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Mayra Buvinic, an internationally recognized expert on gender and development and social development, is a Senior Fellow both at the Center for Global Development and the United Nations Foundation. Previously, she was Director for Gender and Development at the World Bank. She also worked at the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) where she headed the Social Development Division and was founding member and President of the International Center for Research on Women. She has a PhD in Social Psychology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
CGD founding president Nancy Birdsall has seen a few US presidents come and go in her long career as a leading development economist, but her message to all occupants of the white house has remained fairly steady: Enact smart policies that help developing countries build stable, prosperous economies of their own—and that will help people at home too. This week she joins the CGD podcast to talk about some of those ideas, and why development should be a priority for the next us president.
CGD founding president Nancy Birdsall has seen a few US presidents come and go in her long career as a leading development economist, but her message to all occupants of the White House has remained fairly steady: Enact smart policies that help developing countries build stable, prosperous economies of their own—and that will help people at home too.
CGD has been thinking long and hard about the election and the new administration: our White House and the World briefing book offers practical policy ideas that will help raise global prosperity at low or no cost to the US. We’ve also recently published three memos for the presidential transition teams, detailing specific ideas in some of the areas we work on: development policy, gender, and global health.
This week Nancy Birdsall joins the CGD Podcast to talk about some of those ideas, and why development should be a priority for the next US president. “In this kind of world," she says, "where so many of the challenges we face at home are also faced by people abroad—whether it’s climate, whether it’s the refugee crisis at the moment, whether it’s instability and conflict that spills over into terrorism of one kind or another—it’s much more about getting the global system to work.”
Watch the clips below to hear three of CGD’s experts explain some simple, specific ideas for the next US president, and listen to the podcast at the top of this page.
The US has a unique opportunity to lead in improving economic opportunities for women and girls by establishing a global vision and a corresponding fund with significant financial resources to spur change. The next US administration should allocate at least $1 billion in additional resources—equal to a little over two percent of current US overseas assistance—exclusively dedicated to advancing gender equality in developing countries, with a specific focus on improving women’s and girls’ economic opportunities and outcomes.
The Birdsall House Conference Series on Women seeks to identify and bring attention to leading research and scholarly findings on women’s empowerment in the fields of development economics, behavioral economics, and political economy.
The Obama administration has taken some important steps to put women’s economic empowerment at the center of US foreign and development policy, but there’s still plenty of work left to do. Researchers and advocates alike have made (and will continue to make) the case for why gender equality—and specifically women’s economic empowerment—are critical if we’re serious about achieving economic growth, eradicating extreme poverty, and improving the health, education, and well-being of people worldwide. Building on this evidence, this blog post turns to concrete ways that the next US administration can promote women’s economic empowerment—and in turn maximize the impact of its development agenda.
1. Give women’s economic empowerment its own dedicated budget.
The next US administration should allocate at least $1 billion in additional resources to advancing gender equality in developing countries, with a specific focus on improving women’s and girls’ economic opportunities and outcomes. (OECD data suggests that US foreign assistance with a principal objective of advancing gender equality is currently equal to around 0.008 percent of US GDP. An additional $1 billion would allow the United States to reach the OECD average of .013 percent.)
New funding should be invested in interventions that increase women’s access to financial services and modern agricultural and information technologies, local and global markets, and decent jobs and land rights, for example, as well as those that promote women’s access to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education and those that ease girls’ transition from school to the workplace. Funding should be dedicated to (1) incentivizing public and private sector programs and institutions to work towards greater gender equality in their outputs and outcomes (including through results-based payments and other innovative financial tools) and (2) supporting programs specifically targeting women and girls.
2. Use ‘beyond-aid’ tools to improve conditions for women workers.
Traditional interventions seeking the economic empowerment of women often focus on vocational and business training programs and micro-loans, but these interventions do little to address the broader constraints facing women and girls looking to enter and rise within the workforce. To address these constraints, the next US administration should consider adopting new policies that improve the practices of US firms based abroad. (Check out Charles Kenny’s proposal for a law or executive order to combat ‘gender apartheid at work.’)
