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Initiative Taps Data to Improve Gender Equality

by Travis Korte

Gender equality initiatives in developing countries often suffer from data quality and quantity issues, in part because social taboos in some countries have influenced data collection efforts. Data2X is working to fix this problem, aiming to improve data collection and use around issues of women and gender in a global development context. The effort, led by the United Nations (UN) Foundation with support from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and collaboration with the Office of Hillary Clinton, has launched three major initiatives: improving government records on vital statistics; collecting better data on women’s participation in the workforce; and using big data to further women’s rights and gender equality.

The first initiative aims to improve data gathering and processing around vital events such as births, deaths, marriages, and divorces. This data is critical for good governance in developing countries, influencing education and health policies, and providing evidence to support women’s claims during divorce. However, there are numerous gaps in this data in many developing countries, such that over a third of all children under the age of five around the globe have not even had their births registered, and only around one third of countries keep registries that track deaths and causes of death. Data2X is partnering with the UN-led Africa Program on Accelerated Improvement of Civil Registration and Vital Statistics (CRVS) and the UN Economic and Social Commission of Asia and Pacific. The partnerships will analyze gender constraints that affect national CRVS systems in those regions, including legal, institutional, and customary discrimination, and map the regions’ women’s organizations to help in advocating for keeping better vital statistics on women and children. The program will also work to identify technical solutions for integrating better marriage and divorce information into existing CRVS systems.

Data2X’s second major initiative centers around women’s labor, aiming to improve countries’ adherence to the latest statistical standards around women in the workforce adopted by the UN labor rights group the International Labor Organization (ILO) in 2013. Although this kind of data is frequently integrated into national economic policies and helps identify demand for workforce programs, many countries lack adequate data on unpaid work. This can constitute a major portion of women’s economic activity, as women engage in about twice as much unpaid household work as men. Data2X is partnering with the ILO Department of Statistics to convene a set of roundtables to develop a roadmap for improving labor statistics in areas related to gender, including informal employment and work in rural areas.

The third program area Data2X is working on big data and gender. This is an effort to explore using nontraditional data sources, such as cell phone records, Internet use, and remote sensing, to aid in predictions about socioeconomic welfare, mobility, financial activity, epidemiological trends, mental health, political engagement, and other topics. Data2X is partnering with the UN’s Global Pulse initiative to undertake pilot research projects to develop methodologies for using big data to study gender gaps in areas including women’s poverty, access to essential services, maternal morbidity, and cultural attitudes about gender.

Data2X hosted a progress event in December 2014 to report what has been done on these partnerships and announce a series of new partnerships to close gender gaps in developing countries. With better data collection and use, initiatives like Data2X can help women around the globe emerge from data poverty and benefit from the advances in data that have often failed to reach them in the past. And because Data2X falls into a subset of the UN’s work on using data for development generally, the lessons learned from Data2X will hopefully also be useful in informing sustainable development initiatives in other sectors.

ImageWorld Bank

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