Ekaterine Skhiladze, deputy public defender for the nation of Georgia. Photo by: Mika Mansukhani via Twitter

NEW YORK — Ekaterine Skhiladze, deputy public defender for the nation of Georgia, started advocating for legal action on preventing and prosecuting sexual harassment in 2015, suspecting that the problem was underreported across the country.

“We needed some gender-sensitive data to show the scale of the problem and to use it as a tool of advocacy.”

— Ekaterine Skhiladze, Georgian deputy public defender

Skhiladze quickly encountered obstacles: There was no available data to show that sexual harassment was, in fact, pervasive and required government attention. And her efforts to convince the Ministry of Justice — staffed mainly by men — that the government needed to address harassment fell flat.

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“They were saying, ‘We do not have this problem, so we do not need any regulation in our legislation. Show me the numbers.’ At that time, we didn’t have numbers and there were just a few cases. Women were approaching our office once or twice a year about sexual harassment in the workplace,” Skhiladze continued.

Comprehensive, publicly available gender data — information collected and presented by sex as a primary classification — can help further progress on gender equality by tracking gains, and monitoring setbacks in many areas, from women’s representation in government to women’s access to mobile phones.

But leading gender data organizations such as Data2X report that despite advancements, the “data picture is imbalanced.” Both financial restrictions and political reluctance continue to limit the timely collection of strong gender data, interviews with government statisticians, public officials, and data experts show.

‘Tough decisions’

In Guinea, for example, the nonprofit Open Data Watch has found that while there is good technical capacity for civil registration systems to function well, women’s voices remain underrepresented.

“Beyond the technical issues with collecting gender data, there are also cultural ones,” said Deirdre Appel, program manager at Open Data Watch. “There is still a lack of birth registration because of the norms around the role of the woman in the household, and whether or not a woman can actually go and travel on her own to register the birth of her own child.”

Lack of sufficient funding, on the other hand, has impacted Jamaica’s ability to conduct certain surveys in a particular time frame. One example is a standard reproductive health survey, which should be conducted every five years, according to Leesha Delatie-Budair, deputy director-general of Jamaica’s statistical institute. The institute is developing a statistics “master plan” to improve planning and budgeting for their work.

The country’s status as a middle-income country has limited the amount of donor funding its statistics office can receive, according to Delatie-Budair.

“The priority is given to countries that are least developed and understandably so. However, sometimes there are mitigating factors that may result in the lack of access to funding. We are middle income, but we are also heavily indebted,” Delatie-Budair said. “And we're also vulnerable. One hurricane, as there is now often in the Caribbean each year, can wipe out all of our government funding.”

“If there is a hurricane, then that will take precedence over a survey. There are tough decisions that have to be made, with regards to what gets what resources,” she continued.

Money and capacity challenges are also limiting gender data work for the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, according to Ola Awad, chief statistician of the organization. Gender data work remains piecemeal, even as the bureau has been disaggregating data based on sex since its inception in 1993, Awad explained. One major challenge is translating available gender data into a product that is fit for public consumption.

“We have such rich data, but we are unable to bring it on board,” said Awad, who has approached Open Data Watch to help publish data on informal labor and women, among other trends.

“We need someone to help and to say to policymakers: ‘See, these are now the vulnerable target groups that you have to put intervention programs and support towards,” Awad continued.

‘More power in our hands’

New partnerships across national statistical offices are one way Open Data Watch is trying to eliminate data collection and processing gaps.

The first meeting of the Africa Gender Data Network — a partnership with Data2X, Open Data Watch, and the U.N. Economic Commission for Africa — took place in November, convening data experts from 15 African countries. Several participants told Shaida Badiee, managing director of Open Data Watch, that they face challenges not on the importance of gender data, but on methods of collection and production.

“One focal point recounted how she struggled to make the case to add a necessary question to one of their surveys that would better capture a gender-sensitive issue. The challenges from the receiving end of this request included lengthening the survey and costs associated with it,” Badiee wrote in an email to Devex.

There has been some recent progress in Georgia on securing better gender data on harassment and other issues like femicide. The public defender’s office has been recording and analyzing their own statistics on gender-based discrimination since 2014, and Georgia adopted a new legal provision that prohibits sexual harassment in February 2019. It remains too soon to say how new legislation will ultimately impact data collection and reports of harassment, Skhiladze said. 

Initial research shows that sexual harassment in Georgia is as high as 40%, Skhiladze said, keeping in line with global trends. There has also been a small uptick in reported sexual harassment cases, according to Skhiladze.

“We decided, let’s have some numbers and we tried advocacy from a different way. I cannot say statistics is something that can change the mind of everyone, but still we needed to somehow collect more evidence, to have more power in our hands,” Skhiladze said.

“We needed some gender-sensitive data to show the scale of the problem and to use it as a tool of advocacy,” she said.

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

  • Amy Lieberman

    Amy Lieberman is the U.N. Correspondent for Devex. She covers the United Nations and reports on global development and politics. Amy previously worked as a freelance reporter, covering the environment, human rights, immigration, and health across the U.S. and in more than 10 countries, including Colombia, Mexico, Nepal, and Cambodia. Her coverage has appeared in the Guardian, the Atlantic, Slate, and the Los Angeles Times. A native New Yorker, Amy received her master’s degree in politics and government from Columbia’s School of Journalism.