Free trade agreements and investment treaties also have the potential, if carefully developed and enforced, to assist women in securing high quality jobs, accessing global markets, and to make work safer and more secure. When negotiating these agreements, the next US administration should consider including terms and corresponding enforcement mechanisms that mitigate potential gender disparities. Current agreements’ labor provisions on nondiscrimination must also be properly enforced.
Finally, in any future reform of migration policies, the new administration should take into account the greater barriers faced by women migrants, as well as the considerable benefits of migration in improving gender norms in sending countries, when formulating policies on admissions preferences.
3. Make procurement channels gender-equal.
The Department of State, Department of Defense, USAID, the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) have the capacity to promote women’s economic empowerment through not only the projects and programs they finance, but also through the firms and employees they hire. Under the next administration, these agencies should institute positive incentives for contractors that hire women and sub-contract with women-owned firms. The next administration should also commit funds to supporting outreach and technical assistance for women entrepreneurs to build capacity and increase their access to procurement channels.
4. Improve the data on women’s economic empowerment.
The next US administration should invest in (and submit its own gender equality-related initiatives to) rigorous evaluations that can help tell us what works to economically empower women and girls in various contexts. In addition, the US Government should work to incorporate high-quality indicators focused on women’s and girls’ economic empowerment outcomes, and disaggregate results by age and sex. The next US administration should continue to collaborate with initiatives such as Data2X, UN agencies, and other data producers from the public and private sectors, as well as with domestic and foreign universities and women’s networks in the Global South to gather and use robust data for policy purposes.
The next US administration has an opportunity to improve its own approach to promoting women’s economic empowerment—through increased funding, improved trade and migration policies, reformed procurement channels, and better data. The United States also has the chance to use its leadership within international financial institutions such as the World Bank to encourage them to increase investments, adjust procurement channels, and contribute to data collection and dissemination efforts.
Women’s economic empowerment is increasingly recognized as critical to achieving development outcomes around the world. Informed by a roundtable discussion at the Center for Global Development (CGD) and additional suggestions from CGD researchers, this four-point memo aims to issue practical proposals for the next US administration, particularly aimed at economically empowering women and girls worldwide, as a building block toward the full realization of broader gender equality and women’s agency and empowerment. The recommendations build on those in CGD’s The White House and the World briefing book, as well as the CGD policy memo “A US Law or Executive Order to Combat Gender Apartheid in Discriminatory Countries” and ongoing work at CGD focused on women’s financial inclusion.
The evidence is clear: integrating a focus on gender into the development agenda is essential if we’re serious about eradicating poverty, improving health and education, and promoting inclusive economic growth. Multilateral development banks (MDBs) have taken this lesson to heart, but there’s still work to be done. In order to discuss pathways forward, CGD recently hosted an event on the MDBs and their various approaches to integrating a focus on gender into their operations and evaluations. Panelists joined CGD senior fellows Mayra Buvinic and Charles Kenny to discuss the challenges associated with making the MDBs more gender-focused, as well as concrete solutions for how to make progress.
At one point in the conversation, Nick York, a director at the World Bank’s Independent Evaluation Group (IEG), explained the difficulty of tracking and attributing gender-related impacts (as well as the impacts of development projects more generally) by drawing a comparison to rugby. He explained that even when we know progress is being made, it can be difficult to know precisely “who scored,” or which actors’ interventions are the direct cause of that progress. Watch here:
Nick’s analogy is spot on: in a world with donor projects, country-led initiatives, and civil society advocacy all working to advance gender equality within the same contexts, it can sometimes be quite a challenge to meaningfully track the results of a particular program or attribute improvements to a particular actor. But does that mean that trying to incorporate a gender focus and meaningfully capture gender equality successes and failures is just too daunting of a challenge?
Fortunately not. And at the CGD event earlier this month, our panelists—gender experts and others working in the weeds at the MDBs to make their organizations more gender-focused and more committed to measuring gender outcomes—presented a number of concrete ideas for how to move the ball forward. Below I will touch on just one proposal from each panelist, but for more, tune into the full video:
Give Incentives: Michaela Bergman, chief counsellor for Social Issues and director of the Gender Team at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), pointed to the role that incentives can play in encouraging staff members to pay attention to gender. She explained that, at EBRD, “a certain percentage of salaries is performance-based. Whether or not [staff members] have projects that include gender and have done well will reflect in their pay basically. That is how we motivate.”
