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Colombia to pilot measurement of gender equality in household ‎decision-making using UNECE recommendations

UNECE’s Recommendations for Measuring Intra-household Power and Decision-making, soon to be opened for consultation among all the member countries of the UNECE-led Conference of European Statisticians, are already impacting the way statistics on gender equality are produced in Colombia.

At a seminar last Friday hosted by Colombia’s DANE (the national administrative department for statistics) and the Javeriana Pontificia University in Bogotá, the draft of the Recommendations formed the basis of debate among statisticians, economists and gender scholars about how to include this hard-to-define and even harder-to-measure topic in Colombia’s national surveys. Hoping to shed light on the reasons for the persistent and significant gender differences in paid work and unpaid domestic care work in Colombia, DANE plans to develop a module of decision-making questions to incorporate into their 2020 time use survey: a survey that measures how people’s time is divided between different kinds of activities both inside and outside the home.

All the major international policy frameworks on gender equality recognize the fundamental role of equality between women and men in the ability to make decisions and to control and access resources.  Critically, these frameworks point out that unequal power relations operate at all levels, not only public but also private.

But statistics—at least national official statistics—have not yet caught on to this last point. Statistics on power and decision-making abound, covering, for instance, women's representation in political and judicial positions, management of companies, top positions in universities, gender balance among employees in different sectors and industries; even, in some countries, female voter turnout, political party membership, and decision-making positions in sports. These are all valuable, important statistics. But they are limited to power and influence in the public sphere of life.

Yet surely for someone to occupy a powerful public position, they must first be empowered in the private sphere of their own home? With this in mind, academic researchers have for decades examined the distribution of power in homes, looking at who usually makes decisions about various matters, from routine grocery shopping to saving up for a car, and from seeing a doctor to visiting relatives.

The topic is not new, but the idea of bringing it into the fold of official statistics has emerged only recently, and only a handful of national statistical offices of countries in the UNECE region collect any information of this kind. An international task force led by Canada has developed recommendations proposing seven different dimensions of intra-household decision-making—such as decisions related to health and decisions about bringing up children—with suggestions of how these could be measured. Their work takes the existing practices in academia as a starting point but argues that many of the commonly-used survey questions are too simplistic for the UNECE setting, making them hard to understand and answer.

The Recommendations are only a first step towards making this topic a common feature of national official statistics on gender equality, but judging from the animated discussions in Bogotá they are already serving their purpose—shining the spotlight on the silent inequalities behind closed doors and making us think about how we could quantify them in the hope of altering the imbalances.

The draft Recommendations will be circulated to all member countries of the Conference of European Statisticians in December, and will be published after they are endorsed by the Conference in 2020.