“What matters gets measured, and what we measure is what ends up mattering” - Deputy Executive Director John Hendra

Remarks by UN Women Deputy Executive Director Policy and Programme John Hendra, at the CSW58 side event on “Indicators for monitoring gender equality: Lessons learned from the MDGs”, New York, 12 March 2014.


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Distinguished panelists, distinguished delegates, civil society colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,

I’m John Hendra, Deputy Executive Director for Policy and Programme at UN Women, and it’s my great pleasure to welcome you today to this side event on indicators for monitoring gender equality: lessons learned from the MDGs.

This event could not be more timely as the Open Working Group has issued its’ summary of 19 priority areas for inclusion in the Sustainable Development Goals (the SDGs) and they have invited inputs on the indicators to be used for each of these target areas. This is a real opportunity for the UN system to support Member States in defining the new agenda, and identify what needs to be included from a “gender equality, women’s rights and women’s empowerment” perspective, not only in the gender equality priority area, but in all 18 other priority areas. 

So I’m particularly pleased to be moderating our discussion today. Every year, during the Statistical Commission, and during CSW, UN Women and the UN Statistical Commission have held side events on gender statistics, to highlight work we are doing together, as well as the important contributions of UN agencies to the growing global work on gender statistics.  I would like to give special thanks to our partner in today’s side event, the UN Statistical Commission, as well as UN Agencies who have worked so closely with us in this endeavour. 

In light of the CSW58 focus on the achievements and challenges of the MDGs for women and girls, it’s very opportune to reflect on how far we have come in terms of collecting and using gender statistics, as well as what still remains to be done to ensure we have a really robust framework with gender equality and women’s rights at its centre.

In 2002, when the targets and indicators were being developed to measure the MDGs, gender equality and women’s empowerment were not exactly at the forefront of the consciousness of those who formulated the indicators. A key impediment at that time was the lack of available, comparable gender statistics on many of the critical issues that are central to achieving gender equality and women’s rights, including violence against women and girls, unpaid care work, and political participation at the sub-national level, among others.

Yet if there is anything the MDGs have taught us, it is that what matters gets measured – and that what we measure is what ends up mattering. Maternal mortality, for example, is very difficult to measure, but today, in part as a result of MDG5, we have data that speaks to the scale of the problem. These figures have helped galvanize attention and action around the world, and progress has been made towards reducing maternal mortality in many countries although we still have to accelerate achievement in this area.

Gender Chart 2014 cover page

And, until quite recently, while we knew violence against women was pervasive and existed in every country around the world, we really didn’t know the full extent of the problem. But thanks to the work of the World Health Organization and others, we now do. As the Gender Chart shows, no region and no country in the world is free of the dehumanizing impact of violence against women and girls. Embedded in these figures is an urgent, global call for action and a moral imperative for all of us to do more to prevent and end all forms of violence against women and girls.

We have come a long way on gender statistics since the MDGs were developed. February last year marked the first time that a common set of standard gender indicators has been approved by the UN Statistical Commission, to serve as a guide for data collection and compilation world-wide. This is the culmination of very intense work and commitment of all members of the inter-agency group on gender statistics – and their unwavering leadership. 

The adoption of these 52 standard indicators for gender equality, together with the nine standard indicators for measuring violence against women, is very timely. There is a strong call for a data revolution among Member States and other stakeholders. We must ensure that we have baselines in place by 1 January 2016 for the key gender equality issues we want to see included in the new post-2015 development agenda. So we now need to roll-out and use these standard indicators in every country and region worldwide.

Looking forward, there is still more to do to fill the data gaps. Through UN Women’s work with the UN Statistics Division and other partners on the Evidence and Data for Gender Equality Initiative (EDGE) we’re aiming to develop and test methodologies to measure asset ownership and entrepreneurship. With the UN Statistics Division and the World Bank, we’ve started working on measuring violence against women using the nine standard indicators, and we hope that others will join us in this effort. With the leadership of the UN Statistics Division, and through the work of the Interagency Group, we are supporting countries with practical tools to collect time-use data, which is so important for measuring women’s unpaid care work.  All of these are critical areas for gender equality and women’s rights, and therefore important for the new post-2015 development agenda. 

I am convinced that with continued political will, leadership and commitment we can accelerate our efforts to ensure that the gender equality issues that really matter get measured and that we have the right baselines in place for 1 January 2016, so that the data revolution is in fact a gender data revolution.

Thank you.

Panellists’ presentations can be found here.