Data collection must represent the lived realities of all women and girls, the Commission on the Status of Women heard today, with an interactive discussion highlighting the importance of data disaggregation to ensure visibility and access for marginalized groups.
Beginning the second week of its session, the Commission held an interactive expert panel discussion on “Women’s empowerment and the link to sustainable development”, with a focus on data challenges and opportunities.
Mohammed Marzooq (Iraq), Vice‑Chair of the Commission, said the need to enhance availability of gender statistics and their use constitutes a key element from the agreed conclusions of the body’s sixtieth session. “Significant gaps in gender statistics remain,” he observed, noting that information is available for less than a quarter of the indicators required to monitor gender‑specific elements of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Marginalized groups remain largely invisible in official statistics, he pointed out, calling for ensuring that data represent the lived realities of all women and girls by addressing deep‑seated biases in concepts, definitions, classifications and methodologies.
Panellists shared presentations on challenges posed by data collection, reporting, analysis and dissemination, emphasizing best practices and lessons learned.
Claudia Wells, Director of Data Use at Development Initiatives, focused her presentation on the importance of inclusive data in terms of leaving no one behind, as well as best practices in data disaggregation and use. “If women are missing from data, this leaves a huge gap,” she noted, outlining the principles of the inclusive data charter. As such, all populations must be included in data, and data should be disaggregated to accurately describe all populations. Moreover, it should be drawn from all available sources and those responsible for data collection and statistics must be accountable. The capacity to collect, analyse and use disaggregated data must be improved, including through adequate and sustainable financing, she emphasized. “Civil registration is vital for people to access services, welfare and rights and for Governments to capture important information about their citizens for effective decision‑making.” Beyond its importance for registration, further disaggregation is also necessary for sectoral analyses and to serve as a lens for examining educational advantage as well. Citing the example of out‑of‑school rates in Nigeria, she observed that factors such as identity and ethnicity can result in further exclusion, demonstrating the importance of data disaggregation. “It’s not just about collecting more data,” she said, calling for inclusivity in that regard.
Davis Adieno, Regional Director for Africa, Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data, said that citizen‑generated data are data that people, communities and organizations produce on issues that affect them, “outside the remit of official statistics”. In most cases, such data collection is initiated by citizens and other non‑State actors. Phone calls, reports, storytelling and social media can be quantitative and qualitative forms of data collection, he noted, adding that “sometimes citizens are simply in a better place to get data on a particular topic.” Highlighting Sustainable Development Goal 5 on gender equality, he said that target 5.4 is an example of a target on which it is difficult to find official data, while it is easier for ordinary people to collect data on that target in a timely manner using tools at hand. According to a recent report by Open Data Watch, out of the 104 gender relevant indictors reviewed in 15 sub‑Saharan African countries, 48 per cent are missing or lack sex‑aggregated data. At the country level in Africa, many organizations working on gender‑related issues are doing amazing, often invisible work at the community level but lack systematic ways of collecting and managing data. Often, they are overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the issues they are trying to address, he pointed out, adding that citizen‑generated data can assist in addressing that. Further, the relationships behind the production of data are also important, he said, also noting that citizen‑generated data help in gathering information in regions that are otherwise not reachable. Ultimately, he stressed, the life of one woman or one girl in a remote village in a sub‑Saharan country is more important than the statistical difference of that number when they are gone. “Let’s humanize data and inspire action,” he emphasized.