Make Leadership More Inclusive: Karen Mathiasen, senior advisor in the Office of the US Executive Director of the World Bank, pointed to the need for more women decision-makers at the MDBs in order to ensure that strong commitments—financial and otherwise—are made to advance gender equality.
Consider Unintended Consequences: Andy Morrison, chief of the Gender and Diversity Division at the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), outlined the IDB’s unique approach of analyzing and mitigating potential adverse impacts of projects on gender equality. The IDB identifies “five areas in which unintended impacts are most likely to show up…things like rural roads projects where there’s high risk of sex trafficking.” Out of a total of 277 recent projects, Andy explained that 41 were found to have potential negative impacts, and for a subset of these projects, the Gender and Diversity Division worked with project teams on mitigation measures.
Change Mindsets with Evidence: Nick York emphasized the importance of continuing to build the evidence base tying gender equality to development progress and economic growth, in order to shift mindsets. He asserted that this increased evidence will persuade MDB staff members of gender equality’s importance—more so than making procedures mandatory without explaining their underlying rationale.
Revisit Procurement Policies: Tracy Betts, division chief on Strategy Monitoring at the IDB, suggested reexamining the MDBs’ procurement policies, and restructuring them to make procurement another force for promoting gender equality. If points were awarded to firms led by women, just as they sometimes are for in-country firms, the procurement process in addition to gender-focused MDB projects could work to economically empower women.
Focus on the Gaps: Caren Grown, senior director for Gender at the World Bank, explained the importance of using the right terminology, because just referring to “gender mainstreaming” has a tendency to obscure. Instead, through the World Bank’s new gender strategy, she explained that the discussion will become more tailored; team leaders will need to identify gaps that exist between men and women relevant to their projects—and work towards closing those specific gaps. Monitoring and evaluation will then be focused on how well the identified gaps were closed.
Improve Feedback Loops: Basil Jones, advisor to the Special Envoy on Gender and vice president at the African Development Bank (AfDB), pointed to the need for improved feedback loops, so that research findings and “lessons learned” not only accumulate, but are also translated into tangible changes in project designs, instead of project implementers going back to square one.
Combine Carrots with Sticks: Sonomi Tanaka, technical advisor for Gender Equity at the Asian Development Bank (ADB), explained the ADB’s preferred “naming and shaming” approach, using its corporate scorecard to make lack of attention to gender equality a reputational risk.
From carrots to sticks, increases in women’s leadership to effective incentives, more research to more resources, it’s clear that there are a wide range of options as the MDBs continue to place a focus on gender equality and determine what works best to improve gender-related outcomes. At CGD, and for others working outside of MDB contexts, it’s also our responsibility to continue to propose innovative ways forward, build the evidence base for what works, and hold the MDBs accountable from the outside to sustain their increased focus on gender equality.
The scale of the turnout at the Women’s Marches across the world recently, along with President Trump’s early reinstatement of a ban on US funding for organizations that offer family planning services in foreign countries, seem to suggest an administration already at odds with an entire gender. On this week’s podcast, three CGD senior fellows weigh in on the evidence that engaging and empowering women—both at home and overseas—makes good sense, especially in an America-First strategy.
Amanda Glassman, CGD’s COO and former director of global health policy, has written previously about how the “Mexico City Policy" could actually lead to more abortion and more lives lost. “This kind of policy just doesn’t take us anywhere,” she tells me in the podcast. “It limits funding for both international and developing-country non-governmental organizations that provide these services, and we already know it doesn’t work.”
Mayra Buvinic and Charles Kenny, co-directors of CGD’s gender program, point out that providing access to family planning for women in developing countries helps to empower women and strengthen those countries’ economies—and that’s good for America’s economy.
“If developing countries grow, they buy more stuff,” Kenny says. “They invest more in creating new technologies and new innovations, which we use.”
Now, CGD and the United Nations Foundation’s Data 2X program have updated the Roadmap in a new report that also looks at how to design smarter policies and programs with maximum impact for women.
CGD senior fellow Mayra Buvinic, an author on both Roadmaps, joins this week’s podcast to discuss what’s changed in the evidence base on women’s economic empowerment, and how the findings could appeal to the incoming Trump administration.
