Opinion: We need to close the gender data gap for a more equitable future for all

Women wait in line at a health center in Dogo village in Niger. Photo by: Ollivier Girard / European Union / EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid / CC BY-NC-ND

We know that having data means having power. If it didn’t, Big Tech would be out of business by now. But while we have a plethora of data on people’s shopping habits, for example, we still don’t have good data collection and analysis of statistics on equality and sustainability.

A lot of data is either completely missing or irregular when it comes to tracking the Sustainable Development Goals, an Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development report found in 2017. This is hugely apparent when focusing just on the gender-related SDGs, with 2019 seeing only 31% of the data required for monitoring them.

What does this mean for those working in the international development sector? Decisions around funding allocations and program structures are not being made in the most effective way possible, because vital data is just not there. There are great initiatives, such as UN Women’s Women Count program, which is working to not only fill data gaps but to have data used more systematically by countries. But we are still left, in the short term, with incomplete or missing data on some of the most pressing issues, such as women’s unpaid labor.

Quality data is critical to activists who could use it to support their cases for change against oppressive governments, among other reasons. Saudi Arabian activists campaigning for gender equality, for example, could use anonymized data to strengthen their calls for change, without the negative repercussions for individual women we’ve too often seen there.

The use and power of data will only grow, so let’s work toward using it to make a more equitable future for all.

The Global Count is trying to change this reality by redefining how organizations working for gender equality make use of data. Women’s March Global launched a new poll on Jan. 21, the day of the annual global march. The Global Count aims to hear from women and gender-diverse people directly to ensure they are not ignored as organizations prepare for the global “reset” after COVID-19.

The poll, available in 15 languages, asks participants to rank the issues most pressing to them and their communities, as well as to cite organizations working on reproductive health and freedom, disability rights, immigrant rights, and other issues.

Data collection on this scale, and specifically on women’s human rights, is already produced by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairsstatistics division. However, this data is collected once every five years, meaning the information is consistently out-of-date. It can also have limited efficacy for grassroots movements that want to present evidence they need to secure program funding.

The Global Count is currently in the data collection phase, but we hope that once this is done, we will be able to use it to better inform organizations about what women and gender-diverse people want for their future. As of mid-February, we have had respondents from just over 135 countries and have seen an uptick in respondents from often hard-to-reach countries such as Russia — with over 2,000 in 24 hours.

Our partners, including CIVICUS, White Ribbon Alliance, CARE International, and GirlUp, are also committed to not only collecting this data but utilizing it to better inform their policies and programs. We will be able to map issues and organizations working in these areas on global and local levels, creating a public resource for small and large organizations. We can also use this information to better hold organizations and governments to account on whether their goals match the data on what is actually needed.

Take, for example, U.S. President Joe Biden’s recent repeal of the Mexico City Policy, otherwise known as the “global gag rule.” While the sexual and reproductive health and rights sector is relieved by Biden’s change in policy, organizations are also now facing how to reverse the policy’s harmful consequences over the last four years.

Biden repeals the 'global gag rule,' but next steps will be 'huge undertaking'

U.S. President Joe Biden has repealed the Mexico City Policy as one of his first executive actions in office. The policy's lingering effects, though, will take longer to unravel.

By hearing directly from women and gender-diverse people through the Global Count, we can start to map where sexual and reproductive health care access is of great concern to communities and then use this data to target funds and programs quickly and effectively. This could be extremely useful somewhere such as Kenya, for example, where health organizations have reported a spike in unsafe abortion practices — but the data to back up this anecdotal evidence is still scarce.

The Global Count is part of a wider picture to close the gender data gap, and more work on this is needed worldwide. Some necessary steps include ensuring states have the correct infrastructure to collect better gender data and equipping both large and small institutions with the ability to analyze data. The use and power of data will only grow, so let’s work toward using it to make a more equitable future for all.

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

About the author

  • Betsy Scolnik

    Betsy Scolnik is chair of the board of directors for Women’s March Global. She has had the opportunity to work for the world’s leading commercial and philanthropic organizations, with a focus on communications and content strategy delivering measurable change and impact. Prior to launching her own business, Betsy previously worked as director of content and distribution for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and as president of digital media for National Geographic.