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Experts: Better Data Will Empower Women, Help Tackle Poverty

February 18, 2015


The World Bank Group is scaling up partnerships with UN agencies and others, including the new Data2X initiative, which aims to improve data collection and use it to guide policy, leverage investments, and spur economic and social progress.

WASHINGTON, February 18, 2015—More and better data about women and girls can shed light on all aspects of their lives, identify new ways of empowering them, and even stem forced or child marriages, according to World Bank Group and other experts.

Gaps in data can result in uninformed policy decisions as well as missed opportunities to improve the lives of girls and women, and more investment in gender-disaggregated data is badly needed, experts told a panel discussion here.

“Lack of formal identification disproportionately affects women and children. There are 750 million children across the world whose births are not registered,” said Mariana Dahan, Identification for Development (ID4D) coordinator at the World Bank Group (WBG). “Registering girls at birth and marriages can prevent forced marriages and help girls in inheriting property and assets.”

Mayra Buvinic, senior fellow at the United Nations Foundation, said one way to expand available data is to increase sample sizes during surveys to include gender dimensions.

Scant data globally reveal too little about women’s health, childbirth conditions, workplace roles, asset ownership, and access to banks and other financial services, which makes diagnosing challenges, designing programs, and benchmarking progress in tackling poverty and inequality difficult.

But collecting such data poses challenges of its own. “One important aspect is the social and cultural issue of getting into households and talking to women,” WBG Senior Director for Gender Caren Grown said.

A WBG 2009-2011 Living Standards Measurement Study (LSMS) in Uganda, for example, required extensive interviews to successfully collect gender-specific data.

“We went through many rounds, interviewing members of the family together and then also interviewing them individually to get gender-disaggregated data,” WBG Senior Economist Talip Kilic said.

Filling gaps

Filling these data gaps is vital to addressing extreme poverty, to which women and girls are disproportionately vulnerable.

To do this, the WBG is scaling up partnerships with UN agencies and others, including the new Data2X initiative, which aims to improve data collection and use it to guide policy, leverage investments, and spur economic and social progress.

It has identified 28 global gender data gaps that it is seeking to close across five domains: health, education, economic opportunities, political participation, and human security. It is also notably working with the International Labour Organization and Food and Agriculture Organization to operationalize new international definitions of work and employment that recognize all productive activities, paid and unpaid, which has major implications for how women’s work is measured.

The result will inform guidance to statisticians and survey designers with the aim of more accurately measuring women’s labor. This will complement WBG work with the UN Evidence and Data for Gender Equality (EDGE) Initiative to gather data on women’s asset ownership and entrepreneurship.

Along with the World Health Organization and others, the WBG has also developed plans to scale up collection of vital statistics. Marriage and divorce registrations will expand the ability of women and girls to own and inherit property, while birth and marriage registrations will help prevent early and forced marriage.

The WBG is also housing a new Global Financing Facility for the Every Woman Every Child initiative, supporting countries as they institute universal registration of every pregnancy, birth, and death by 2030.

Some 100 developing countries lack functioning systems to track births, deaths, and marriages. An estimated 230 million children under age 5 have never had their births registered—half of them are girls, who typically face broad legal and cultural constraints that make them far more vulnerable to poverty.

Providing legal proof of identity makes it possible for males and females to obtain passports, open bank accounts, access loans, obtain drivers’ licenses, vote, go to school, or draw pensions.