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Missing measures in the push to empower women and girls

Ethiopia has one of the highest rates of early marriage in sub-Saharan Africa. Like many girls, Banchi, was married at 15. Child marriage is a form of discrimination and often violence. DFID

By Amy VanderZanden, special to Humanosphere

Twenty years ago, female leaders from around the globe gathered in Beijing to map out a strategy for advancing women’s rights. What’s missing is the information needed to accurately assess the success of that strategy.

The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action set specific targets and timelines for countries to enhance the social, political, and economic empowerment of women – and to improve women’s health, access to education, and legal protections.

To mark the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Summit, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation partnered with the Clinton Foundation to release the Full Participation Report, a comprehensive look at progress in gender equality in the last two decades.

The No Ceilings project, which accompanies the report, includes an interactive map and a database that contains data on more than 1,000 indicators. It is a powerful source of data on issues faced by women and girls worldwide, letting users explore global contraceptive coverage, female enrollment in secondary school, and the number of firms with female leadership, all in one place.

Legislation explicitly addressing domestic violence around the world


Notes: Source: “No Ceilings: The Full Participation Report.”

One ongoing theme of No Ceilings project, however, is the challenge of lack of data about the status of women and girls. Methodical data collection is lacking in many countries, and many questions about progress were impossible to answer in a systematic way.

A critical data gap highlighted in the Full Participation Report relates to civil registration and vital statistics. It is estimated that 35% of children under 5 have not had their births registered – that’s 230 million children. Birth certificates are the foundation for identity documents, which allow people to fully participate as citizens of their country.

Almost three-quarters of all deaths go unreported every year due to lacking or limited vital registration tracking systems.

Probability of dying from interpersonal violence among 15- to 49-year-old females, 2013


Source: Global Burden of Disease Study 2013. To explore the data visualization online, go to

The Global Burden of Disease study estimates that about 75,000 females died as a result of interpersonal violence in 2013 – but the actual number could be anywhere from 54,000 to 94,000 women and girls. There are many sources of data that go into calculating these estimates (an interactive data visualization shows them all) but some countries have such gaps in data that it is hard to be sure of the exact numbers.

In an effort to help determine and begin to resolve these data gaps, two important initiatives are underway. Data2X, in collaboration with several UN bodies, has been mapping what gender data gaps exist; and the Data for Health initiative is working to expand access to vital registration systems across Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

High-quality data provide enormous insight into progress – or lack of it. While data gaps remain, they are narrowing, and the information assembled in the No Ceilings project is of formidable value.

The Full Participation Report and No Ceilings database can be accessed here.

Amy VanderZandenAmy VanderZanden is a communications data specialist at the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME).


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Humanosphere will sometimes post articles from authors from around the globe. Although these folks are not regular contributors, we hope you enjoy this change of pace.