In today’s interconnected world, where data plays a crucial role in shaping our understanding and driving meaningful change, it is imperative to view that data through the lens of gender. Despite some progress, the use of gender data in policy-making still falls short of expectations. Within this context, the Gender Data Lab (GDL) Initiative aims to harness the power of data-driven insights to advance gender equality. By uncovering hidden truths, revealing disparities, and promoting evidence-based solutions, the Gender Data Lab Initiative paves the way for a more inclusive and equitable future.
Recently, the COVID-19 pandemic brought back the focus on pre-existing gaps, renewing a call for more timely and granular information on the impact of the crisis on women and girls in areas such as education, livelihoods, unpaid care work, mental health and gender-based violence.
Regarding gender data (statistics that capture the specific realities in the lives of women and men), two interrelated situations need to be considered. The first is when gender data is simply unavailable. In these cases, decision-makers are deprived of essential information to accurately understand and address gender-specific issues. This limits our ability to design targeted policies, implement effective programs and evaluate the impact of interventions on women and men. It also hinders our ability to monitor progress and ensure accountability for achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment goals. For instance, as of June 2022, we have only 42% of the gender data we need to monitor the gender-specific dimensions of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) as per one UN Women report.
The second situation arises when gender data is available but not sufficiently or properly used in policy and decision-making processes resulting in policies and decisions that fail to consider gender dynamics and disparities adequately. Resultantly, government decision-making can often contain gender bias. Apart from being inefficient and resulting in lost investment, this is also a missed opportunity to create more inclusive and effective outcomes that benefit everyone.
The author Caroline Criado-Perez explores these critical issues in her book Invisible Women. She reveals the far-reaching consequences of overlooking women’s experiences and needs. She states: “[There] are substantial gender data gaps in government thinking, and the result is that governments produce male-biased policy that is harming women”. She further states, “Failing to collect data on women and their lives means that we continue to naturalise sex and gender discrimination — while at the same time somehow not seeing any of this discrimination”.
Improving the application of gender data is challenging and demands a collective effort to transform how we design, collect, process, disseminate, and use gender data. It requires raising awareness about the significance of gender data, investing in developing skills for data collection and analysis, challenging and overcoming prejudices and stereotypes and establishing institutional structures that promote the necessity for gender data.
In response to these challenges, many National Statistical Offices (NSOs) and government ministries are eager to adopt innovative approaches to change the status quo.
The Gender Data Lab initiative is a collaborative effort between PARIS21, UNDP Chief Digital Office, and GIZ. It combines PARIS21’s statistical capacity development expertise, UNDP’s sustainable development experience and GIZ’s commitment to improving data systems and decision-making to strengthen the availability, quality and utilisation of data that adequately reflect differences and inequalities in the situation of women and men in all areas of life.
By leveraging the expertise and resources of the collaborating organisations, the initiative seeks to address gender data gaps, promote gender equality and support evidence-based interventions in gender and development.
The GDL is not merely a theoretical concept but a tangible endeavour with practical implications. Through this institution-strengthening focus, we will embark on a journey of evidence-based policy-making, where gender data becomes a focused approach, and catalyses change. By collaborating with stakeholders and harnessing cutting-edge technologies such as sourcing alternative data from publications and fostering capacity-development programs, the GDL will empower policymakers and data actors to make informed decisions that strengthen public policy-making.
The plan to monitor and evaluate the initiative would include activities that aim to track and help achieve specific outcomes. These outcomes would focus on improving the use of gender data in policy-making, increasing the demand for gender data from policymakers and gaining support from stakeholders and partners. For each outcome, there would be corresponding outputs with specific indicators that result from the relevant activities.
According to the UN Statistics Division, gender statistics/data: is collected and presented by sex as a primary and overall classification; is based on concepts and definitions that adequately reflect the diversity of women and men and capture all aspects of their lives; Is developed through collection methods that take into account stereotypes and social and cultural factors that may induce gender bias in the data.
To systematically leverage digital technologies and address data-use challenges, we need institutional arrangements and capacity development in areas such as improving the data literacy of policymakers. Without a robust institutional set-up and know-how, the potential of technology to bring about positive change and reinforce data use may remain untapped or even lead to unintended consequences. Therefore, a comprehensive approach that combines technology with the right institutional frameworks and capacity development initiatives is crucial.
