UN World Data Forum in Dubai: Information gender gap means the plight of millions of women and children remains ignored

Undocumented levels of sexual violence, unpaid work undertaken by women and child mortality rates go unrecorded in many countries

A Rohingya refugee mother uses a blade to cut the overgrown nails of her child at the Palangkhali refugee camp in Ukhia district on October 12, 2017.
Bangladesh has heavily curtailed access to the Rohingya camps in recent years, but eased restrictions last month after more than 520,000 new refugees poured across the border. The government's NGO Affairs Bureau approved 30 local and global aid groups to meet "emergency needs" in the overwhelmed camps, which already housed about 300,000 Rohingya before the latest influx.

Gaps in gender-specific data are holding back support and legislation for vulnerable women and children around the world, the United Nations has said.

The issue was raised at the World Data Forum in Dubai where speakers from the UN and UNICEF said gender related data was vital in policy planning.

The UN is working with Data2X, an advocacy platform to improve the collection and use of gender specific data.

Gender data is information that reveals the lived experiences of women and men, boys and girls.

“There are major gaps in the data that exists for women,” said Emily Courey-Pryor, executive director of Data2X.

“We’ve found serious gaps across five domains of development; health, education, economic opportunity, equal participation and human security.

“There is a huge problem about a lack of gender specific date that could help effective policy making.”

In 2014, Data2X published an international study on the availability of gender specific data that can be used to improve services and protect women and children.

“There was no comparable international data on women’s unpaid work and little information to assess the gender pay cap across countries,” said Ms Courey-Pryor.

“A third of countries lacked data on girls of primary school age and adult mortality relating to cause of death.

“We need to better understand where the gaps are and why they exist.

“Gender data gaps are persistent and pernicious, but we cannot close them unless we are open to collaboration.”

Data2X has worked with long term partners at Open Data Watch to evaluate global mapping on where the biggest gaps exist.

Just 52 per cent of data sets in 15 African countries had gender specific information in areas of health, education and economic factors.

“We have been asking hard questions about the data we need on women and children that often gets left out of statistics,” said Eric Swanson, director of research at Open Data Watch.

“There is a vastly expanding range of concerns in a world that is changing rapidly.

“We looked at international and national sources of data, as it is important to look at national data first to see how it is interpreted internationally.”


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There were nine areas where no gender specific data existed.

Economic opportunities were found to be an under reported area, with little to no information on the average hourly earnings of female and male employees.

There was also no data on the number of women aged 15-49 who had suffered sexual violence, or on those who felt safe walking alone in the area where they lived.

In September, a new gender data monitoring tool was launched, the Sustainability Development Goal Gender Index, to aid the UN’s current data monitoring system.

The index promises a new perspective on understanding gender inequality, and closing any gaps to promote greater accountability among decision-makers.

At the World Data Forum, case studies revealed how information gathering by UNICEF in Nicaragua and was being used.

In Nicaragua, sexual violence is taboo with the abuse of children and adolescents considered a family matter.

A study of reported cases between 2013-15 found 82 per cent of sexual crimes were committed against girls and adolescents under the age of 17 by a known person or family member.

Data collected allowed for a new communication strategy in the country to break the silence of the issue and show how cases could be reported and dealt with, placing the issue on the public agenda.

Worldwide, gender specific asset ownership and wealth was also severely lacking, putting women and children in vulnerable positions.

“Data on assets is important to discover which women have the level of security needed for female empowerment,” said Francesca Grum, chief of the social and housing statistics section of the UN.

“If women have control over key assets like land or principal dwellings, this adds to their security.

“There is very little information we can use from a gender perspective to fully understand this area.”