Politics of Poverty

Closing the gender data gap means better policy

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After listening to indigenous women’s concerns about the loss of their ancestral crops, Oxfam and AIDESEP created a pilot project through which five Kichwa communities in the Peruvian Amazon could cultivate traditional gardens as a way to adapt to changes in the climate. Growing diverse crops year-round in the traditional way, rather than harvesting a single cash crop once a year, makes communities less vulnerable to the changes in rainfall. Source: Percy Ramírez/Oxfam America

A commitment to more gender data will make women and girls more visible in Oxfam’s policy advocacy.

Yesterday, in Copenhagen, Denmark Melinda Gates opened the Women Deliver conference with an exciting announcement outlining The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s commitment to closing the gender data gap.  She announced that the $80 million pledged will fill critical gender data gaps and improve the accuracy and reliability of data collection while also ensuring that leaders are held accountable for commitments they’ve made on gender equality.  As she’s noted previously:

“With a better understanding of the way women live their lives, and the specific inequalities, indignities, and injustices that hold them back every day, we can see what needs fixing, whether solutions are working, and what progress is being made. That’s because gathering and analyzing data makes the invisible, visible. Closing the gender gap, requires closing the data gap”

Melinda Gates’ announcement acknowledges the frustrating fact that there is currently very little gender data or data focusing on women and girls being gathered. Gender data is important because it specifically includes indicators to identify differences or perhaps inequalities between men and women within various situations or categories.

The problem with the lack of gender data we have now is that data without these indicators fails to highlight if and how women are disproportionately affected by certain conditions.  Additionally, even basic information on women and girls, such as documentation of their birth, how they spend their time, and what their health needs are is lacking. This leads to policy decisions that may not properly respond to girls’ and women’s needs. As an organization that advocates on behalf of policies we believe will have the most impact on ending poverty and injustice, this type of data would ensure that Oxfam advocates for policies that also adequately benefit women and girls.  Information on women and girls can also lead to us to make more targeted policy recommendations that don’t allow women and girls to fall through the cracks of broad policy asks. Data2x, a UN Foundation initiative that works on gender data, has created a chart on their website which lists 28 key gender data gaps in the domains of health, education, economic opportunity, and human security.  Much of Oxfam’s advocacy and policy work, whether it’s around agriculture, humanitarian conflicts and disasters, or any of the other topics we work on, would greatly improve if these gaps were closed and we could use data on how women and girls are affected by these issues.

It is clear that the work of organizations, including Oxfam, and governments or any entities that are working to improve the lives of the poor will benefit from a commitment to more gender data.  However, it will also be our responsibility to, once it’s available, use it to advocate that governments, companies, and all policymakers make the best policy decisions for women and girls.

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