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A Gender Data Revolution
April 7, 2014

(Yinebon Iniya is manager, International Data Relations at the Foundation Center.)

Iniya-150With today’s technology, the public’s appetite for transparency and tracking outcomes has only increased. There is a growing demand for philanthropic players with specific interests in health, education, art, and human rights to provide metrics that show progress, especially in a world that is looking beyond the Millennium Development Goals, to the post-2015 Development Agenda. The Foundation Center, which continues to increase its data on global organizations, understands that the key to progress is to cultivate partnerships that help us do more than just acquire grantmaker data. Partnerships help us understand and frame key issues, providing us with unique opportunities to collaborate effectively and create ideas together.

In some cases, these collaborations become a web site, such as WASHfunders, which the Foundation Center created with seeding funding from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation as a one-stop shop for funding and needs-related data and information for donors, policymakers, and stakeholders interested in water, sanitation, and hygiene. Another example is BMAfunders, a project of the Open Society Foundations and the Foundation Center that facilitates engagement, collaboration, and strategic decision making in the field of black male achievement.

But what about gender-related issues? Data 2X, announced in 2012 as a partnership between the UN Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the U.S. Government, and the office of former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, has the following goals:

To advance gender equality and women’s empowerment and further global economic and social gains through improved data collection and analysis that can guide policy, better leverage investments and inform global development agendas.

Data 2X created a report that identifies five key gender-related areas that need to be addressed: health, education, economic opportunity, political participation, and human security. The report suggests improving data collection by compiling information from various sources, including micro-level surveys, administrative records, and census data. The report also mentions that big data and mobile technology can fill many of the gaps in collecting information such as access to financial services, distance traveled for work, remittances, and connections with others while working away from home.

Earlier this month in New York City, Data 2X helped organize a roundtable discussion, New Strategies for a Gender Data Revolution, which consisted of two panels from statistical organizations that delved into these issues. The first panel featured Mayra Buvinic of the UN Foundation Data 2X team, Marcia Quintslr of Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística, Ola Awad of Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, and Lina Castro of the Philippine Statistical Authority.

One key challenge is to empower users—from women to governments, policymakers, foundations, NGOs, local organizations, universities, and other statistical organizations—to utilize the data in ways that benefit them.

The second panel included Pali Lehohla of Statistics South Africa, Imelda Musana of Uganda Bureau of Statistics, Félix Vélez Fernández Valera of the National Institute of Statistics, Geography and Informatics (INEGI), and Neil Jackson of the Department for International Development (UK).

While each member made their points about new data collection and compilation, there was an acknowledgement about the existing data that could help provide additional answers. Ms. Bulvinic stated that the emphasis was really on the data quality, availability, openness, efficiency, and usability.

Mr. Lahola was jovial yet frank as he recounted a story analyzing the unfairness of something as simple as the bathroom sizes between men and women, and he used that as a basis to make his point about unconscious biases that exist, possibly distorting the understanding of statistics.

The most resonating comment of the afternoon was made by Ms. Musana, who indicated that while Uganda collects gender-related data, it is important to know the eventual outcome of data collection and how it is being used. She cited that in some cases they run statistical reports just because they are asked to—although she noted considerable progress has been made in data compilation.

All the panelists agreed that many gaps remain; some of the speakers added that one key challenge is to empower users—from women to governments, policymakers, foundations, NGOs, local organizations, universities, and other statistical organizations—to utilize the data in ways that benefit them.

The discussion was chaired by Ruth Levine, director of the Global Development and Population Program at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, who indicated that it was imperative to get input from the primary producers of economic and social statistics, and it is important for them to have the capacity to initiate and sustain their programs.

Will these ideas lead to a web site dedicated to gender-related issues—similar to the web sites for WASHfunders and BMAfunders? Judging from the conversation at this event, it is long overdue.

-- Bon Iniya

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  • Transparency Talk, the Glasspockets blog, is a platform for candid and constructive conversation about foundation transparency and accountability. In this space, Foundation Center highlights strategies, findings, and best practices on the web and in foundations–illuminating the importance of having "glass pockets."

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