Expert voices Vol 21, No. 03 - March 2017

Data to help measure gender equality

This month, gender equality and data to improve people’s lives will take center stage at UN Headquarters in New York, with the UN Statistical Commission taking place, immediately followed by the Commission on the Status of Women. As it was some 30 years ago since UN DESA initiated the work on gender statistics, we asked Francesca Grum, Chief of the Social and Housing Statistics Section in UN DESA’s Statistics Division, how it all got started and how data plays a role for women’s empowerment.

This month, the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) will hold its 61st session. How does data play a role for women’s empowerment?

“In order to design and implement fit-for purpose gender policies based on facts, assess progress towards gender equality and women’s empowerment and keep governments accountable, relevant, timely and high-quality data and statistics are needed.

Data allow the identification and localization of gaps between women and men, as well as girls and boys, in critical areas of well-being. Data support the collective understanding of the causes and consequences of these gaps and inform the design, implementation and assessment of policies and programmes to address and reduce them.

Without data, evidence-based decision making aiming at empowering women and girls, improving their lives and the lives of their families and communities, would not be possible.”

What are some of the key areas in which you collect statistics to measure gender equality?

“UN DESA’s Statistics Division has been collecting, analyzing and disseminating gender statistics and providing an assessment of progress towards the goal of gender equality and women’s empowerment since the 1980s, including through the publication The World’s Women: Trends and Statistics first published in 1991 and most recently in 2015.

The World’s Women publications have been published every 5 years presenting a statistical analysis of the situation of women in comparison to men and highlighting gender gaps in a broad range of areas of concern including poverty, health, education, work, power and decision making, violence, environment and population/family.

The Statistics Division, in collaboration with specialized agencies, also maintains the Minimum Set of Gender Indicators data portal, agreed by the United Nations Statistical Commission in 2011 as a basic set of indicators for national production and international compilation of gender statistics. It presents trend data for more than 60 indicators on women’s economic empowerment; education; health; public life and decision-making; and human rights and it includes specific indicators on social norms and discriminatory laws.”

You also track data on for example violence against women. How is this work making a difference to improve women’s lives?

“Violence against women violates the most basic human rights, impedes the achievement of gender equality and is an obstacle to overall development. It is widely recognized as a form of discrimination against women reflecting the pervasive imbalance of power between women and men. Women across the world, regardless of income, age or education, are subject to many forms of violence including physical, sexual, psychological and economic violence. The latest global estimates show that one in every three women has experienced physical or sexual violence at some point in her lifetime.

In order to address and prevent violence against women with effective policies, data are needed to assess the magnitude of the phenomena and understand its causes and consequences.

The Statistics Division has been working for several years on the methodological aspects of measuring violence and has produced in 2013 a set of guidelines to produce statistics from household surveys. A dedicated data portal with the latest national data on the prevalence of different forms of violence against women is also available on the Division website.

The Division is also working closely with national statistical offices and other stakeholders to ensure countries develop the technical skills needed to collect reliable data for the production of statistics on violence against women, according to agreed international standards and in line with their national context and data needs.”

How will data help ensure that we achieve the SDGs including goal 5 on gender equality?

“The need for quality, accessible, timely and reliable disaggregated data for the measurement of progress towards the SDGs and to ensure that no one is left behind is widely recognized, including in the General Assembly resolution A/RES/70/1.

Data are needed to identify and quantify gender issues, highlight population sub-groups including vulnerable groups and those with special needs, and allow the monitoring of progress towards specific targets. Without data, the development of programmes and interventions and the assessment of their effectiveness would not be possible. Data is key to evidence-based decision-making and monitoring.”

This year, UN DESA is celebrating seven decades supporting UN Member States in the area of economic, social and sustainable development. Perhaps not that many people know this, but the work on gender statistics was initiated in DESA some 30 years ago. Can you share with our readers how it all got started?

“The Statistics Division’s work programme on gender statistics was initiated in the early 1980s, mid-way into the United Nations Decade for Women: Equality, Development and Peace (1976-1985) and in response to the call for more statistics on the status of women. International Women conferences were the initial driving force for the work of the division in this area as they created a demand for statistics to monitor the conferences outcomes, set the political agenda for action and mobilize resources.

Of particular relevance to the development of our programme on gender statistics is the outcome document of the 4th UN World Conference on Women (Beijing, 1995), known as the Beijing Platform for Action (BPfA) that recognized the importance of appropriate data for understanding gender gaps, designing policies and assessing progress towards the goal of gender equality, and requested the collection, compilation, analysis and presentation of statistics reflecting problems, issues and questions related to women and men in society, disaggregated by sex and age.

Since then, the Statistics Division’s programme on gender statistics has centered on improving the capacity of countries to collect, disseminate and use reliable statistics and indicators to assess the relative situation of women and men in gender-sensitive, policy-relevant areas. The Programme has focused on: (a) developing and promoting methodological guidelines and addressing emerging issues of gender concern, including on violence against women, asset ownership and entrepreneurship and time use; (b) providing technical assistance and training to strengthen national capacity for the production, dissemination and use of gender relevant statistics; (c) compiling gender statistics and facilitating access to data; and (d) improving coherence among existing initiatives on gender statistics through international coordination.

The success of the programme has given the Statistics Division an unparalleled recognition in the field of gender statistics, resulting in strong partnerships with counterpart agencies, coordinated support for the development of gender statistics and a renewed and strengthened mandate from the United Nations Statistical Commission. In 2011, the Commission established the Global Gender Statistics Programme, coordinated by the Inter-Agency and Expert Group on Gender Statistics (IAEG-GS) and implemented by UN DESA’s Statistics Division and key stakeholders.”

For more information: UN DESA’s Statistics Division: Gender statistics

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