How to ensure gender data really drives equality for girls and women

Albert Motivans, Head of Data and Insights, Equal Measures 2030

For champions of gender equality who are keen to back up our demands with data and evidence, gender data gaps are a familiar problem. When it comes to issues that affect women and girls, too often we don’t have enough data, or data is not sufficiently disaggregated, or not timely. Only 12 of the 53 gender-specific indicators across the SDGs can be regularly monitored.

But less often talked about are the barriers that advocates and policymakers face in effectively using the gender data that does exist. There is often greater focus on the production end of the Data Value Chain, without as much attention on investments for the uptake and impact end of the chain. In our experience, there are great opportunities to make progress on gender equality by investing in better communication of data and improved data literacy and skills of users. The issues captured by World Data Forum Thematic Area 4 (Understanding the world through data) – must be addressed if data is really going to leverage change for the lived realities of women and girls.

The EM2030 partnership was formed in 2016 for this very reason, to connect data and evidence with advocacy and action on gender equality. A big part of our collective endeavour – in addition to advocating for more and better gender data - is to make existing gender equality data more relevant, more interactive, and more “advocacy-ready.”

Over the past 4 years, Equal Measures 2030 has learned the importance of investing in data uptake and impact. We’ve learned from our partner network of global, regional, and country-level gender equality advocacy leaders. And we’ve also learned from the findings of two formal surveys: one with more than 100 policymakers in 2017 and the other with more than 600 gender equality advocates in 2018.

Our survey of policymakers (in five countries: Indonesia, India, Kenya, Senegal and Colombia) raised concerns about whether policymakers were equipped with and sufficiently using the data required to drive action towards the ambitious gender equality targets laid out in the SDGs.  And 89% of the advocates we surveyed agreed that a breakthrough on the SDGs for girls and women would not be possible without relevant data.

But when we asked policymakers and gender equality advocates working at national or sub-national levels on what would help them to more effectively use data and evidence to promote gender equality in their country, the most popular answer was “Skills and training in how to access, analyse and communicate data. About half (50%) of policymakers and almost three in four (70%) advocates working at the country-level identified skills and training as the key gap preventing their use of data to promote gender equality in their country.

To help meet this need, EM2030’s national partners have delivered data-driven advocacy capacity building workshops to over 800 advocates in seven countries around the world.   Our partners have seen that the skills learned in the workshops make a real difference in the effectiveness of their advocacy.

Reflecting on a recent successful campaign to raise the legal age of marriage for girls in Indonesia from 15 to 18 years of age, Misiyah, Director of KAPAL Perempuan, Equal Measures 2030’s national partner in Indonesia said: "Policymakers in Indonesia will consider and accept advocacy if advocates come with strong arguments, and these arguments must be supported by statistics. (…) We presented the President with data to support the argument for the importance of policymaking on the prevention of child marriage (….) we use the quantitative data to open the door, to start the conversation."

Our partner in Colombia, La Ruta Pacífica de las Mujeres has used a strong data-driven approach in preparing women to run as candidates for regional and local government. La Ruta presented snapshots of the situation of women and girls for each region, so that candidates could leverage the data to draw attention to the most pressing local gender issues in their campaigns: "We have found that learning how to combine qualitative and quantitative evidence in our advocacy has been really impactful (…) and shines a spotlight on women’s issues in the communities where we work, to convince candidates and civil servants to pay attention,” noted La Ruta representative Dunia Ester Leon Fajardo.

Our partner in India, SAHAJ, adapted the workshop materials to directly target policymakers’ ability to access, analyse and communicate gender related data for government officials at the Mahatma Gandhi State Institute for Public Administration. Dr. Nilangi Sardeshpande, Project Anchor of SAHAJ noted that: "We used the training workshops as an opportunity to improve basic data literacy and skills, but also to try to persuade government officials that gender equality issues were relevant to their work."

Thus, while it is absolute essential that key gender data gaps are urgently filled, there is also much more that can be done to make existing data more useful for those who are advocating for or implementing the policies and programmes that can help promote equality for women and girls. EM2030 will be joining the virtual World Data Forum, taking place online between 19-21 October, along with some of our national partners, to highlight the need for deliberate and strategic investments in data communication and use.