UN Women’s Sarah Hendriks explains how new “action coalitions” will help achieve gender equality. Photo by: Dzilam Méndez / UN Women

Women’s History Month in March is a time to celebrate how far we’ve come and what’s left to do to advance gender equality. There has been important progress, but we also have to acknowledge that when it comes to women’s rights, there is a vast gulf between rhetoric and action.

With this in mind, UN Women has launched six “action coalitions” — made up of governments, civil society, international organizations, and the private sector — to channel the vast networks and energy of feminists and young people around the world into a transformative agenda to achieve concrete change.

They are a product of the Generation Equality Forum, a global movement for gender equality convened by UN Women and co-hosted by the governments of Mexico and France, in partnership with civil society and youths. The action coalitions will catalyze collective action, drive increased public and private investment, and develop measurable plans to deliver game-changing results for gender equality.

The 6 action coalitions:

• Gender-based violence.

• Economic justice and rights.

• Bodily autonomy and sexual and reproductive health and rights.

• Feminist action for climate justice.

• Technology and innovation for gender equality.

• Feminist movements and leadership.

The Generation Equality Forum in Mexico is taking place March 29-31. Join the movement and #ActForEqual.

Over the next five years, they will push for change in laws, policies, institutions, and behaviors while forging a path to help societies recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, which has disproportionately affected the lives and livelihoods of women and girls, particularly adding to their unpaid work burdens.

Any ambitious agenda with a set timeline needs to track and measure progress, which requires data. At the get-go, data exposes gaps and helps us set targets for how to address a given problem. In the implementation phase, data tells us if we’re on track. And at the end, it reveals whether we’ve ultimately achieved the change we sought.

In this way, data enables us to set benchmarks and measure progress. But more than that — as our experience from UN Women’s Women Count program powerfully shows — data can be an engine for change. Gender data will be at the heart of the action coalitions, driving progress in three key ways.

First, we will leverage the action coalitions to fill critical data gaps.

Take the action coalition on gender-based violence, for example. It is critical that governments gather more data on the prevalence of violence, that we know how many countries are ensuring access to support services for survivors, and that the level of finance going toward prevention programs is monitored. Implementing and tracking these measures is especially urgent in light of a “shadow pandemic” in which rates of violence against women are spiraling upward in the context of COVID-19.

Our experience tells us that filling critical data gaps can support evidence-based policymaking and transformative change for women. For example, in Georgia, data gleaned from a UN Women-supported study on violence against women helped usher in the country’s first sexual harassment law. Similarly, in Albania, a UN Women-supported study fueled advocacy that resulted in an amended Criminal Code definition of gender-based violence and expanded services for survivors, including the country’s first rape crisis center.

At the get-go, data exposes gaps and helps us set targets for how to address a given problem. In the implementation phase, data tells us if we’re on track. And at the end, it reveals whether we’ve ultimately achieved the change we sought.

Next, working with our partners, we will make better use of existing data for evidence-based policy advice and advocacy.

The action coalition on sexual and reproductive health and rights and the action coalition on economic justice and rights aim to improve women’s and girls’ access to essential services and benefits, such as family planning and cash transfers. We know that these policy efforts will only be successful if they reach the most marginalized women and girls, but policymakers often lack timely, disaggregated data that provide insights into who is benefiting and who is being left behind.

To address this, Women Count’s Counted and Visible Toolkit provides tips on using existing household survey data to create disaggregated gender statistics to inform policymaking.

In Kenya, county gender data sheets analyzed existing administrative data, demonstrating that women were not getting fair access to local services. This paved the way for three new policies: the County Gender Policy, an Empowerment Bill to support women’s livelihoods, and a Mainstreaming Bill to increase budget allocations for women’s empowerment. That’s real change, driven by data-backed advocacy. It’s a powerful combination.

Finally, we will harness the action coalitions to call for investments in gender data.

There are ambitious plans afoot to develop new methodologies, collect new data, and analyze existing data sources to catalyze progress on gender equality. This will only be possible if we can drive financial resources and much-needed political will to support these gender data efforts.

We are prioritizing this because the COVID-19 crisis has shown us, once again, what happens when we lack the data we need for gender-responsive policymaking. The social and economic fallout of COVID-19 has had disproportionate impacts on women and girls, but limited data and assessments have hampered global response and recovery efforts.

As a result, only a fraction of governments’ initial policy responses to COVID-19 were gender-responsive. Part of the problem is that men outnumber women 3 to 1 in governments’ COVID-19 task forces around the world.

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To address this, UN Women has been working to collect timely gender data through rapid gender assessments about the impact of COVID-19 on women and girls in dozens of countries, working with partners in government, civil society, and the private sector. And this is already influencing responses.

In the Maldives, the government used assessment findings to inform programs for assisting self-employed women and those working in the informal economy, to inform recovery plans for the social sector, and to create a dedicated team focused on safeguarding the rights of women and girls.

So much can be done when partners across the United Nations, governments, civil society, and the private sector work together. This year’s Generation Equality Forum in Mexico and France presents a once-in-a-decade opportunity to re-connect and recommit to ending gender inequality.

With gender data as both a target and a tool of the action coalitions’ efforts — to fill data gaps, promote evidence-based policy and advocacy, and ensure financing and political will — they will also be the fuel to turbocharge generational change on gender equality once and for all.

UN Women organized a special session on gender data at the Generation Equality Forum in Mexico with our partners on March 29. For more information on the draft actions being proposed as part of the action coalitions, click here.

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.

The views in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect Devex's editorial views.

About the author

  • Sarah Hendriks

    Sarah Hendriks leads the program, policy, and intergovernmental division at UN Women. Previously, Hendriks led the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's efforts to advance gender equality. Hendriks led a team of experts to develop the Gates Foundation's first-ever strategy on gender equality, driving new investment to women's economic empowerment.