Take five with Papa Seck: Getting better at gender data—why does it matter?

As the new UN Women “Making Every Woman and Girl Count” programme is launched on 21 September at an event in New York, Papa Seck, Chief Statistician of UN Women, talks about why having data and accurate information on gender equality and women’s rights is an urgent need.


Papa Seck, Chief Statistician of UN Women Photo: UN Women/Jacob Crawfurd
Papa Seck, Chief Statistician of UN Women. Photo: UN Women/Jacob Crawfurd

In a world of crises, such as the ones we live in right now, why is gender data a priority?

To know the nature and scale of crises, to solve them or better yet, to stop them from happening in the first place, we need accurate information. We need to know what is causing a crisis and the best way to address or prevent it. Data is information, and information is power.

Currently, we are producing huge amounts of data, but when it comes to women and girls, there are glaring blind spots and gaping holes. For instance, we are missing data on women’s income, on the number of women and girls living in poverty.  We do not know what financial and physical assets women possess, whether it is land or a bank account.  We are missing information on the time that women spend working—whether it is unpaid and paid work. Without knowing this information, how can we move women out of the cycle of poverty and inequality?

Last year, world leaders committed to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)—a set of 17 goals and 169 targets that touch upon every area of our lives, from prosperity to health, safety, environment, politics and more—by the year2030. Achieving gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls is not only a stand-alone goal, but threaded through several of these goals and targets. Women and girls represent half of humanity. Yet, an overwhelming 80 per cent of the indicators to monitor the SDG related to gender equality lack adequate data. With limited information on half of humanity, how can we make any meaningful decisions to benefit them and their families? Without this data, how will we know where, why and how gender inequality persists? To realize the vision of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, to fulfill our promise that no one will be left behind, we must get better about generating, prioritizing and using gender data.

If we have gender data, as UN Women’s Flagship Programme Initiative is envisioning, what will change?

Having better and accurate gender data will revolutionize the way in which we make decisions that impact people’s lives, as well what  issues we tackle and how. If policies are a destination, then data is the GPS to get us there. With adequate gender data then we can plan and optimize our efforts accordingly, adopting not only the best policies but also the most cost-effective ones.

We need to know what are the pressing challenges facing women and girls, to meet the goals of global prosperity, health and wellbeing.  Otherwise, we run the risk of lop-sided results and development efforts missing women and girls. The SDGs represent a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create a world that is more equal, just and sustainable. With accurate and comparable gender data, we will able to properly measure and monitor progress towards the SDGs and empower citizens to hold their leaders accountable.

This week, UN Women is launching a new initiative to help tackle these issues. How will this initiative work, what will it do?

“Making every woman and girl count” is a five-year programme that will cost $65 million.

UN Women leads its implementation working with partners, including Member States, other UN agencies and civil society organizations. Our objective is to tackle gender-data gaps but also to ensure that these data are actually used to inform policies and to monitor progress towards the SDGs. The programme will be implemented in 12 pathfinder countries, covering all regions. Through our regional projects, we will support more countries based on demand.

The programme will take various actions, such as—reinforcing the capacities of the National Statistics Officers in collaborating countries to improve data production by providing them with training, technical and financial support, strengthening the capacities of the national administrations, civil society organizations and academics, through for instance training, and research grants, so that the data thus produced can be used to inform policies. At the same time, the initiative will help to develop online platforms in the implementing countries that serve as information hubs on gender data that people can consult.

You have highlighted the importance of the global community working together in order to bridge the gender data gap. How can other partners get involved?

There are, and have been in the past, many efforts to tackle the gender date gap, but they are largely fragmented and risk duplication of efforts. Through this flagship programme, we will be able to work together with partners and the data community and ensure that our efforts are complementary. The initiative also serves as a platform for collaboration with gender equality experts, academics and researchers, civil society organizations, Member States, the private sector, and foundations. Together, we can make gender data gap a thing of the past. We are excited about the level of financial commitments from existing partners, including the Government of Australia and USAID and we look forward to having many more partners to join us.

How will the success of the programme be measured? Five years from now, what do you expect the programme to achieve?

The programme will be monitored and evaluated from the start to finish. There will be many milestones and its success will be measured in different ways, such as, whether countries have integrated gender equality targets into their national plans for implementing the SDGs; whether countries are regularly monitoring the SDGs from a gender perspective; and whether gender and poverty data or traditionally neglected areas, such as violence against women or unpaid care and domestic work, are produced more frequently.

In five years’ time, we expect to have reliable and comparable gender data in many critical areas. For instance, we will be able to measure where and to what extent legal discrimination persists, have data on women’s asset ownership, their representation in local governments, and more comprehensive data on violence against women and women’s unpaid care work.

Ultimately, the programme aims to improve gender data, not just for the sake of producing data, but to use them to change policies and learn from them.  We want the finance ministers to say that they would not consider a budget proposal that doesn’t integrate gender budgeting, because they would have the necessary data and evidence at their fingertips. What cannot be measured, is often ignored. We cannot afford to ignore gender equality a minute more.

For more information on the Making Every Woman and Girl Count programme, read the programme brief.