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Seeing the world through a gender lens—statistics bring gender equality into focus

Gender equality is taking an increasingly visible place at the heart of national and international development policymaking.

As it becomes ever more clear that effective, sustainable development depends on a genuine inclusion of gender concerns in all areas, policymakers are finding that they need more statistical evidence on gender equality to help them design and assess their policies.

Statistics that are disaggregated by sex, as well as those which deal with topics that have a particular gender dimension—such as gender-based violence, labour force participation and time use— are known as gender statistics. On 13-17 May UNECE, in partnership with the Swiss Federal Statistical Office and UN Women, held a week of gender statistics events to guide national statistical offices across the UNECE region towards better production, communication and use of gender statistics.

Nearly a hundred gender statisticians gathered for the Work Session on Gender Statistics, in which experts shared research and new approaches in a range of topic areas, including the use of gender statistics in policymaking and policy monitoring; implementation of the Sustainable Development Agenda from a gender perspective; gender and trade; and communicating gender statistics.

Recognizing that greater inclusion of a gender angle in statistical systems depends on widespread support throughout government and beyond, UN Women led a session on institutional mechanisms to support gender statistics. Albania, Kazakhstan and OECD’s Paris 21 shared insights about how such support can be garnered. They stressed the need for both gender issues and statistics to be included in national legislation.

In a keynote speech, Sylvie Durrer, head of the Swiss Federal Office for Gender Equality made a powerful plea for the experiences of women and girls to be taken into account when collecting, compiling and disseminating data so that policies can be designed in ways that reflect these experiences: “Those that are invisible in data are also invisible in policies”. A panel of experts representing statistical producers, government, academia and international organizations joined her to debate what more statistical producers need to do to ensure that the statistics they produce are used to bring about real change in gender equality.

Gender statistics as a component of UNECE statistical work is far from new—the first joint UNECE/INSTRAW meeting on Statistics and Indicators on the Role and Situation of Women took place in Geneva in March 1985—and it continues to serve as a platform for identifying cutting-edge themes where statistics are lacking or where there are no internationally-agreed concepts and definitions. Participants in the 2019 Work Session called on UNECE to coordinate further work to guide countries in the statistical measurement of gender identity. A capacity development workshop for countries of Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia on 13-14 May highlighted the need for further international cooperation to improve the measurement of women’s entrepreneurship, a fundamental driver of economic growth, social inclusion and poverty reduction for which statistics are all too often ‘gender blind’.

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Papers and presentation slides presented at the Work Session and Workshop are available at bit.ly/unecegenderstats2019 and bit.ly/unecegenderstats_eecca2019.

Political representation is far from equal

On average 27 per cent of members of national parliaments and 27 per cent of government ministers were women, in UNECE countries with data for 2017. Only 22 per cent of core ministers were women. In Switzerland, the host country for the events, 32.5% of national parliamentarians are women.

Having children impacts women’s employment much more than men’s

The difference between men’s and women’s employment rates for people aged 25-49 who don’t have children is small (1.4 percentage points on average across countries with data for 2017). But for those with children aged under 3, the difference is almost 40 percentage points: women are much more likely than men to drop out of the labour force when they have young children. The more children they have, the more pronounced is the gender difference.

In Switzerland, almost a quarter (23.3%) of couple households with a young child aged 0-3 consist of a man working full time and a woman not working. A further 47.8% consist of a man working full time and a woman working part time.

Adolescent fertility remains high in parts of the UNECE region

In Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Azerbaijan, the rates of live births to young women aged 15-19 in 2017 were 31, 34 and 46 per thousand, respectively. Teenage pregnancy puts the health of young women and their babies at risk, and limits educational and career opportunities.

Home-making is still ‘women’s work’

Among people aged 15 or older who were economically inactive in 2017, 93 per cent of those who gave ‘home-making’ as the main reason for their inactivity were women.

Data are from the UNECE Statistical Database, www.unece.org/data, which contains internationally comparable data on a range of sex-disaggregated and gender-relevant indicators for monitoring the state of gender equality across the UNECE region, and from the Swiss Federal Statistical Office ‘On the way to gender equality, 2019’.