Manal Sweidan, Head of Gender Statistics Division, Department of Statistics, Jordan, spoke about addressing key gender data challenges through partnering with the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women’s (UN‑Women) Making Every Woman and Girl Count programme. “Women in Jordan are very highly educated as compared to men,” she observed, noting however that this does not ensure their equitable participation in the labour market. The Government’s Gender Statistics Division focuses on establishing and updating a database reflecting the status of women and men in Jordan in a transparent and credible manner. Decision makers in the Government require concrete and replicable options for implementing or improving efforts to integrate the Sustainable Development Goals with national planning, she noted. As such, she suggested a cross‑country initiative to document current efforts to align national planning with the 2030 Agenda — specifically Goal 5 on gender equality — as a potential solution. Turning to gender data destigmatization, she observed that there is an impression that gender data constitutes a fringe issue representative of a feminist agenda and incompatible with the culture. “The international community must continue to pursue initiatives to reshape perspectives of key stakeholders regarding the broader benefits and far‑reaching implications of gender data,” she emphasized. Highlighting the pay gap in Jordan, she pointed to the establishment of a Pay Equity Committee in the country. “How do we translate advances into tangible changes within Jordanian society and within the woman’s life in Jordan?” she asked, calling for increased intentionality, cohesive theories of change and thoughtful collaborations.
Orsolya Bartha, International Disability Alliance, focused her presentation on making the 2030 Agenda Goals count for women and girls with disabilities, emphasizing data challenges and opportunities in that regard. The global disability prevalence rate is 19 per cent for women, she observed, compared to 12 per cent for men. “When gender and disability intersect, poverty and marginalization are further compounded,” she noted. Moreover, girls with disabilities are less likely to complete primary school and more likely to be denied access to education. The economic empowerment of such women and girls is critical, she said, including equitable remuneration for work and fewer gender‑based divisions of labour within households. “Women should have control over their own assets and the potential to generate and accumulate wealth,” she emphasized. She also detailed barriers to health‑care access for women with disabilities as well as the prevalence of violence against such women and girls. Moreover, both men and women with disabilities experience barriers to political participation. Such challenges are exacerbated by a lack of quality disaggregated data, she pointed out, which negatively affects the comparison of outcomes in key sectors. While many countries collect disability data, the definition of disability is not harmonized. As such, data across countries are not comparable and prove inadequate for global monitoring efforts. She called for fostering partnerships between statisticians, policymakers and organizations to ensure appropriate data collection and disaggregation and addressing shortcomings in achieving the 2030 Goals for women and girls with disabilities.
Taiaopo Faumuina, Samoa Bureau of Statistics, noting that policymakers and data producers often blame each other for gaps in inaccurate information and policies, highlighted “Every Policy is Connected”, a tool initiated by the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP). This policy‑data integration tool aims to address the blame game challenge by providing a framework for a structured, participatory and principle‑based dialogue between policy and data stakeholders. It facilitates conversations that articulate the demands for policies and disaggregated data in the context of the 2030 Agenda. Highlighting the Strategy for the Development of Samoa, a “mother policy” in place in her nation, she called it a living document that gives priority to the mainstreaming of gender, children, youth and disability in its policy development. The “Every Policy is Connected” tool was tried out in Samoa for the first time in June and September 2018, she said, adding that the country has been instrumental in testing and improving this tool and is the first in the Asia‑Pacific region to fully apply it across all the sectors of the economy. The tool includes 29 core concepts that assess the issues data producers and policymakers are trying to address and then identifies the target groups who will be affected both negatively and positively by the policy. “I am from the Oceania region and my issues should not be treated the same as those from the European, African or Asian region,” she said, adding that the tool “opened our eyes” beyond what is normally done in policymaking and data collection. As a result, policymakers and statisticians in Samoa had arrived at a more strategic bonding, she said.
Ginette Azcona, Research and Data Specialist, UN‑Women, said the 2030 Agenda calls for accounting for the progress of everyone, without exceptions. Doing this means going beyond national averages to assess the outcomes of different groups of women and girls. It is vital to strengthen the link between producers and users, she said, adding that building diverse coalitions is not a simple process. The explosion of data in and outside official statistics harbours the risk of increasing the asymmetry of information between citizens and data producers, including the Government and the private sector. Beyond opening data to the public, it is necessary to include gender equality advocates and women’s organizations in decisions on how data is collected. She continued to highlight the importance of prioritizing inclusive data to identify the most vulnerable groups. Those that are invisible in data will also be invisible in policies, she stressed, adding that structural inequalities intersect and compound gender inequality. Single‑level disaggregation analysis fails to adequately reflect the characteristics of those who are deprived across multiple dimensions, she emphasized. Statistical systems need to be independent and empowered with enough agility to adapt to changes in the data landscape, she said, stressing the importance of women’s rights organizations and other civil society groups. Finally, calling for a human rights approach to data collection, she said that participation, disaggregation, self‑identification, transparency, privacy and accountability are crucial aspects of such an approach.
