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Making gender equality data fit for purpose

Gender statistics “must be open, accessible, comparable, free and understandable”.  This call to action from Milana Rakanović, head of UN Women Serbia, could have been referring to any area of statistics, so crucial is this message to the entire community of official statisticians in today’s world.

But there is something unique about gender statistics—those which break things down into male and female to reveal gender differences, as well as those dealing with topics that have a specific gender dimension, such as gender-based violence—which makes the need for accessible, understandable data even more pressing. As participants in last week’s UNECE Work Session on Gender Statistics in Belgrade heard during a panel discussion, gender statistics are produced to provide an evidence base for policies to promote and monitor gender equality.  

This makes them far from neutral. While Official Statisticians are required by their guiding principles to be impartial and led by scientific standards, they also have a duty to produce relevant, useful information. It is always a challenge for producers of statistics to strike that balance, but especially so in the politically-charged, hotly debated and often sensitive field of gender equality.   

How do gender statistics need to improve to better fit the needs of policymakers and other users? How can we do this while reconciling the neutrality required of Official Statistics with the advocacy inherent in gender statistics? Responding to these questions, experts from national statistical offices, international organizations and academia argued that we cannot stop at producing data: we have a responsibility to ensure policymakers understand it, through careful and clear communication. They also emphasized the need for dialogue with users to find out exactly what they want, what data they already use and how they use it. This can even strengthen the case for collecting more data, for example on how women and men use their time—data which is vitally important for policy-making but difficult and expensive to collect.

Provoking debate among the audience about where the line falls between communicating on what is relevant and taking a political stance, the panel featured as part of a three-day event bringing together gender statistics experts to discuss many themes: measuring violence against women; working in partnerships; examining how gender statistics are used in policy-making and policy monitoring; and of course, meeting the statistical needs of the Sustainable Development Agenda, which shines a spotlight on the gender dimensions of development and the need for sex-disaggregated data.  

The Work Session concluded by asking UNECE to develop guidance for statistical offices in communicating gender statistics with policymakers and with the public.  As Helen Cahill from the Central Statistics Office of Ireland highlighted, “we haven’t disseminated our gender data until it’s been properly communicated”.

Papers and presentation slides from the Work Session can be viewed at:  bit.ly/unecegenderworksession2017