Listen to the podcast above, and be sure to check out CGD's memo to the next US president on women's economic empowerment. Mayra introduces some of the ideas in that memo in the clip below.
Women are overrepresented in the informal sector worldwide, often stuck in dangerous, insecure, low-paid jobs. Waste picking in particular is a highly vulnerable and risky form of informal employment. In 1995, India’s Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) organized women waste pickers in Ahmedabad into a cooperative to improve their working conditions and livelihoods. Over time, this informal arrangement evolved into Gitanjali – a women-owned and -run social enterprise, that produces a full range of stationery products for large multinational corporations, including Staples, IBM, and Goldman Sachs. What difference has Gitanjali made to the lives and opportunities of women waste pickers in India? What are the implications for women’s social enterprises in other countries? What are the challenges that remain to be overcome? The Center for Global Development is delighted to bring together some of the key private sector partners that helped Gitanjali generate social value, along with practitioners from the public sector and multilateral financial institutions, for a robust discussion about job options for poor women in low paid, informal occupations, including a model entrepreneurship venture. The event will be informed by the CGD report, The Gitanjali Cooperative: A Social Enterprise in the Making. Copies of the report’s executive summary will be provided. Light refreshments will be available.
We at CGD recently hosted a series of events illuminating the case for smarter gender policy in the private sector, a triple win that would benefit consumers, firms, and emerging economies. Change in private firms is important — but what about the world’s public sector? To create more opportunities for women and create valuable spillover effects, we might start with central banks.
Data on employment by gender for the world’s monetary authorities is generally not available, but knowing who holds the governorship is a starting point: women run only 16 of the world’s 190 central banking institutions. Where we can see staff breakdowns, the picture’s disappointing. At the end of 2013, women held just 15 percent of senior management positions at the European Central Bank. And while Christine Lagarde runs the IMF, the Fund’s senior staff is three-fourths male (“diversity in the Fund is greater than it appears,” their diversity and inclusion report optimistically notes). This is an issue that rich and poor countries alike can do much better on — this a chance for cooperation rather than finger wagging.
Announcing a mutual commitment to change the gender make-up of central banks would earn governors and senior management plaudits. A meaningful pledge would set out targets for the share of women across levels of seniority (“how much”), specify a timeline (“by when”), and commit to regularly publishing information about staff composition (“how fast”). Making the targets and their measurement public would tug aspirations and expectations gently upward, while a broad plank would enable different institutions to commit to different targets yet fall under the same umbrella.
Greater equality in the public sector will create valuable knock-on effects. In many developing countries, central banks are visible, well-resourced centres of excellence. Hiring a cadre of women economists and analysts would send a strong signal to the rest of the government, foregrounding women in decisions over employment and inflation that also affect them. And there’s an intriguing argument that it would inject greater cognitive diversity into decision-making, combating groupthink.
Central banks may be uniquely placed to make this commitment. Their credibility depends on independence, so they’re more insulated from political pressures, and so from networks of patronage or nepotism. Unlike line ministries, they’re part of elite global networks; many governors famously meet for an off-the-record confab in Jackson Hole each year. Because of their technocratic role as centres of analysis and reporting, they attract some of the most competent staff, many of whom have studied in Europe or America.
CGD’s latest research programme focuses on the clubs and rules we can reform to deliver better outcomes and opportunities for women. Smart thinking already on the table includes an idea from Charles Kenny on using legislation to encourage firms to hire more women overseas and from Mayra Buvinic on leveraging identification to empower women and girls.
Many institutions in the world’s frontier markets aren’t ones we can, or should, seek to influence. But strong links between the world’s central bankers and the special character of these institutions suggest that improving gender equity within them is something we can legitimately advocate for — and a policy shift their leaders could feasibly deliver.
One in three women around the world has experienced violence in their lifetime. It is the single most common form of violence in the world, but also one of the least analysed and discussed. Evidence shows that fighting violence against women not only addresses horrendous human rights violations and the negative impact on women’s lives and health, but also contributes to countries’ and societies’ sustainable economic, political and social development.
