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Women By the Numbers
Todd Post for Bread for the World, 2011
Hilary Rodham Clinton may be remembered for many things she said while Secretary of State, but one of the most oft-quoted things she said during her tenure at State was when she spoke at an event in July 2012: Evidence and Impact: Closing the Gender Data Gap. Clinton said, "Data not only measures progress, it inspires it."
She repeats this statement quite often, or at least some permutation. Thank heavens. Since it appears she may be running for president of the United States, we need leaders who recognize that data is more than about numbers and charts—it’s a public good, no less a public good than the food system, clean air and water, or children. Yes, children are a public good - who else but them will produce the future leaders of our nations and whom all nations will eventually depend on to address the catastrophe of climate change. Today's leaders certainly have all the data they need to get started; what they lack is the courage and political will. Here's hoping our kids are more inspired than we adults have been.
You may have heard something about the fanfare around Big Data. A Data Revolution appears to be taking place. Something akin to data available to everyone, anywhere, any time, and about aloost anything – a click away, two at the most. The so-called data revolution is very much a gender equality issue, and here on International Women’s Day let’s try to understand why.
In the business I'm in, i.e. ending hunger, we frequently say that hunger is predominantly a woman’s issue. We think women experience hunger at a higher rate than men. I’d bet that is probably correct, but the fact is we really don’t know for sure because the way we collect data doesn’t allow us to arrive at a definitive conclusion.
“Are women and girls more likely than men and boys to be undernourished?” asks a 2011 report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the institution charged with collecting and publishing data about undernutrition, or what we more commonly call hunger. According to FAO, “A positive answer to this statement is not supported by available evidence.”
Here’s the problem: Poverty and hunger are normally measured in terms of income or consumption at the household level, not for individuals, so separate hunger and poverty rates for men and women cannot be calculated. Gender disaggregated data are needed to arrive at clear conclusions.
The Millennium Development Goals, which expire in 2015, are likely to be succeeded by another round of development goals. One of the most anticipated improvements to the MDGs will be more gender disaggregation in how progress on the new goals is measured. UN Women has a lot to say about this, so I would steer you there if you’re interested in knowing more about this.
Another example may help to clarify why this issue matters so much. According to UN Women, “the lack of data [on gender-based violence] saw one of the most serious human rights violations excluded from the [MDG] framework. It's critical that we use the post-2015 framework to push the data and evidence base forward, rather than allowing the data we have available to us frame the priorities we set ourselves.”
Today, everyone wants to pledge their allegiance to evidence-based policymaking. I attended an event earlier in the week here in Washington, DC commemorating the upcoming International Women’s Day. The event was hosted by one of the most prominent development organizations in the world, which also happens to specialize in women in development. The event included release of a new paper and as the president of the organization introduced it and the researcher who would present the paper, she made clear to emphasize that this organization, hers, was driven by evidence-based research - not ideology, not opinions, not anything I guess you could say that smacked of the subjective.
The room was packed with women, and as one might expect, the ratio of women to men was no less than nine to one. In the room were some of the most respected thinkers and leaders in the development sector’s work on gender inequality. I looked around the room and the thought crossed my mind that when these women (and the men also) decided to focus so much of their life’s work on overcoming gender inequalities, few of them I'll bet based that decision on a thorough analysis of the evidence base.
This so called data revolution, like any revolution, is the means to an end—what we know to be the right thing to do, the elimination of gender inequality and the championing of human rights for all. As for that, we don't need to consult the data.
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