Similar to other statistics, gender statistics have to respond to the needs of policymakers, advocates, researchers, the media and the public. Gender statistics can be used to promote understanding of the actual situation of women and men in society; to advance gender analysis and research; to monitor progress towards gender equality and the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental rights by women and girls; to develop and monitor policies and programmes oriented towards increased investments in human capital and the labour force; to support gender mainstreaming in development and poverty reduction policies; and to develop and monitor policies on the reduction of violence against women.
Gender statistics promote understanding of the actual situation of women and men in society. Gender statistics are about everybody, women and men. The production of gender statistics has the role of informing the public and the media, raising consciousness, encouraging public debate and promoting change in society. The dissemination of gender statistics to a large audience is crucial in reducing both gender stereotypes and the misrepresentation of the roles of women and men and their contribution to society and in promoting a new gender balance in the distribution of roles within the family, at the workplace and in positions of decision-making.
Gender statistics are crucial in advancing data-based gender analysis and research. Gender statistics provide researchers and analysts with the quantitative evidence necessary to assess gender gaps in all areas of life, to understand the interlinkages between cultural, social and economic factors that are at the basis of gender inequality and their dynamic over time and to evaluate the implications of unequal access of women and men to social and economic opportunities.
Gender statistics are used in monitoring progress towards gender equality and the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental rights by women and girls. Gender equality means equal opportunities, rights and responsibilities for women and men, girls and boys (United Nations, 2002). Equality does not mean that women and men are the same or have to do the same things, but rather that women’s and men’s opportunities, rights and responsibilities do not depend on whether they are born female or male. It also implies that the interests, needs and priorities of both women and men should be taken into consideration (United Nations, 2002).
Gender statistics are the basis for constructing gender indicators, a useful tool in monitoring progress towards gender equality goals. Not all statistics are indicators. In general, a statistic becomes an indicator when it has a reference point against which value judgements can be made (Canadian International Development Agency, 1997). Indicators have a normative nature, in the sense that a change from the reference point (a norm or a benchmark) in a particular direction can be interpreted as "good" or "bad" (Canadian International Development Agency, 1997). In the case of gender statistics, the status of women in a particular country is usually evaluated by reference to (comparison with) the situation of men in that country. In a few cases, such as statistics on maternal mortality or access to antenatal services, the norm is the situation of women in other countries. Gender indicators can point out gender-related changes over time and therefore be used to measure whether the goal of gender equality is being achieved. For example, three gender indicators are used to monitor the Millennium Development Goal that refers to gender equality and the empowerment of women: gender parity index for gross enrolment ratio in primary, secondary and tertiary education; proportion of employees in non-agricultural employment who are women; and proportion of seats held by women in single or lower houses of national parliaments.
Gender statistics provide an evidence base for developing and monitoring policies and programmes oriented towards increased investments in human capital and the labour force. Gender statistics can show whether women and men have unequal access to education, health or economic resources and orient policies towards improving opportunities for the disadvantaged sex and a more effective use of both female and male human resources. Furthermore, gender statistics can promote understanding of the causes of gender inequality in access to all types of resources. This aspect is very important, because policies tend to be more effective when targeting the causes of gender inequality and the structures and practices that perpetuate inequalities, not merely the outcome of gender inequality in an unjust and unsustainable development process (United Nations, 2002).
Gender statistics have a crucial role in gender mainstreaming in development and poverty reduction policies. Policies and measures tend to perpetuate and exacerbate inequalities when not adequately tailored to existing gender differentials (Hedman, Perucci and Sundström, 1996). One of the first steps in the gender mainstreaming strategy of a policy is the assessment of how and why gender differences and inequalities are relevant (United Nations, 2002). At this stage, gender statistics can provide information on the responsibilities, activities, interests and priorities of women and men and how their experience of problems may differ; on how women and men respond to social, economic and policy changes; and on the role of gender-differentiated access to economic resources and decision-making in the process of change.
Gender statistics have been the basis for proving that attention to gender perspectives and gender equality can result in efficiency gains. Research has revealed that reducing gender inequality could significantly increase productivity, total national output and the human capital of the next generation (United Nations, 2002). For example, based on gender statistics, the World Development Report 2012: Gender Equality and Development (World Bank, 2011) showed that eliminating barriers that discriminate against women working in certain sectors or occupations could increase labour productivity by as much as 25 per cent in some countries; that more educated women with greater control over household resources have spending patterns that benefit the current and future situation of their children; and that empowering women as economic, political and social actors can change policy choices and make institutions more representative of a range of voices.
The use of gender statistics can provide a more comprehensive understanding of the gender dimensions of poverty, which in turn can significantly change priorities in policy and programme interventions (Klugman, 2002). Gender statistics can address multiple dimensions of poverty and inequality, including gender-based asset inequality, intrahousehold allocation of resources, time poverty or vulnerability to external shocks. Understanding the gendered nature of poverty will significantly improve both the equity and efficiency of poverty reduction strategies (Klugman, 2002).
Gender statistics have an important role in developing and monitoring policies on the reduction of violence against women. Violence against women is an obstacle to the achievement of the objectives of equality, development and peace (United Nations, 1996). Statistics on the prevalence of various types of violence, causes and consequences of violence and access by victims of violence to formal and informal support for can lead to better focused and more efficient preventive and intervention efforts.