Paving the Way Towards Progress that Counts


By Katja Iversen, President/CEO, Women Deliver

This blog is part of a special series marking the launch of the updated
2019 Social Institutions and Gender Index (SIGI)

Sigi-1How can we power development that leaves no one behind?

As we edge towards 2030 – with long ways to go to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – there may be no more pressing question.

As a champion for gender equality, I have long known that girls and women are powerful agents of change and drivers of development. I see it every day, where even in the most impoverished communities and circumstances women get up, get dressed, and go out to fight for better lives for themselves, their children and their families. And because of that, Women Deliver focuses, relentlessly, on pushing decision makers to place girls and women at the centre of development agendas and approaches.

Evidence from around the globe shows that we are right on the money when we insist on a gender lens to development plans and policies. As a matter of fact, plenty of data show that investing in girls and women creates a ripple effect that goes far beyond the individual and benefits entire communities, countries and economies. When women have a strong standing and a strong voice in their homes, it tends to improve access to education and healthcare for their families. When more women hold more executive leadership positions, their companies stand to be more profitable. When more women are in public office, policies at large become more sustainable and inclusive. If we did away with discriminatory laws, social norms and practices, and girls and women had greater access to education and jobs, global GDP would increase by 7.5% – a remarkable gain of 6 trillion U.S. dollars, or twice the size of the U.K.’s economy1.

In short, investing in girls and women is not just the right thing to do, it is also the smart thing to do. And one investment that will fuel progress across the board is data along with evidence gathering and management that documents – and thus, acknowledges – the realities of girls and women.

We need to measure what we treasure, and reliable and timely data are the bedrock of accountability when it comes to implementing our ambitious development goals. Data help us see where people live, how they fare and what they need. Data help us identify how to best allocate the resources we have – and shine a light on whether our programmes and policies are effective, along with paths for improvement and correction. But for data to count, data must count everyone. Yet, data and statistics often fail to include girls and women properly.

A lack of gender data and research is a big obstacle to moving the needle forward for girls and women – who too often remain invisible to decision makers. Without reliable data, decisions are made on faulty footing, and the resulting programmes and policies too often fail to comprehensively meet girls’ and women’s needs. They also fail to eradicate the key bottlenecks that countries must overcome to reach the SDGs.

But this we know: By increasing the visibility of girls’ and women’s lives, reliable data can inform more effective programmes and policies. The use of data and evidence can also be key to driving accountability and action on gender equality. This is particularly true when sex- and age-disaggregated data are in the hands of civil society. When these organisations use data effectively, they can help influence and hold governments and other decision makers to account.

We have seen as much since 2009, when the OECD Development Centre first launched the Social Institutions and Gender Index (SIGI) to highlight the gaps – both in terms of rights and opportunities – that legislation, social norms and practices create between men and women. The SIGI is a tremendously valuable tool for advocates like us to tangibly show decision makers just how wide a gap we have to close so that girls and women can survive and thrive in their communities.

This work, of course, is not happening in a vacuum. It comes at an inflection point for the gender equality movement. Across the world, we have seen conservative forces rise and cut back on women’s rights we had long believed inviolable. But in response, we have also seen women everywhere pick up their picket signs and stand up to these affronts. Women-led movements, such as #SheDecides, global Women’s Marches, the proliferation of #MeToo and #Timesup, and Women Deliver, are moving full-speed ahead to demand a world where women have equal opportunity.

Despite current blowbacks and challenges, more energy, more activism and more passion exist now around the state of gender equality than we have seen in years. And those of us in the trenches know that data will be key to turning that energy into answers and action.

Advocates and activists have long worked to galvanise political will and policy attention to help fuel positive, palpable change for girls and women around the world. While we still have ways to go in the name of gender equality, having better data and evidence on our side paves the way forward to progress that counts – and gets counted.

1. Source: The OECD Development Centre’s Social Institutions and Gender Index (SIGI)