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Gender Data Is Essential to Drive SDG Advocacy for Women and Girls

A new index brings us one step closer to measuring progress toward gender equality under the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals, but ultimate success is hampered by a persistent problem: gaps in the relevant data.

Written by Emily Courey Pryor Published on Read time Approx. 3 minutes
The U.N headquarters in New York hosts the launch of a public-private partnership to close gender data gaps for Sustainable Development Goals monitoring and accountability. Mark J Sullivan/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

As we approach the 73rd United Nations General Assembly and Global Goals Week 2018 – the three-year mark since launching the ambitious Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – it is clear that our monitoring capabilities need to grow to match our ambitions, especially those related to closing equity gaps for women and girls.

Because of this need, new efforts are being made to capture and convey the progress, or lack of progress, toward the SDGs. On September 19, Equal Measures 2030 (EM2030) launched a new SDG gender monitoring tool – the SDG Gender Index – that will complement official monitoring efforts from the U.N. system, as well as national-level and civil-society initiatives. Through cross-country comparisons, the index provides a new perspective on understanding SDG progress on gender equality, while using this information to inform advocacy and accountability efforts. Ultimately, the goal of this index is to help gender-equality advocates track broad SDG progress on girls and women while promoting accountability among decision-makers.

A New Element on the SDG Monitoring Landscape

As a founding partner of EM2030, Data2X believes this index offers a new insight into SDG tracking on gender equality through its ability to: 1. foster cross-country comparisons; and 2. combine official SDG gender indicators with gender issues that are not included as official SDG indicators but are critical to achieving SDG targets – such as women in climate change processes and openness of gender data.

Indices like this can be useful to provide a top-level view, giving countries a sense of relative progress, and charting national journeys toward gender equality over time. But ultimately, all SDG monitoring efforts are only as good as the data underpinning them. With sufficient data for monitoring on only 19 percent of global gender-specific SDG indicators, the EM2030 SDG Gender Index – as well as other SDG gender monitoring efforts, including U.N. Women’s SDG Monitoring Report; UNSD’s Inter-Agency and Expert Group on SDG Indicators; country-level efforts through Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs); and shadow VNR reporting by civil-society groups – all grapple with the same problem: a lack of gender data. Without robust gender data, we cannot create or report on measures of accountability or monitor the actions of decision-makers.

Lack of Gender Data Hinders SDG Accountability

Improvements to existing gender data and consistent work to close gender data gaps are imperative for quality SDG tracking and sound policymaking. To serve that end, Data2X, with our partner Open Data Watch, has undertaken new mapping work (building on our original 2014 report “Mapping the Gender Data Gaps”) to identify and highlight the gender data gaps, in alignment with the SDGs.

U.N. agencies and statistical partnerships – including UNSD and U.N. Women’s Evidence and Data for Gender Equality project; U.N. Women’s Making Every Woman and Girl Count flagship program initiative; and PARIS21’s work with national statistics offices (NSOs) – are also working to close the gaps in gender data by improving data production. And at a national level, countries are spearheading their own efforts to bolster data collection systems in the SDG era.

But improving official gender data production is only one piece of the puzzle; we also need to promote the use of gender data to problem-solve and make decisions. One way to do this is to encourage advocates to use gender data in their work and call for the expansion and improvement of data production and use. For example, in our recent research on time-use data, we found that advocates were central to getting the data on unpaid care work (SDG Indicator 5.4.1) used to create new national policy. When data is used, we know that policy impacts can result.

This is another reason why Data2X is pleased to support EM2030 and its work on the SDG Gender Index: Using the data we have, and continuing to push for the data we need, requires many partners and voices, and a mix of technical, political and organizational skills. And while the lack of data hampers our long-term efforts, and is a problem that must be solved, we hope that this new index helps motivate and remind us that we must use the data we have to hold ourselves accountable on our progress – or delay – in improving the lives of women and girls worldwide.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Women’s Advancement Deeply.

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