Closing the Gendered Data Gap

By Sydney Nam 

Sydney is a second-year War Studies & History BA student. Perpetually frustrated about gender and racial inequality, she attempts to have a go at shedding some light on deserving subjects, which are either undervalued or underdiscussed. Always open to healthy debate, feel free to send her a message on Facebook if you have any questions or talk-points about her articles!

Undoubtedly, the 21st century has been saturated by technological innovation and advancements. At an increasingly fast pace, the developed world is moving towards one where artificial intelligence (AI) is becoming a feature of everyday life. On the flip side, many developing countries are still struggling to implement basic amenities like electricity on a nation-wide scale. As AI plays a larger role in our lives, steps must be taken in order to ensure that the gap between developed and developing countries does not grow larger, especially for specific groups, like women, who feel the lasting effects of being pushed aside as secondary priorities by their respective governments and societies.

Mayra Buvinic, the Director of the World Bank’s Gender and Development organ, postulated, “not having data…means that you cannot design the right policies, you cannot track progress”. [1] Data informs the conception and implementation of policy on both the national and international level. Consequently, when policymakers and politicians do not have access to all the data, it becomes increasingly difficult to go about policymaking in a way which does not marginalise demographics, which are thereby unaccounted for. Intentional or not, when women and girls are left out of the equation, they are automatically further sidelined and systematically oppressed.

So, it begs the questions, what can be done to change this?

Reform must be initiated at even the simplest of levels. The nature in which data is collected has hindered the process in closing the gap, so in this vein surveys need to be designed to collate answers with breadth, depth, and context. Its limitations are evidenced by the UNFPA, which reported that most organizations and thereby its respective surveys, consider the reproductive age as being between 15-49. This discounts the girls under fifteen who account for more than 27% of girls under the age of 18 in developing countries every year. [2] Mayra Buvinic remarked, “labor force studies designed to gauge economic participation often ask only about “primary activity.” In essence, when a woman answers that her primary job is a “housewife” it fails to account for her housework or agricultural work. These surveys are not inclusive for women who are secondary-income earners. [3]

Given these systematic and foundational biases, women and girls are left out of the equation, negating their societal participation and their needs unmet. With the adoption of more gendered surveys tailored towards girls and women specifically, policymakers can review data, comparing and contrasting them between mean and women, thus able to view the disparities between the two and how to implement best practices to benefit both genders.

Considerable progress made since 2015 in Guatemala is an example in which good data was used to implement lasting changes. Until last year the legal age for marriage in Guatemala was fourteen, leaving young girls more vulnerable to health risks, sexual abuse, and complications during childbirth. Moreover, the low threshold for eligibility of marriage prevents most girls from continuing their education at a higher level, making them solely reliant on their husbands. This unsustainable practice was met with opposition from Plan International who partnered with “advocates and civil society groups to launch its “Because I am a Girl” initiative. This initiative analysed Mayan laws and collected data regarding the negative impacts early marriage had on the quality of children’s lives. After compilation the team was able to present it before Guatemala’s Congress, and in August 2015 the minimum age of marriage was raised to eighteen. [4] This is only one example of how tangible reform can be stimulated through the commitment of gathering gendered data.

Provided, there are numerous issues that hinder the empowerment of girls and women in developing countries, but increasingly measures are being taken in order to prevent this. Recently, potent players on the international playing field, such as Bill and Melinda Gates and Hillary Clinton, have caught wind of the gendered data gap and have teamed up with several international organisations making provisions to remedy this issue. The UN Women’s newly conceived project “Making Every Women and Girl Count” recently received an $80 million dollar grant for the next three years from the Gate’s Foundation in order to gather more detailed gender statistics. Essentially, this allows girls and women ­ – especially in developing parts of the world – to be accounted for during policymaking. [5]

Beyond data-driven projects, there are numerous grassroots projects being initiated around the world, such as the Barefoot Project, in attempts to educate girls and women about the mechanics of electricity, solar panels, and water-filters by inviting women from places such as Namibia, Afghanistan, and Bhutan to their home base in a small town near Jaipur, India. [6] Crucially, these are transferable skills: these women and girls are able to return to their predominantly rural towns and villages and teach everyone else these skills, which in turn help grow and develop their local communities. This project is unique due to its “reform within” characteristic, and particularly sustainable in comparison to foreign attempts of intervention, whom would not so readily bring the mutually empowering change that women need.

When the UN and national governments recognise the merits of organisations like the Barefoot Project, they enable big changes to resonate throughout developing nations that need greater infrastructure, built by their own population. Today’s push towards closing the gendered data gap, and implementing technology-based educational structures based on this inclusive data, will hopefully bring long-term improvements for developing nations. With the international community pushing for reform, as illustrated through this year’s UN International Day of the Child Girl, we can take a step closer towards achieving the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. Better use of technology and data can not only help bring men and women closer, but has the power to close the gap between women in developing and developed countries; an important step towards a more sustainable and empowered international community.


Text Sources:

[1] (2016). Closing the Gender Data Gap (Paid Post by Gates Foundation From [online] Available at: [Accessed 3 Nov. 2016].

[2] Rogers, K. (2016). When gender data became cool. [online] Devex. Available at: [Accessed 1 Nov. 2016].

[3] Ibid [1]

[4] Goldberg, E. (2016). One Crucial Thing Can Help End Violence Against Girls. Huffington Post. [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 Nov. 2016].

[5] Tindera, M. (2016). Gates Foundation Pledges $80 Million To Close The Gender ‘Data Gap’. Forbes. [online] Available at: [Accessed 4 Nov. 2016].

[6] Williams, G. (2011). Disrupting Poverty: How Barefoot College is empowering women through peer-to-peer learning and technology. WIRED. [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 Nov. 2016].

Image Sources:

Rethinking Education in Rural Asia or bibliography: Goldberg, E. (2016). One Crucial Thing Can Help End Violence Against Girls. Huffington Post. [online] Available at: [Accessed 3 Nov. 2016].

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