Through its Gender and Development Program, CGD is examining donor institutions’ various approaches to promoting gender equality and tracking gender-related results. Join Senior Fellows Mayra Buvinic and Charles Kenny for the next step in this research area: an event focused on how multilateral banks (MDBs) integrate gender across their operations and measure their gender equality-related impacts.
How do we make sure aid investments are efficient, services provided are accessible and affordable, and results are sustainable? These are all tall orders to be sure, but one clear solution emerged from our event in New York last week: donors need to make gender equality a central priority.
Alongside the Commission on the Status of Women’s 60th session, CGD co-hosted an event with the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) called “Gender Equality: The Basis for Sustainable Infrastructure and Services.” The event focused on the links between gender equality and many of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as well as MCC’s specific approach to integrating a gender lens into its operations.
CGD’s Mayra Buvinic and Sarah Rose joined MCC’s Michelle Adato, Pamela Kasese-Bwalya, and Bonaria Siahaan. The panel explored how incorporating a gender lens into MCC’s work enhances its impact and sustainability, as well as areas where future progress is needed. From the discussion, here’s what we learned:
What is MCC doing to promote gender equality?
MCC Senior Operations Advisor Michelle Adato outlined aspects of MCC’s gender policy, which calls for gender to be integrated at every stage and level of its compacts. The policy mandates the hiring of gender experts and the collection of sex-disaggregated data, as just two aspects of MCC’s approach.
But as Adato explained, “policy is not enough.” So MCC is taking steps to incorporate gender equality into its operations in other concrete ways. MCC makes sure that female-headed (often the poorest) households in Cabo Verde, for example, have access to essential infrastructure at a price they can afford, by differentiating prices for water and sanitation services according to individuals’ ability to pay.
Additionally, Pamela Kasese-Bwalya, Zambia’s Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) CEO, explained that her team organizes consultations with project beneficiaries (women and men), at times through door-to-door meetings, to make sure that projects meet their needs and address their (at times gender-specific) constraints.
Finally, Senior Policy Analyst Sarah Rose discussed how MCC's use of conditions, combined with an approach that prioritizes and values country ownership, can play a role in supporting legal reforms that promote gender equality. Rose cited the example of MCC’s compact with Lesotho, where, during the compact development process, many local stakeholders identified the need for a change to a national law that relegated married women to the legal status of minors. MCC conditioned its investment on a reform of this law, providing important leverage that helped empower supporters of the reform to push the change through. This example suggests that conditions – when they emerge from a country-led process – can be a “strong and relevant tool.”
How does prioritizing gender equality strengthen MCC’s operations?
Pamela Kasese-Bwalya emphasized that “integrating gender maximizes the efficiency of a [donor] investment.” And Sarah Rose explained that making compact countries’ legal frameworks more gender-equal has benefits for MCC as well as women and girls, since it improves the environment for their partnerships. How so?
As the panelists discussed, when donors like MCC use a gender lens throughout their operations, unintended consequences (such as infrastructure that goes unused because its location or design doesn’t meet women’s everyday needs and constraints) can be avoided. And the measurement of accurate, meaningful results of a particular project – telling us how it affects its intended beneficiaries – can be maximized.
What’s left to do?
MCC has set an example for other donors through its approach to promoting gender equality, but all panelists agreed that limitations and obstacles remain. As Michelle Adato explained, though compacts may require the hiring of gender experts, those hired may not always have adequate qualifications for the job. As Pamela Kasese-Bwalya told us, though infrastructure projects may set targets to include 30% female contractors, a highly gender-segregated workforce may prevent that target from being met. And as Sarah Rose pointed out, limitations in the availability of sex-disaggregated and/or intra-household data may hinder MCC’s ability to capture the real impact of their operations on women and men.
Bonaria Siahaan, Indonesia’s MCA CEO, cited another obstacle: attitudes regarding gender equality at a community level. Though Siahaan said that the Indonesian government has adopted gender-progressive policies, there is still a need to “socialize and sensitize” communities outside of the capital when it comes to valuing women’s contributions equally.
How can obstacles be overcome?
