Irina Dincu, senior program specialist at the Centre of Excellence for Civil Registration and Vital Statistics. Photo by: CRVS

BARCELONA — Gender equality cannot be achieved unless women are accurately represented in country data, said Irina Dincu, senior program specialist at the Centre of Excellence for Civil Registration and Vital Statistics, or CRVS, systems, housed at the International Development Research Centre. In many low- and middle-income countries, this is not happening, she added.

“There is no gender equality if half of your population is invisible from vital statistics. And if you're not getting the data right and counting your people — including the women and girls — you're not going to get to the 2030 agenda,” Dincu said, explaining that a CRVS system is critical for collecting and compiling that information and an important tool for empowering women.

“In terms of government planning using population data, governments should lean on reliable evidence, and not on surveys that are meant to bridge the gap when there is a failure of statistical systems.”

— Irina Dincu, senior program specialist, Centre of Excellence for Civil Registration and Vital Statistics

According to the World Health Organization, a CRVS system is used to record statistics on vital events including births, deaths, marriages, and divorces.

“It rests upon us as a community of practice to find some innovative solutions around civil registration and help women be protected through their life course, and become visible in terms of vital statistics, which can have a significant impact on their lives,” Dincu said.

Speaking with Devex, Dincu explained the difference adequate CRVS systems can make, particularly for women and girls, and how the development community can ensure every country is using the system to its full potential.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

How do CRVS systems work and how do they help governments?

CRVS systems have two components: CR which is civil registration and VS is vital statistics collection and analysis. The CR component can happen regardless of the vital statistics component and many LMICs nowadays are in a situation where they have a reasonably well-performing civil registration system, but they are not able to generate vital statistics. Or, if they are able to generate vital statistics, they are not analyzing or using them.

On the CR part, civil registration is a driver for accessing fundamental rights. It establishes the legal identity of the person from birth, and gives the individual the capacity to have a name, know their parents, and establish family ties. This is important for society and critically important for an individual. Civil registration also protects individuals while entering in legal contracts, such as, for example marriage, and closes their legal identity after they die.

It's also a way for states to fulfill the obligations they have contracted when ratifying human rights instruments that specifically guarantee such rights — such as the right to a name, the right to know your parents, the right to marry, etc. For example, in the absence of exercising the right to legally identify through birth registration, other rights such as the right to education, health, and social protection might be significantly hampered, particularly for females.

Boundless Potential explains why improving CRVS systems must be part of efforts to achieve gender equality. Data2x via YouTube.

Why are CRVS systems an important part of a government’s national statistics collection efforts?

For the national statistics in particular, I think CRVS systems are important because they provide population data. It is extremely cost-effective, reliable, and timely, and, if it is digitized, it can provide real-time data, which is helpful if you want to achieve the 2030 [sustainable development] Agenda.

It gives you accurate information on your population and on the population dynamics. For example, it can give you a level of accuracy geographically that you cannot get through a survey. By the time you [end a survey], the data is no longer accurate because the time lag between data collection and the analysis means that the data is out of date.

Also it is a survey, and surveys deal with samples. In terms of government planning using population data, governments should lean on reliable evidence, and not on surveys that are meant to bridge the gap when there is a failure of statistical systems. The cost-effectiveness in implementing a housing program, education program, transportation, or infrastructure, is relatively based on evidence. But if you have a 10% difference between population estimates and the real population data you don’t have an accurate picture of your population’s needs and so your program might not respond to actual needs.

In public health — with adolescent pregnancy reduction, immunization services, causes of death — you can look at the vital statistics component of a CRVS system and this would give you accurate data on mortality and morbidity. This data will be disaggregated by sex, age group, and geography. This is extremely important granular data and one of the most important and powerful tools for evidence-based planning.

Does every country have a CRVS system?

Yes, but many do not have fully functional systems. In my view, the reasons are complex. Maybe there’s not enough resources to actually make the system functional, viable, and sustainable over time; maybe governments are not allocating enough funding; maybe civil registration relies on other systems. For example, in LMICs, transportation can be a problem so people may not be able to reach civil registration services, so the services are not reaching the population.

Another critical factor is the community. As a CRVS community of practice, so far we have failed to work closely with, and understand, the communities to whom we are providing services.

Are there any specific benefits to be had from such systems specifically for women and girls?

Yes, absolutely. If you're looking in terms of birth registrations globally, you’re not going to see significant differences between boys and girls because there was so much advocacy and campaigning by organizations for birth registration.

For example, in terms of education, birth registration significantly facilitates access to education, in particular to secondary school. And why am I talking about secondary school? Because UNICEF, rightly so, advocated and convinced governments to facilitate access to school at age 6 without the birth certificate. But you have many LMICs, in Africa, for example, where you need a birth certificate to go to secondary school.

But gender inequalities are more pronounced when it comes to marriage and divorce registration. We don't really know why people don't register their marriage, but this is an effective tool for women’s empowerment because it facilitates access to social benefits and social protection.

For example, a marriage certificate is evidence of a woman's ability to legally claim inheritance rights and a divorce certificate facilitates access to a pension, child support, alimony, and — very importantly in some societies — a fair share of the assets acquired in the union. Without marriage registration, you are leaving the woman — from late adolescence to late life — without a security net.

2020 is a crucial year for gender equality. What needs to be done so that the power of CRVS systems to this end can be unlocked?

In terms of gender equality and CRVS systems, it is really important for us to accelerate the progress of first estimating the coverage of marriage and death registration for half of the world’s population — namely women, and [second] to offer some innovations and solutions for governments who are struggling to address these issues.

There's a call for action [coming from] the international community, at the global and regional level, as well as at country level: advocate to [governments] to allocate and release domestic resources for CRVS system strengthening in the next two years.

Do you have a call to action for advocates who are working on UN Women’s “Generation Equality: Realizing women’s rights for an equal future” campaign?

Engage with the local communities where you live to make people understand why these vital events — marriage, births, deaths — need to be registered and translated into a piece of paper as proof of registration because this is what actually protects the individual through the life course and makes them protected and visible in the eyes of the law.

For more information on the gender dimensions of CRVS systems and why CRVS systems are so important for gender equality, click here.

This piece was developed in partnership with the Centre of Excellence for CRVS Systems and carried out with the aid of a grant from Global Affairs Canada and the International Development Research Centre, Ottawa, Canada. The views expressed herein do not necessarily represent those of Global Affairs Canada, IDRC, or its board of governors.

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.

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