We measure what we value and value what we measure. This is a core tenet of data collection; but what does it mean for women and girls?
When we fail to measure critical dimensions of women's and girls' lives -- everything from their economic contributions to their degrees of access to vital services -- we undervalue their roles and experiences in society, entrench biases, and ultimately, leave women and girls behind.
Data2X is a civil society initiative working with governments, UN agencies, statisticians, researchers, and civil society to improve gender data production and use. We work to ensure that women and girls are represented, valued, and counted through quality, accessible, timely data, and that these data translate into sound policy. We see the UN World Data Forum as an opportunity to broaden the conversation and ensure that gender data is recognized as central to achieving our ambitions of improved data for development. We've seen firsthand the resurgence of enthusiasm and action in the gender data field, from substantial financial and programmatic commitments for gender initiatives to a greater media focus on the urgency of good data production in global development. Now, we need to all work together to harness this momentum and prioritize gender data as a key tool in achieving gender equality as promised by the Sustainable Development Goals.
As we work towards achieving the SDGs over the next 14 years, we need the ability to track advancements, course correct, measure success, and share results to drive action and investment -- and gender data can be a speedometer on our progress. We need to match the boldness of the SDGs with timely, open and inclusive data to support our collective mission of improving outcomes for women and girls.
Gender data goes beyond realizing SDG 5. An intersectional gender and human rights lens is integral to the success of other SDGs, from quality education to decent work and economic growth to the ideals of peace, justice and strong institutions. We cannot comprehensively track SDG progress -- or inform critical policy -- without sex-disaggregated data to reveal the unique impacts of policies and programs on girls’ and women’s lives.
The good news is that we can start this work now. Data2X and Open Data Watch have identified 16 global indicators across eight SDGs which are ready to measure outcomes for women and girls. These indicators have internationally-agreed definitions and comparatively wide coverage, are produced through available data collection instruments, and do not have built-in gender biases. All offer the opportunity to "jump start" data collection at a low cost in a majority of countries.
But, as we know, working with data is not an overnight process. Realizing the meaningful change we envision through the SDGs requires sustained, long-term commitment, and continued focus in settings like the World Data Forum.
Progress in gender data must build upon the field’s lengthy history which has been driven forward by committed UN agencies, countries, civil society, and researchers around the world. We must harness renewed energy and robust multi-sector support to reinforce and strengthen our gender data movement. In this vein, we are asking the data community to support four calls to action:
- We need to support the work of existing data collectors and producers around the world -- and support growth of the next generation -- to disaggregate data by sex, to ask the right questions which generate data without gender bias, and to know how to analyze and translate their results.
- We need to support a cadre of policymakers who are dedicated to investing in data collection and making decisions informed by evidence. The majority of governments want to use accurate data about women today and always to guide their policy making decisions; however, they need more technical and financial support to develop the capacity, and we need to continue to make the case for why gender data is important.
- We need to understand more about what private sector sources of data can tell us about women's and girls' lives and contributions, and how we can better partner with the private sector on this work.
- We need civil society, advocates, journalists, and communities to call for gender data, translate and track that data, and use that data to hold decision-makers accountable for change.
It is critical that we maintain this global groundswell of excitement for and engagement in gender data. If we do not improve our ability to measure the change between the reality for women and girls today and their reality 14 years from now, we will not have done our job to fulfill the mandates of the SDGs. At the World Data Forum, let’s think big so that we can act boldly to accomplish the work that lies ahead.