The panelists proposed a number of solutions to further improve MCC’s approach to gender equality. Sarah Rose suggested that MCC (1) look for champions in MCC and in partner countries that will prioritize gender equality; (2) establish and communicate clear-cut guidelines during partnerships; and (3) hold sustained consultations with civil society representatives and target populations, rather than just one-offs. In terms of working toward gathering more comprehensive, gender-disaggregated data, Sarah asserted that the onus falls not only on donor institutions like MCC, but also on external stakeholders – researchers, advocates, and those in-country – to demonstrate the demand for such data and to put it to good use. Here at CGD, we’re beginning to do just that, through our line of research and events that focus on donors’ approaches to gender equality, including our most recent paper, “Do the Results Match the Rhetoric?: An Examination of World Bank Projects.”
The MCC gender milestones and operational procedures are currently being updated to incorporate new lessons learned since their last review in 2011. We hope that the new policy continues the success that MCC has had in integrating gender into the full scope of its work, as well as builds on previous efforts by encouraging and incentivizing women’s inclusion in projects, in-country consultations, and results data.
Gender data are essential. How else are we going to monitor progress in the wellbeing of women and girls?
Kudos to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for their strong commitment to the importance of metrics and their new user-friendly and visually stunning data publication, Goalkeepers:The Stories Behind the Data 2017, which they have promised to make an annual publication.
This year’s report tracks progress in women’s reproductive health by measuring progress in access to family planning and in reducing maternal mortality, but most of the 18 indicators included in the report are aggregate measures, representing averages of men’s and women’s outcomes. As we are only too aware, there is a dearth of gender data. In the future, we hope that better gender data and better coverage will allow for tracking of women’s work—both paid and unpaid—and their contributions to the economy, their participation in politics and public policy, and their wealth and well-being as individuals, not just as members of households. All are dimensions that go beyond women’s traditional roles as child bearers and mothers, and provide a more well -rounded picture of their lives. They are critical components for measuring progress, but these data are not there right now. Indeed, Goalkeepers found so little data for its one sex-disaggregated indicator—a measure of ownership of agricultural land—that they couldn’t report results.
Below, we provide background on data shortage, and outline three key steps that countries and the international community should take in order to produce better data and close gender gaps.
The holes in gender data
The need for more finely disaggregated data to monitor the progress of excluded groups is one of the statistical challenges of the Sustainable Development Goals, which remind us that we must “leave no one behind” in our efforts to achieve the 2030 development goals. The SDGs also call for disaggregation (“where relevant”) by sex, and it is a glaring irony that data on women and girls, who, after all, constitute the majority of human beings, are absent or infrequently recorded in the national and international databases used to measure the SDGs.
The holes in gender data happen because there are no measures for many events in women’s lives, because the measures that exist are bad (read biased) or not well defined, or because they are measured infrequently or not at all. Of the 232 indicators included in the SDG framework, 53 refer explicitly to women or girls or specify disaggregation by sex. Among these, only 15 are well defined and generally available (classified as Tier I).
Significant investments are needed in gender data—both in producing more and better data, and in using these data for policymaking. This is a tall order, and one that may need quite a bit of heavy lifting, especially in poor countries with few resources for statistics and data. But there are easier, less resource-intensive initial steps to be taken.
Ready to Measure
Where to begin? Some indicators are—or should be—“ready to measure.” Data2X, an initiative of the UN Foundation, along with Open Data Watch last year proposed a list of 20 such gender indicators. Sixteen of these indicators are the same or similar to SDG indicators; four more broaden the traditional view of women’s roles by adding measures of economic status measures. See the original Ready to Measure report for documentation on the sources of these indicators. The recently released Ready to Measure Phase II report compiles the data from international databases and household surveys. This database and all accompanying metadata are available online.
While all of these indicators are, indeed, ready to measure, large gaps remain. The table below (cited in R2M-II) summarizes the availability of data for the 16 R2M indicators found in international databases.
