An Investment for the Ages: Financing Gender Data to Meet Pandemic and Development Needs

Shaida Badiee, Open Data Watch

Emily Courey Pryor, Data2X

The virtual 2020 UN World Data Forum (UNWDF), which convened 10,000 participants over three days in October, left us feeling increasingly optimistic about gender data. Not only did it provide a ripe environment for discussing the importance of gender data, it set the stage for taking much-needed action on financing better gender data systems. We know that without adequate financial resources, we can’t make progress on substantive gender data collection and use.

As we continue on the Road to Bern and look ahead to the formal launch of the Bern Network’s Clearinghouse for Financing Development Data—a new platform to support the global supply and demand of financing for data and statistics that was previewed at the World Data Forum on October 21—Data2X and Open Data Watch are collaborating on a new report on the state of gender data financing, an update from our 2019 report.

Our aim for the new research is not only to inform the development of the clearinghouse and ensure that data financing has gender mainstreamed throughout, but to also inform future conversations on financing statistics to meet post-COVID-19 development needs and the 2030 agenda. Investing in better data on women’s realities is a smart, long-term investment to enable effective decision-making and the clearinghouse marks a special opportunity to help make that a reality.

Where the gender data financing gaps currently stand

There is still a long way to go until substantial financing for gender data is made a reality. Our 2019 State of Gender Data Financing report estimated the gender data financing gap to be between $170 to 240 million. This is a small sum in comparison to total aid flows, yet given historic low levels of funding for statistics (around a third of a percent of total ODA according to PARIS21) and an ongoing global health crisis, it is not insignificant.

With NSOs reporting a decrease in funding due to the pandemic and major setbacks in financing for the Sustainable Development Goals overall, effective and efficient decisions on what gets funded are critical. One question our research is trying to answer is: what are the core gender data instruments that need to be prioritized in investment plans to produce the data we need on women and girls?

As pandemic-related financing setbacks are rising, so are demands for the data needed to understand and respond to the impacts of COVID-19 on gender equality. We must collect more than just sex-disaggregated data on cases and deaths—and yet countries still lack the means or will to collect and report these basic figures. As of mid-October, Global Health 50/50 reports that only four of the ten countries with the highest caseloads report sex-disaggregated information on cases and deaths.

Beyond the immediate effects of the pandemic, we also must understand the long-term health, social, and economic effects of the pandemic on women such as unpaid care work and gender-based violence, many of which we outlined in our indicator framework. And while it is important to know what to fund, it is equally important to focus on how to fund it. Adjusting to a new normal and harnessing existing opportunities for gender data funding will be a key part of the process.

Meeting demand for timely gender data

While statistical operations have been deeply hampered by COVID19, what is clear is that statistical infrastructure has long been underfunded, with gender data too far down the priority list. To rebuild now and to prepare for future emergencies, investment in national statistical offices is key.

This can include blending traditional and non-traditional data sources to meet increasing demand for timely gender data, as emphasized by Gates Foundation CEO Mark Suzman and the IMF’s Andrea Richter Hume; ensuring that current and future data collection efforts (propelled by momentum around fighting COVID19) integrate gender data needs; and looking to rapid surveys, administrative data, and new data sources to fill data gaps.

In addition to advocating for increased financing for gender data, there are also several opportunities for ensuring that existing opportunities can be better leveraged. One opportunity is to direct funds from existing funding mechanisms—such as the new funding mechanisms the UN and IMF created to support countries’ response to COVID-19—into statistical systems to improve gender data production. A noteworthy example of this is the African Development Bank who, in July, approved $27.4 million in grants to boost the African Union’s efforts to mobilize a response to curb the pandemic—including funding specifically for the collection of gender-disaggregated data.

Another potential funding opportunity is the World Bank Group’s International Development Association (IDA). The current IDA19 round will allocate $82 billion to provide support to over 74 countries, and with priority themes including gender and data and statistics, this is a unique occasion for countries benefiting from IDA19 to prioritize better gender data systems.

Overall, an investment in better gender data today will render a better prepared, more equal tomorrow. No single source of financing will be enough to close the gender data financing gap. It requires a collective effort to build back better and assure we are moving in the right direction towards improving people’s lives and leaving no one behind.