The world is behind in collecting and producing the data needed to measure gender equality, slowing progress towards achieving this critical human rights and development goal. Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5 (“achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls”) suffers from one of the largest data deficits across the SDG framework, with only 43 percent of countries having the data available to monitor targets. In contrast, better data is available for 13 of the other 16 SDGs; 87 percent of countries have data available to monitor progress towards SDG 7 (“ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy”) and 83 percent of countries have data available to assess progress towards SDG 3 (“ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages”).
Achieving SDG 5 and other gender-related SDG targets will require robust data systems that can only be established through smarter and sustainable investments in data collection, analysis, and use. This necessitates renewed commitments by philanthropic and bilateral donors, governments, and international institutions to mobilize and track the flow of resources directed at strengthening country data systems.
The upcoming session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) will mark seven years since world leaders endorsed the SDGs. Among the many topics to be discussed—from global conflict to climate change—will be financing the data demands of the SDGs and scaling up investments to better guide the Decade of Action. One UNGA side event in particular—Solutions in Scarcity: Country Voices on Smart Gender Data Financing hosted by Open Data Watch, along with PARIS21, Data2X, and UN Women—will focus on how investments in gender data can guide creating a more sustainable and just future for all. As UNGA approaches, we offer the following questions for governments, UN agencies, philanthropic foundations, and others to consider.
Are investments in gender data systematically included in investments aimed at COVID-19 recovery, “building back better,” and achieving the SDGs?
CGD’s COVID-19 Gender and Development Initiative revealed the outsized impacts of the pandemic on women and the need for more and better data to chart a path forward. Women around the world have faced employment and income losses, business closures, and growing care responsibilities. As leaders gather—particularly for UNGA events such as the SDG Moment, Goalkeepers 2022, and the Generation Equality Forum Global Monitoring Framework launch—they must focus on how to fill gender data gaps, including through making specific financial and policy commitments. By prioritizing investments in data (alongside cash and care), governments and international organizations will be more likely to promote an inclusive recovery from the COVID-19 crisis and longer-term gender equality.
Are internal government champions, as well as feminist advocates and other external stakeholders, holding senior leaders accountable for prioritizing investments in gender data?
High-level diplomacy and vocal advocates for global gender equality will be critical to elevating, financing, and implementing a gender data agenda. There is a need for more and better articulated demand for gender data from policymakers themselves—those in government who already recognize the importance of filling gender data gaps to achieve their objectives, whether related to health, education, economic growth, environmental protection, or any other area of sustainable development. While strategic planning and coordination by national statistical offices (NSO) can support implementing system-wide improvements, calls for better gender statistics should also come from outside NSOs, and be heard by ministers and heads of states throughout the UNGA events and gatherings. Outside of government, feminist advocates and researchers must be allies in making and amplifying these same calls to prioritize gender data.
Public agencies and ministries should integrate gender-oriented goals into their own budget policies, programs, and processes, and specifically outline the role data will play in achieving them. Many countries have national strategies on gender equality—for example, Global Affairs Canada has implemented Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy since 2017, which includes evidence-based policymaking through better gender data collection and analysis and strengthening gender data systems. Such actions can signal strong demand for gender data to monitor, measure, and guide policy.
How is the development community discussing the role domestic resource mobilization plays in meeting SDG 5 and the data demands alongside it?
Current studies estimate that to build and sustain core gender data systems, roughly US$500 million a year is needed from funders outside of national governments (multilateral development banks, bilateral aid agencies, and philanthropic donors), which represents a doubling of the approximately US$250 million per year on average that is currently provided. Currently, just seven donors—the World Bank, UNICEF, Sweden, the United Kingdom, the Gates Foundation, FAO, and Switzerland—make up almost 80 percent of external funding support the collection and publication of gender data. This small number of gender data donors makes funding more vulnerable to future disruptions and stifles progress towards more sustainable funding streams. And while diversified international support is key, especially for low-income and low-capacity countries, it must be coupled with domestic resource mobilization.
An assessment of 74 IDA-eligible countries for the Clearinghouse for Financing Development Data revealed two-thirds of countries referenced gender statistics in their national strategies for the development of statistics (NSDS), but less than a third of accompanying planning documents have a budget line for gender data. Ensuring gender data is built into NSDS budgets and linked to national development plans is key, not only for mobilizing adequate domestic resources, but also for identifying gaps external sources can fill.
Are leaders adopting a system-wide approach when discussing how to achieve SDG 5?
Gender equality advancements have a ripple effect on all areas of sustainable development. Therefore, investments in gender data are not only investments in a country’s broader statistical system but also in a country’s national development. Lesotho has acknowledged these inextricable links and the need for an integrated approach: in March 2022, Lesotho’s Bureau of Statistics launched its new National Strategy for the Development of Statistics and worked with every ministry to determine their gender-related activities and needs in terms of data.
In addition to mainstreaming gender statistics within national statistical plans and development strategies, international actors also need to align around a system-wide approach, prioritizing increased coordination and greater transparency, so that donor governments are more aware of remaining data gaps to fill, rather than risking redundancy with one another, and how to improve data governance practices.
Looking ahead to UNGA
The challenges that face us today call for global action, and UNGA is a critical opportunity for all to chart a course for the future—and ensure gender data remains on the map. As we advance towards 2030 in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, now more than ever high-quality, granular gender data is needed to monitor progress toward the SDGs and inform inclusive policies to leave no one behind. We’ll keep watch at UNGA to see if and how our questions are answered.
CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.