The Gender Data Lab (GDL) initiative aims to establish a dedicated team within existing government structures, such as NSOs or relevant line ministries, to accelerate gender data availability and uptake. Leveraging digitalisation, the lab will have two primary functions. First, it will collect and consolidate existing gender data from relevant government entities, including line ministries, the NSO, and affiliated government organisations. It will improve the availability and access of gender data to relevant stakeholders.
Second, the lab will enable gender data uptake and use to inform decision-making by assessing the needs of policymakers, analysing gender data and packaging insights, and identifying opportunities for stronger gender data integration in policy discussions. By design, the lab will strive to create ownership and sustainability of data products within the government and ensure that gender data informs policy-making.
The initiative is currently testing the model to integrate the GDL into an NSO. It will operate across sectors and be an intermediary between data services from the NSO and policymakers. Embedding within the NSO offers a platform to enhance gender-responsive statistical practice and capitalise on opportunities to promote awareness, innovation and dissemination of gender-specific insights.
The GDL in the NSO will be staffed by a team of regular employees drawn from the existing organisational units of the NSO (and possibly from other relevant organisations of the more expansive NSS), with oversight provided by the NSO senior management. Additionally, the GDL will collaborate with institutions of higher learning in the country to engage skilled individuals who can support the lab’s work and facilitate knowledge transfer. The GDL will be matched with relevant international experts who provide part-time technical assistance and guidance in priority areas. Experts will be generally drawn from development organisations and support the GDL staff in capacity development, data analysis and dissemination, and monitoring and evaluation.
The term ‘lab’ in the Gender Data Lab signifies a dedicated space or framework where experts and stakeholders collaborate to address the challenges related to gender data. The lab will provide a structured and focused setting to advance research, promote innovation and drive progress in gender data.
The GDL is envisaged to have a broad mandate to enhance the capacity of the NSO and NSS through experimentation and quick adaptation.
The lab will undertake a range of activities that can help achieve its objectives. For instance, the lab will conduct research to explore innovative methodologies for analysing gender data. These methods will then be applied to existing data to gain new insights into the situation of women. Current gender data dissemination practices will be evaluated to identify gaps and areas for improvement. Actionable recommendations will be formulated to enhance the dissemination of gender data to key stakeholders. A dedicated team specialising in gender data analysis and management will be assembled and provided with training and capacity building on gender data-related topics. Partnerships will be forged with academic institutions, civil society organisations and other stakeholders working on related issues. Together, collaborative efforts will focus on the joint development of analytical products, reports, and publications based on gender data analysis.
The initial stocktaking stage of this initiative has been completed. A pilot country has been identified with the GDL being hosted within that state’s NSO (we considered the alternative of hosting it in a line ministry). The initiative has also completed initial discussions with potential partners. Next, the plan is to achieve several realistic objectives before the end of the pilot project period in around a year. Firstly, the initiative will focus on employing innovative methods that utilise available data in the pilot country. Secondly, recommendations will be developed to strengthen the dissemination of gender data within the pilot country. Lastly, the initiative will leverage the insights gathered thus far to foster collaborations with academia and civil society, working towards creating new analytical products specific to the pilot country.
The lack of gender data use in policy-making undermines the demand for gender data by creating a perception that it is not essential or impactful for decision-making. When policymakers rely on anecdotal evidence, assumptions or personal biases instead of data, the resulting policies may not effectively address societal challenges, including gender-related issues. As a result, policymakers may view data as irrelevant, leading to a decreased demand for data in policy-making. This, in turn, hampers data planning and production efforts as limited resources are allocated to data collection and analysis. The cycle perpetuates gender data gaps and invisibility, making it difficult to understand the unique challenges and needs of all genders. But by emphasising the value of data-informed policy-making and promoting awareness of the importance of data in addressing gender disparities, we can break the cycle and promote equitable outcomes.
Addressing gender data gaps is an imperative task that requires collective efforts and a comprehensive approach. The GDL is just the start of such a transformation, but can caltayse it. By recognising the importance of gender data in policy-making, investing in capacity development and leveraging digital technologies, we can drive progress towards achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment. Through collaborations with stakeholders and a commitment to measurable outcomes, we can ensure that gender data catalyses transformative change. Together, let us strive for a future where gender equality is no longer invisible but integral to inclusive policies and practices that benefit all.