and use of data. Donor misalignment and weak plans for in-country data use are where gender data progress is more likely to get stuck, experts told Devex.

‘Imagine 1% of $82 billion’

There is a wide range of gender data collected by statisticians — via household income and expenditure surveys, censuses, civil registration and vital statistics, standalone surveys, and more. It can be expensive and time-consuming, depending on the method, sample size, and research questions, explained Jessamyn Encarnacion, a statistics specialist at UN Women who formerly worked for 18 years at the Philippine statistics office.

The population, age, and sex structure in a country define how big of a sample size it would need for a survey. “So, for example, you will have some countries able to produce a time-use survey for $200,000 at the national level … but I’ve also seen a figure of $1.2 million to conduct a national time use survey just because of the sampling design needs of that particular country,” she said.

Gender data isn’t the only variety of statistics that doesn’t attract the funding stakeholders might wish. Investments in statistics are only half of what is needed to support SDG monitoring, according to research from Paris21. In 2018, official development assistance to data and statistics comprised 0.34% of total development support, the research showed.

Few new funds mention gender-sensitive areas, and even fewer mention gender data, Baidee said. She pointed to the International Development Association, the World Bank’s fund for low-income countries, which saw a replenishment of $82 billion in December 2019. 

Data is included as a priority in IDA19 replenishment documents, “but if you open that up and read and read and read, somewhere down there you will see a little mention of gender and gender data. Existing funds that are being allocated for countries to improve their development to support the SDGs should allocate a small amount, even 1%, to gender data. Imagine 1% of $82 billion,” Badiee said.

But an increase in donor commitment to gender data can lead to a problematic piecemeal approach, when donors choose a “favorite topic,” Badiee said. One donor might only want to fund collection of data on violence against women, another on economic empowerment, and another on women in agriculture.

“What the countries try to do, they're interested in the funding, right? So they try to align themselves to those interest areas. So they adopt a piecemeal approach and those piecemeal approaches at the country level, you know, it just doesn't add up,” Badiee said.

The way gender data financing is reported in-country also needs to change, Encarnacion noted. When conducting assessments to design projects in 12 countries for UN Women’s data-focused Women Count program, “it was only in Bangladesh that we were able to specifically identify how much is being invested by the government in gender statistics,” Encarnacion said.

Part of the Women Count program includes helping governments create gender-responsive budgeting. Kenya, for example, now ensures that government budgeting deliberately includes line items on gender statistics as well as other SDG demands.

“We know that without that kind of information, the more it hinders accountability of duty-bearers to provide the needed funding for gender statistics,” Encarnacion said.

“When we understand what we are collecting, then it becomes essential.”

— Diana Byanjeru, senior gender statistics officer, Uganda Bureau of Statistics

‘The issue is not the production, the issue is the use’

It would be better to have more money than less money for gender data, but the cost argument as a barrier “doesn't fly so well with me,” said Johannes Jütting, executive head of the Paris21 secretariat within the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

The argument suggests that more money would fix the problem, he said. In reality, the barriers are much more complex: “Let's assume we find a billionaire who says, ‘OK, I'm happy to do a costing exercise, and I'm happy to chip in… and they would have all the money needed, and I'm still convinced that that wouldn't change dramatically the issue. The issue is not the production. The issue is the use, the issue is the uptake, and the impact and the action following, based on policy.”

This requires stronger systems that integrate gender-oriented goals into budget policies, programs, and processes. Many countries have national strategies on gender equality, for example, but these plans are not well linked to data needs, several experts told Devex.

Strengthening those links can lead to increased domestic funding for gender data, said Diana Byanjeru, a senior gender statistics officer at the Uganda Bureau of Statistics. For Byanjeru, “it is not so much the cost, but more the advocacy. It would be the buy-in. When we understand what we are collecting, then it becomes essential.”

Uganda has a national strategy for gender statistics and strong support from the government, she added, “However it’s not exactly cross-cutting through to the management of various ministries, departments, and agencies. Not all are on board,” she said.

Byanjeru continues to engage key actors across government, private sector, and civil society. Cost does come up as a concern, she said, but whenever possible, those who work in gender statistics should look for cost-effective ways to mainstream gender into other surveys. Uganda has the support of UN Women on standalone time-use and violence against women surveys, which can be time-consuming and costly. By clearly articulating the benefits of this data collection, “we should be able to also get buy-in from government so these become regular surveys.”

Stronger alignment between data strategy, use, and policymaking is one of the main solutions brought forward in the 2019 “State of Gender Financing” paper.

“Even if no new money is allocated for gender data, but there are better alignments between the priorities, we really think that would be a boost in the years to come for more domestic resource mobilization for gender data,” Badiee said. “You really have to go what we call the last mile of making sure that this data is really used and can demonstrate that it can have an impact.”

Building a more trusted data ecosystem is one way to create this alignment, according to Paris21’s Jütting. The Bern Network on Financing Data for Development, a multistakeholder alliance that promotes more and better financing for data, is in the process of creating a global platform to complement existing aid management tools. The Clearing-house for Financing Development Data aims to improve the monitoring of data investments.

The platform would answer things such as: “Where does FAO invest? In which countries, in which sectors, for which kind of purposes? Is it CRVS? Is it census?” Jütting explained. On the other hand, it would present the data demands of countries to encourage funding coordination and alignment with national strategies. The Bern Network will showcase examples of user and technical features of the platform at the virtual U.N. World Data Forum in October.

In the meantime, there are many other institutions investing in gender data, such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Hewlett Foundation, Jütting said.

“And so we know more, but we don't know enough,” he said. “It’s a more profound, deep issue that we need to address. It’s the capacity of producing, it’s the capacity of using, the capacity of planning, and making communication, that is really needed.”

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

  • Kelli Rogers

    Kelli Rogers has worked as an Associate Editor and Southeast Asia Correspondent for Devex, with a particular focus on gender. Prior to that, she reported on social and environmental issues from Nairobi, Kenya. Kelli holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri, and has reported from more than 20 countries.