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Officials Decry “Appalling Gaps” in Global Data on Women

Peruvian peasant women working in the potato fields. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

WASHINGTON, Jul 19 2012 (IPS) - The World Bank and U.S. government on Thursday each announced major new initiatives aimed at expanding knowledge on the experience of women around the world, while acknowledging that much remains to be done on filling the global “data gap” on women.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and new World Bank President Jim Yong Kim appeared together here in Washington to make the announcements at an event at which Clinton noted that the world is in the midst of a “data revolution”, in which data of all types are being created and shared at unprecedented speeds and volumes.

“But are we just collecting it for the sake of collecting it?” Clinton asked at the Washington headquarters of Gallup, a research and polling organisation.

“For too many countries, we lack reliable and regular data on even the basic facts about the lives of women and girls – facts like when they have their first child, how many hours of paid and unpaid work they do, whether they own the land they farm. And since women make up half the population, that’s like having a black hole at the centre of our data-driven universe.”

She continued: “So if we’re serious about narrowing the gender gap and helping more girls and women, then we must get serious about gathering and analysing the data that tell the tale.”

Clinton made a splash in 1995 at an international summit on Women in Beijing, where she famously stated that “Women’s rights are human rights.” Since becoming secretary of state, she has focused on making the role of women in society central in shaping U.S. aid policy.

On Thursday, she announced the creation of a new U.S. government initiative called Data 2X, which will aim at shoring up international capacity on the production and analysis of data, including training in gender-sensitive data-gathering techniques and filling gaps in gender-sensitive data.

Clinton pointed to gaps in knowledge on how economic barriers differ for women from country to country, on women’s use of the Internet, land use and property rights, and political roles at the local level.

With hundreds of billions of dollars in national policy and foreign aid resting on the details of intervention programmes around the world, such data holes could well mean the difference between success and failure on nearly the entire spectrum of development indicators.

Jim Kim also announced a major new initiative on the subject, the World Bank’s Gender Data Portal, a clearinghouse of the bank’s decades’ worth of gender-related statistics and analysis.

While Kim said the new site would be continuously updated, he also was frank on what even this trove of information is unable to offer.

“When you visit our new site, you’ll also see that there are appalling gaps in country coverage and frequency,” Kim said.

“You won’t find data on gender wage gaps in developing countries, because comparable data doesn’t exist across developing countries. You won’t find enough data measuring women’s voice and agency beyond women’s representation in national parliaments – there are bits and pieces, but the gaps are still huge.”

The World Bank’s latest signature World Development Report, for 2012, focuses on gender equality.

Kim, the first bank president with a background in science, said that report, too, “makes clear that one of the fundamental challenges for tackling all (development) issues is more and better data and evidence. Before we can solve a problem, we need to understand it. We need to be able to evaluate systematically what sorts of interventions work, which don’t, and why.”

Overlooked peacemakers

Incorrect, incomplete or missing data inevitably weakens processes of prioritisation at all levels of planning, with a broad range of consequences.

While it has largely become accepted wisdom that women are at the very heart of much of any society’s development progress, for instance, observers note one critical area in which women continue to be systematically and dangerously excluded: peacemaking, particularly in post-conflict countries.

Anne-Marie Goetz, a widely noted advisor for UNIFEM, the U.N. development fund for women, has found that less than six percent of participants in peace negotiations between 1994 and 2009 were women. Further, no woman has ever been appointed as lead negotiator for a U.N.-overseen mediation process.

At the local level, she has also found that an average of just six percent of money in post-conflict reconstruction goes for women’s issues.

“The nature of conflict has changed, but the way we do peacemaking has not,” Sanam Anderlini, a researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said from the audience at Gallup on Thursday.

A civil war, Anderlini said, “atomises” a society into constituent ethnic or identity groups. Yet following the conflict, peace processes around the world typically bring together the government and the armed groups, both of which are often seen as illegitimate in the eyes of many in the country.

Meanwhile, “we systematically exclude people in the communities, people who are pro-peace, who have been active in peacemaking – women are systematically excluded,” Anderlini said.

“If 50 percent of the population who were black or Jewish or Chinese or whatever (were excluded), we’d say this is racism. But when it comes to women, we say this is ‘cultural’.”

When the issue of women and conflict is discussed, Anderlini says, most of the time the analysis revolves around the impact of conflict on women, rather than about what women have done during conflict periods.

“We have valuable case-study data, and I don’t know why we’re not applying the information we have towards our own policies,” Anderlini said.

“Are we engaging with women in Syria? We didn’t do that with Libyan women (during the war there). Consistently, our own prejudices get in the way, that and the inertia of changing the business of peacemaking – which, incredibly, is still exclusive and limited, despite being probably the most important period in a country’s history.”

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  • cuja1

    It’s interesting that we fight for women’s rights around the world  and at the same time the Tea Party is trying to take away ours?