'Statistics that can and will be used': Pacific Islands devise new gender data plans

A woman selling produce at a market in Chuuk State, Micronesia. Photo by: Asian Development Bank / CC BY-NC-ND

CANBERRA — In the Pacific, passionate people from a range of government offices are advocating for greater collection and use of sex-disaggregated statistics.

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.

Country-level national action plans — which might call for greater opportunities and equality for women and girls — can help power this work, while the Sustainable Development Goals reinforce the need for data to show progress.

Despite this growing engagement, the task of convincing others in government that gender statistics are an important, investment-worthy resource remains a hardship, several officials told Devex. Political will, stretched resources, and limited budgets continue to pose a challenge in a region where gender data collection is still largely a nascent endeavor.

The “Pacific Roadmap on Gender Statistics,” released in July by UN Women, aims to help support the work of advocates who are leading the way.

“We need to focus on statistics that can and will be used.”

— Bunker Ruluked, gender analyst, Ministry of Community and Cultural Affairs in Palau

“One thing we wanted to make sure was that it doesn’t add burden,” said Sara Duerto Valero, regional advisor on gender statistics at UN Women's Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific. “We wanted to create a tool for people to identify priorities and help them get there with their commitments and national strategies,” she told Devex.

Created in collaboration with The Pacific Community, or SPC, the roadmap is a toolkit to help Pacific countries in identifying gender data priorities linked to broader initiatives, including the SDGs. The roadmap aims to assist countries to identify their gender data priorities, enhance the quality and timeliness of their data, support its use in analysis, and enable dissemination and learning.

Priority thematic areas identified for the Pacific are gender and the environment, economic empowerment, violence against women, women in decision-making, and education. 

Ideally, the roadmap will kickstart timely data collection, advancing the use of gender data to support better policy development throughout the 16 Pacific Island countries that participated in its creation, Duerto Valero said.

“There was a lot of back and forth discussion, but everybody that participated in these meetings were so engaged. For me, working with these countries in the Pacific is so refreshing because of their support,” she said.

With the roadmap now released, the challenge is now with Pacific countries to gather the support required.

Regional priorities and challenges in Micronesia

Norleen Oliver, a gender development officer and chief of social affairs for the government of the Federated States of Micronesia, told Devex that challenges in FSM are compounded by the structure of government. There is no legislation requiring subnational levels to report and provide gender-disaggregated data at the national level, Oliver said, adding that systems simply don’t exist to support collection at the state level, either.

“Some of the state-level governments do not have the personnel or resources responsible to collect the gender data,” she said. “For example, [the states of] Kosrae and Chuuk do not have a gender specialist or officer to be interested in the collection of such data.”

Oliver kept these national challenges in mind when consulting on the creation of the roadmap for the Pacific. FSM advocated for the inclusion of guidelines to support the collection, production, analysis, and use of the gender data for better policy development.

“FSM also prioritized the collection of data to support its economic development and advancement for women, leadership roles, and women and environment,” she said. “These are priorities of the FSM.”

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While Oliver believes the roadmap is an important resource for supporting change in FSM in the creation and use of gender-disaggregated data, she is aware that there will be challenges in its implementation.

“Some of the steps to implement the roadmap included the need to first introduce the roadmap to the whole of the governments of the FSM national and state level,” she said. “It also would need resources to introduce it to each of the states to which each government needs to endorse and adopt.”

And there is the possibility that state governments may not endorse the roadmap. “Because this is information that has never been collected, the states might not see the value of having it,” Oliver said.

To overcome these barriers, Oliver said the national gender office will need to work with the national statistics office to bring this roadmap to the leadership at both the national and the state levels.

The response to COVID-19 is already providing an opportunity to educate how the availability of gender data helps in improving program design and planning, which ultimately improves people's lives, Oliver said.

“COVID-19 has really highlighted the importance of having gender-disaggregated data,” she said. “Funding is pouring into the country, and donor agencies want to see that support is going to the most vulnerable populations. And to demonstrate that these programs are inclusive of these populations, gender-disaggregated data is needed to show how much is going to women and girls, disabled, low-income households, and so on.”

Regional priorities and challenges in Palau

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Bunker Ruluked, a gender analyst with the Ministry of Community and Cultural Affairs in Palau, was involved in the creation of the roadmap for his country. It was a process he described as unique for its ability to bring together the Pacific statistical community on the topic of gender data.

“We need to focus on statistics that can and will be used, so to come up with a wishlist with producers and users of statistics in the Pacific is an important step,” he told Devex.

While this regional wishlist was important, there was a specific inclusion they wanted: culture.

“We really pushed for the inclusion of culture inserted into the roadmap,” Ruluked explained. “We prioritize culture, and we prioritize gender equality. So we have to find a way for these priorities to be combined.”

The roadmap encourages Pacific countries to identify “cultural realities” as a way to remedy discriminatory cultural practices that hinder gender equality.

“How do we capture the reality of society?” Ruluked asked. “It is defined by culture. Culture is unique and defines gender roles, so if we can find ways to measure that, it will identify many of the issues we face as a society.”

But reporting on culture from a gender lens will be on a voluntary basis only. In Palau, part of the process for implementing the roadmap will require consulting with the country’s gender office to identify priorities relating to gender and culture, and developing a data module.

“We know what is happening here in our country and the different practices taking place,” Ruluked said. “It’s a matter of thinking about which ones we target and how we capture it.”

In Palau, Ruluked explained that SDG indicator reporting is a big priority, and Ruluked has mapped 40 gender indicators requiring data within the SDGs that can be supported currently within Palau. Initial work on implementing the roadmap will likely involve improving the quality of this data.

“The reason I am starting with the SDGs is there is already a government working group created — so we can utilize this to support the implementation,” he said. “On my assessment, what is being produced requires a lot of work to get to the standard required to support.”

The main barrier to the implementation of the roadmap, Ruluked said, is the creation of an implementation team specific for it — and to ensure they all carry their weight.

“But if we have a good implementation plan, it will go through quite easily,” he 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

  • Lisa Cornish

    Lisa Cornish is a Senior Reporter based in Canberra, where she focuses on the Australian aid community. Lisa formerly worked with News Corp Australia as a data journalist for the national network and was published throughout Australia in major metropolitan and regional newspapers, including the Daily Telegraph in Melbourne, Herald Sun in Melbourne, Courier-Mail in Brisbane, and online through news.com.au. Lisa additionally consults with Australian government providing data analytics, reporting and visualization services. Lisa was awarded the 2014 Journalist of the Year by the New South Wales Institute of Surveyors.