Table 1. Data Availability for 16 Ready to Measure Indicators, 2011-2015
Ready to Measure IndicatorNumber of countries with at least one observation 2011–2015Countries with 3+ obs. 2011–2015
1. Ratio of women to men living below the international and national poverty lines
2. Prevalence of stunting in children under 5 years of age by sex
3. Prevalence of anemia in women of reproductive age*
4. Maternal deaths per 100,000 live births*
5. Under-five mortality rate* by sex
6. HIV Prevalence* by sex
7. Adolescent birth rate*
8. Contraceptive prevalence, modern methods
10. Individuals using the Internet by sex
11. Women aged 20-24 who were married or in a union before age 18
12. Proportion of seats held by women in national parliaments
15. Employment to population ratio* by sex
16. Employed persons who are own-account workers* by sex
17. Non-agricultural wage employment* by sex
18. Women with an account at a financial institution
20. Children under 5 whose births have been registered with a civil authority by sex
*Modeled estimates by international organizations
The four remaining measures in the R2M report, which can be compiled from existing surveys, are:
completion rates of women by school stage
share of women among mobile telephone owners
share of young women who are not in school nor looking for work
growth rate in adult women’s share of household earned income among the bottom 40 percent of the population
The current state of gender data
The effort to gather the R2M indicators has revealed new or confirmed old observations on the state of development data:
Indicators with high coverage rates are usually the product of statistical models using limited direct observations, indirect observations (from recall or sisterhood methods), or covariates to extend or interpolate values from survey data.
Gender data collected through surveys sponsored by bilateral and multilateral agencies in developing countries, such as MICS, DHS, and LSMS, are more likely to be included in international databases. For example, coverage rates for data on anemia, HIV, and contraceptive prevalence are higher for low- and lower-middle-income countries than for upper-middle and high-income countries.
Many microdata sets from surveys are not publicly available, even from those sponsored by international organizations. Therefore, it is not possible to confirm the statistics derived from them or to use them to construct new indicators
Indicators on the use of new technologies have only recently appeared in public databases. For example, since 2014 only a single observation on use of the Internet by women is available for 83 countries
Data collection and publication schedules for most indicators are not known and their future continuity is uncertain.
We have identified at least three steps, all doable if countries and the international community are committed to “leaving no one behind” by 2030:
1) Commit to the R2M indicators and close key gender data gaps
A first next step is to help countries collect full information on the R2M indicators or a similar set on a regular basis. Concurrently, countries need to commit themselves to begin closing gender data gaps in key areas that are most important to them. The international community should support country efforts, particularly for the poorest countries.
2) Parity is not always equality
The Goalkeepers report shows substantial progress in reducing child mortality. The R2M report shows the most recent sex-disaggregated mortality rates and discusses how to read the data. In this case, parity does not mean that girls do better than boys. On the contrary—for biological reasons, infant boys have higher mortality rates and, therefore, the “normal” acceptable ratio in countries with no discrimination against girls is a ratio favorable to girls. A parity ratio of 1 (same number of infant boys and infant girls dying) means that girls are in trouble—dying at higher rates than they should. Research on what sex differentials mean and how they arise needs to go along with any effort to improve the collection of gender data.
3) Measure women’s poverty: A challenge long overdue
Lastly, the international community should invest in identifying, testing, and agreeing on robust measures for a few core gender data applicable globally. One outstanding problem is measuring women’s poverty, separate from household poverty. The often-cited claim that 70 percent of the poor are women is false, and, hopefully, well discredited by now. However, we do not have an adequate response to this very core question.
R2M includes data for Latin America on the proportions of women and men living in poor households (compared to the totals for each sex), and shows that women are overrepresented among those living in poverty in most countries. This gets the closest perhaps to an objective measure, with a big caveat that it does not capture inequalities within the household that most often (and across cultures) benefit male over female household members.
The World Bank, building on its household survey capacity and their work on a multidimensional poverty measure, should lead an international effort involving UNSD and other relevant UN agencies, as well as academics and women’s advocates, to devise robust, doable, and simple measures of women’s poverty.
We are now almost 20 percent of the way toward the SDG target date of 2030, still we lack regular observations on at least 70 percent of the proposed gender indicators. The Millennium Development Goals taught us two lessons: first, setting quantified targets and rigorously monitoring progress can galvanize action; second, databases do not build themselves. If we are to honor the SDG goal of achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls and keep our commitment to leave no one behind, then there must be an equally strong commitment to gathering and publishing the data needed to build effective programs and measure outcomes.
About the Authors
Mayra Buvinic is a senior fellow at both the Center for Global Development and the United Nations Foundation. Previously, she was director for gender and development at the World Bank.
Eric Swanson is director of research at Open Data Watch. Previously he was senior adviser in the Development Data Group of the World Bank.