Data Gaps Hampering Efforts to Empower Women

July 19, 2012 /

How many women in African countries use fertilizer to help grow their vegetables?

It’s an important question in agriculture-dominant Africa, where many women are farmers—and where the targeting of scarce development funds for farming inputs like fertilizer could mean the difference between an abundant harvest and a poor one.

But there is a dearth of data to help guide the decision-making, and female farmers—usually less vocal than their male counterparts—may lose out.

Such data gaps are common, and they hamper efforts to help women in developing countries, say many in the development community. Now, the World Bank is making its growing number of gender data indicators more accessible through a new gender data portal – the latest move to beef up its work on gender equality.

World Bank President Jim Yong Kim will introduce the portal at an event with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton July 19: “Evidence and Impact: Closing the Gender Data Gap” – a conference discussing existing and emerging data sources and remaining gaps, and identifying concrete steps that can be taken to ensure that more and better gender-sensitive data are collected and used. Event co-sponsor Gallup (with the State Department) will stream the event live from approximately 10:30 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. Washington, DC, time.

The Bank’s new gender portal consolidates several sources of statistics, tools and reference materials covering girls’ and women’s employment, access to productive activities, education, health, public life and decision making, human rights, and demographic outcomes. It includes gender-disaggregated data for 47 financial inclusion indicators from the Global Financial Inclusion Index (Global Findex), launched in April, the 2012 World Development Report on gender equality, and the two-year-old Women, Business and the Law, whose indicators are based on laws and regulations affecting women’s prospects as entrepreneurs and employees.

‘Major Gaps Remain’

World Bank Managing Director Caroline Anstey says the new gender data portal “reveals gender data is more available, but major gaps remain.”

“We know there are large gender disparities in economic opportunities, related to driving factors in the way that markets and institutions function, and social norms about child care and housework,” says Anstey.

“These are important for policy makers and development practitioners to better understand, but difficult to measure. The efforts of the World Bank and our partners to build local capacity to collect more and better gender data in developing countries must be sustained and scaled up.”

Recent and reliable data on the share of women in non-agricultural wage work in Africa, for example, is only available for nine out of 47 countries.

In South Asia, only 1% of the population is covered by complete vital registration records, and in Sub-Saharan Africa, only 2%.

The lack of gender data is particularly problematic when looking at voice and agency — women’s ability to act on their own behalf and to participate in society — says Jeni Klugman, director of gender and development at the World Bank.

“Last year’s World Development Report showed that women’s voice and agency is where global progress on gender equality is really lagging,” she says. “There is now a core set of internationally agreed gender indicators which include voice and agency — but practically no data on that front.”

Global Findex, Women, Business and the Law Reveal Inequities

To help address this issue, the Bank, along with UN Women, UN Statistics Division, and OECD, in March launched EDGE– Evidence and Data on Gender Equity—to make improvements through innovative new methods and by working with statistical agencies in developing countries, to help them measure gender issues as part of their data collection and compilation exercises, says Shaida Badiee, director of the Bank’s Development Data Group.

“Improving data to illustrate the gaps in opportunity between girls, women and men matters – what gets measured gets noticed,” says Badiee.

A bright spot is the Bank’s Global Findex – the first source of data on economic outcomes for women.

With support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Global Findex added 47 questions aimed at gauging financial inclusion to a Gallup Global Poll surveying 150,000 people in 148 countries in 2011. The indicators can all be broken down by gender as well as by age, education, income, and rural or urban residence, says Leora Klapper, a lead economist in the Bank’s Development Research Group, on her blog: Two Persistent Divides in Financial Inclusion: Gender and Rural.

The survey shows women are less likely to use formal financial services than men around the world. “Even among the richest 20% of earners in developing economies, we still find a persistent 9 percentage point gap in the use of formal accounts between men and women,” says Klapper.

Among adults living on less than $2 a day, women are 28 percent less likely than men to have a formal account. Women were also more likely to report they didn’t have a bank account because “someone else in my family already has one,” says Klapper.

A number of countries, particularly in Africa, assign—by law—head of household duties such as paying taxes to the man of the house, says Rita Ramalho, manager in the World Bank Group’s Women, Business and the Law. That website’s data looks at differentiations on the basis of gender in 142 economies around the world, covering six areas: accessing institutions, using property, getting a job, providing incentives to work, building credit and going to court.

The Women, Business and the Law data also show that along with restrictions on working hours, there are also restrictions on industries where women can work. In some countries, women are required by law or custom to retire at an earlier age than men, often limiting their upward mobility and creating wage gaps at work. Discrimination or differentiation between men and women is common in citizenship laws, with different rules in place in terms of passing citizenship on to children if the citizenship is coming from the mother’s side versus the father’s side; passing on citizenship to a spouse also differs if it comes from the wife.

Ramalho says the data is used by the Millennium Challenge Corporation to help determine grants to countries—a fact that has driven interest in the indicators, particularly among African countries.

“Some want to know what exactly we measure, what are the changes, what are they doing well, what are they doing not so well and how to improve – so there is an interest in change. Just by putting the information out there, governments and citizens are more aware, and feel the need to do something.”


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