As the floor opened for discussion, delegates shared examples of the measurement and use of gender statistics in their countries.
The representative of Italy described imbalances in the attention paid to different thematic areas in data collection. Reducing gender differences also requires knowledge about whether that reduction is the same across all groups, she observed. However, country national statistics institutes often do not collect an adequate sample size to allow such an approach, she pointed out, calling for further investment in that context.
The representative of the Dominican Republic described a report by her country’s national statistics institute finding that women spend 39 per cent of their time on care functions. The representative of Côte d’Ivoire highlighted a study on women in decision‑making carried out by her country’s Ministry for Women, civil society and UN‑Women. Similarly, the representative of Senegal detailed a pilot project in her nation working with targeted data and incorporating more than 200 indicators which will be integrated into her country’s census. The representative of Morocco noted that her country is tracking data in matters such as violence against women, work by women and girls, trafficking of women, and women in the justice system.
The representative of Ghana called for the United Nations to help Member States establish and improve comprehensive data collection systems, including those for registering births and deaths. Statistical services in Ghana produce data but gaps exist in linking them to policies, she observed. Similarly, the representative of Nigeria highlighted the challenge of reaching the remotest corners of her country, stressing the importance of capacity‑building and empowering stakeholders. The representative of Zimbabwe observed that data users and collectors must be connected, especially in the context of women, girls and the disabled, calling for involving communities in that regard.
Speakers from various civil society organizations also shared their thoughts, with a representative from Women Deliver noting that every single session at the Commission has highlighted the importance of data. “How do we convert policy recommendations into action?” she asked, adding that while there are a handful of countries with political will, it is necessary to incentivize Governments in this matter. A speaker from the Asian‑Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women said that current attempts at data collection are limited. In particular, she highlighted the weakness of data collection in areas such as female genital mutilation, sexual diversity and care work. The representative of the Women for Water Partnership stressed that data collection should be funded under every grant, adding that “women are very good at narratives, and we need tools to convert those narratives into data.”
Others emphasized the importance of disaggregation, with the representative from BBVA Microfinance Foundation noting that it enables the analysis of socioeconomic factors and growth over time. Plan International Ireland’s representative said that disaggregation must go beyond age and sex to ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity. Speaking for the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, a speaker said that in many places girls are passive, missing or invisible. She called for data that make girls visible. The representative of Sociologists for Women in Society added her voice to the call for a human rights approach in data collection, pointing out the presence of immigrant women in the informal work economies of the global North. The Women’s Federation for World Peace International’s delegate highlighted the Libyan experience, noting significant progress in the representation of women in that country, but also stressing that they are excluded from the heart of political negotiations. A representative for the Salvation Army emphasized that the lack of disaggregated data can hinder women and girls from accessing vital services including health care.
In closing, panellists highlighted the importance of qualitative data in bringing information to life, calling for the use of non‑official data alongside official sources and providing examples in that regard. Citizen‑generated data must inform policy, which must translate into action, they emphasized, calling for investment in vital statistics to improve service delivery and resource allocation. Country policies must be more dynamic and responsive to evidence presented. Moreover, data collection must match policy priorities with clear links to outcome change, driving policy shifts at all levels. At the country level, dedicated budgets are required for data collection, analysis and presentation, they pointed out. While emphasizing the importance of policymakers and statisticians working with civil society, they also called on mainstream civil society organizations to work with vulnerable groups such as women with disabilities. Data disaggregation is required at several levels when country surveys are conducted, which must also include measures of gender violence, they noted.
The Commission on the Status of Women will meet again at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 20 March to continue its work.