UNITED NATIONS — The U.S. Agency for International Development and the Australian government have granted $5 million and $6 million USD, respectively, to help fund a new initiative by U.N. Women to produce and collect gender data.
The initiative, backed by a new public-private partnership between U.N. Women, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Data2X and the government of Australia, aims to support 12 countries in regularly producing gender statistics. These partners joined heads of state, government officials and women’s rights advocates at a kick-off event for the initiative at the U.N. headquarters on Wednesday.
The lack of gender data, or data disaggregated by sex, is consistently overshadowed by poverty, public health and other more visible global issues. For this reason, it is rarely prioritized by governments or sufficiently funded at the national or international level. According to U.N. Women’s Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, who spoke at the event, just 13 percent of countries dedicate a regular budget for gender statistics.
In recent years, however, advocates have brought the lack of gender data into the spotlight, emphasizing that it remains one of the biggest barriers to the health and empowerment of women and girls around the world.
“When I started to look at … why we have made so little progress on behalf of women, it kept coming back to the fact that we don’t have good data,” said Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Gates Foundation, at the U.N. Women event. In May, the Gates Foundation announced an $80 million commitment over the next three years to close gender data gaps and help accelerate progress for women and girls around the world.
One moment that helped illustrate the extent of the gender data gap, Gates explained, was when the Foundation led an effort to raise funds for family planning in 2012. When determining their financial goals and scope for the initiative, she said, they ran into a wall.
“When we put the data up on the chart, we’re looking at these Powerpoint graphs and I’m thinking, ‘We’re trying to make decisions based on point estimates. You just don’t do that.’”
Gates added that in order to ask governments to fund initiatives for women, such as women’s health or education, she needs to be able to present clear and sufficient data to make the case for the investment.
This lack of data is felt by governments, philanthropies and any advocates working to close the gender equality gap around the world. According to civil society initiative Data 2X, which aims to improve gender data production and use, women and girls are routinely not counted in global and national data collected on health, education, political participation and human security.
At Wednesday’s event, Data 2X’s Senior Director Emily Courey Pryor said this makes it critical to ask questions that generate gender data without bias. Pryor also stressed the importance of supporting policymakers who invest in gender data collection, taking advantage of data from the private sector and supporting future generations in learning to disaggregate data by sex if we are to make a serious effort to close the gender data gap.
“Let’s keep gender data in the spotlight, and on this stage, so we can deliver on our promises,” Pryor said, “and not just talk about gender equality but measure and celebrate how we are achieving it.”
Lisa is attending U.N. Week as a United Nations Foundation Global Issues Press fellow.