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Three ways to close the gender data gap

By Deirdre Appel, Clearinghouse Community Manager, PARIS21 and Fatoumata Ngom, Policy Analyst, OECD, Development Co-operation Directorate

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Less than half the data needed to monitor SDG 5, “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls”, is available. Gender data are about much more than sex-disaggregated data. According to the UN Statistics Division, they include data that affect women and girls exclusively or primarily, they span a wide range of socio-economic issues, and they provide meaningful insight into differences in wellbeing across women and men, and girls and boys. Failing to capture and measure gender issues with sound and timely data when designing policies, leaves the most vulnerable further behind. More and better gender data contribute to more equitable and gender-informed policy, all of which contribute to sustainable economic prosperity for all.

According to UN Women’s SDG 5 Tracker, the outlook for gender equality is bleak. Globally, one in every 15 countries is off-track in at least one third of the SDG 5 indicators. In addition, only 13% of countries worldwide have a dedicated budget for gender statistics. But there is progress. In March 2022, Lesotho launched its new National Strategy for the Development of Statistics, which was designed in line with data requirements of other frameworks such as the African Union Agenda 2063 and the United Nations Agenda 2030, in terms of alignment to development needs and national policymaking. The Lesotho Bureau of Statistics worked with every ministry to determine their gender-related activities and needs in terms of data. Such initiatives at national level are promising steps towards SDG 5 and in terms of bridging the corresponding data gaps.

Worldwide, however, gender data are chronically unfunded, despite calls and commitments from the international community to increase investments. For the most recent period with available data (2015–2019), financial commitments from the international development community for gender data stood between USD 217 and USD 272 million per year on average. Over this period of 2017-2019, seven international development partners —the World Bank, UNICEF, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Food and Agriculture Organization, and Switzerland—accounted for almost 80% of total funding.

However, there is scope to mobilise more international concessional finance for gender data up to 2030. In short, budgets need to be scaled up significantly and spent effectively, noting the relative lack of investments overall in national statistics. However, official development assistance is just part of the solution to closing funding gaps for gender data. All countries signed up to SDG 5 and are responsible for meeting the goal and its targets, and effective domestic budget mobilisation for gender statistics will be also key. Now is the time to move beyond advocacy and diagnostics to tangible actions to make the right investments for data-driven gender equality.

So, how can countries, development actors and other partners accelerate the pace to provide smarter financing for gender data? Our analysis and lessons from good practice alongside an ongoing event series by PARIS21, UN Women, Open Data Watch and Data2X suggest that tangible progress must be made in the three following ways:

1. Champion, support and target finance for gender statistics across the system, ensuring that development co-operation strategies and national development plans identify gender statistics as a cross-cutting priority.

International development policies should prioritise support for gender data and statistics across their portfolios. Few donors have dedicated gender data policies and strategies as part of their development co-operation agenda or dedicated budgets for gender data. Among the few examples are Sweden, which in 2016, and as part of its Feminist Foreign Policy, launched an International Training Programme in Gender Statistics to help partner countries strengthen their capacity to produce and use gender statistics. Canada has also been implementing its Feminist International Assistance Policy since 2017, which includes evidence-based policymaking through better gender data collection and analysis and strengthening gender data systems.

At the national level, Senegal, Sierra Leone and others, are mainstreaming gender statistics into their national strategies for the development of statistics (as Lesotho has done) to ensure gender-sensitive data are part of the system, less siloed and more accessible. These system-wide approaches emerge from a growing recognition that the same statistical systems that produce gender indicators also produce a large array of other indicators needed to design, implement, and monitor development programmes and the SDGs. Investments in gender data are investments in the country’s development plan.

Internationally, the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation’s Bern Principles on Effective Support to National Statistical Systems and the Use of Data for Development can guide efforts towards gender data mainstreaming. In particular, the alignment of official development assistance (ODA) for data and statistics with countries’ own policies and strategies for national statistics and more harmonised support for data and statistics can help increase the scale and effectiveness of efforts to close gaps with stronger and more sustainable statistical systems.

2. Make funding and plans for gender data more transparent for better co-ordinated efforts and limit unsustainable, fragmented and duplicative projects.

Development actors should better track and share current and projected gender-related financing for statistics, which will allow them to trace more effectively who is funding gender data, where, why and how. This challenge is the impetus behind initiatives such as the Clearinghouse for Financing Development Data and the OECD’s Data for Development profiles.

Having a one-stop shop for tracking gender data funding flows and helping decision making for investments will improve coordination and help to better match demand with supply of gender data.  The Clearinghouse is the world’s first platform that provides information on funding flows on financing for data and statistics at the international and country levels. In collaboration with the OECD and PARIS21, the Clearinghouse models country demand and gender data financing gaps, analyses financing results, and develops country and regional profiles.

3. Incentivise and secure political support for gender data at the highest level of government with solid business cases for such investments

Studies show that in countries where government backing for the long-term importance of a robust national statistical system is lacking, less funding goes to those systems. In Rwanda and the Philippines, for instance, leaders in the executive office championed the importance of developing statistics. These elected officials’ high level of commitment enabled the two governments to manage relationships with multiple donors and implement plans even when capacity was relatively low. In Sierra Leone, “Statistic Sierra Leone” Director General, Professor Osman Sankoh, is a vocal champion for gender statistics, supporting the establishment of a Gender Statistics Unit as mentioned during last month’s Solution in Scarcity: Smart Financing for Gender Data event.

Governments, international development actors, and civil society gathered on 5th-15th July 2022 for the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development to track progress towards SDG 5 and will meet again in September for the UN General Assembly. It is critical that gender data financing—and ways forward to more and smarter investments—are part of the agenda and become central to our shared vision for gender equality.