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Policymakers struggle to estimate scale of key problems faced by girls and women – new survey reveals

September 21, 2017 Figure 5

Data challenges hindering progress towards gender equality goals 

Read Survey Results here

New York, NY – The results of a survey released today at the United Nations General Assembly by the international partnership Equal Measures 2030 raise concerns about whether policymakers are equipped with and sufficiently using the basic information required to drive action towards the ambitious gender equality targets that are part of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The findings come from a survey carried out by research firm Ipsos, who interviewed more than 100 policymakers in five countries (Colombia, India, Indonesia, Kenya, and Senegal) about perceptions of progress on gender-related issues and access to and use of data to inform decisions.

When asked to estimate the scale of several key issues – maternal mortality (the number of women dying from causes related to pregnancy and childbirth), girls married before the age of 18, women in the labor force, and women in parliament – relevant to girls and women in their country, policymakers were largely not confident in their knowledge of the facts.

While the majority of policy makers said they would know where to access data on key issues should they need to, fewer than three in ten policymakers thought they knew the relevant figures on maternal mortality or the percentage of women that are in the labor force.  And just 1 in 8 thought they knew the proportion of girls married before the age of 18.  Over half of policy makers were so unsure on the issue of early marriage, that they weren’t even willing to hazard a guess as to what the early marriage rates in their country might be.

For those policymakers who were willing to make estimates of the scale of the problem for the four issues we asked about, their estimates were wide of the mark:

When asked to estimate the rate of maternal deaths in their country (the number of women dying from causes related to pregnancy and childbirth), only 6% of policymakers who cited a figure came within 20% of the official figure.

Colombian policymakers’ estimates of the percentage of girls married before the age of 18 ranged from 4% to 80% (the published answer is 23%).  In Kenya, when asked to estimate what percentage of parliamentary seats are held by women, the policymakers’ estimates ranged from 6% to 90% (published answer is 21%).  Indian policymakers’ estimates of the percentage of women in the labor force ranged from 20% to 70% (the published answer is 27%).

“Policymakers are flying blind when it comes to gender equality.  Two thirds of policymakers believe progress has been made, but they aren’t confident in their knowledge of the facts and figures.  It’s exactly this gap that Equal Measures 2030 seeks to close.  We want to ensure that all of us – policymakers, and also advocates, business leaders and the general public – have a better understanding of the challenges faced by girls and women.

We need the full picture if we’re to have any chance of meeting the ambitious promises set out in the SDGs,” said Alison Holder, Director of Equal Measures 2030.

Half of policymakers felt that there was too little attention to gender in policymaking, but with considerable variations between the men and women surveyed (67% of women, compared with 33% of men).  More than one in five men felt there was too much attention to gender equality in policymaking.

Albert Motivans, Head of Data and Insights for Equal Measures 2030 added, “The policymakers we talked to clearly see gender being prioritized in some policy areas such as health and education more than others, like public finance.  This may be because issues like health and education are more readily visible, have data that are ready to use, and perhaps face more public scrutiny.  It may also be because gender issues are often marginalized from the big decisions of government, such as those on tax and public spending.”

Policymakers surveyed said they often use government data (79%), international data, such as from the UN (47%) and academic or research institution data (41%) relating to gender equality in their work.  Despite this, fewer than half rated government data sources relating to gender equality as “very useful” (47%).

Katja Iversen, CEO of Women Deliver, said, “Even the best intentioned decision-makers can’t make the best decisions if they’re operating in the dark. Having and using reliable data, evidence and research is the foundation for sound policies and investments in the health and lives of girls and women. Equal Measures 2030 will help provide just that.”

Just over a third of policymakers were confident to say that data and evidence related to gender equality was “very” or “quite good” in terms of timeliness and disaggregation (both 35%).

Dinah Musindarwezo, Executive Director of FEMNET said “The survey shows us that even when data is available it is not necessarily accessed and used. Data alone is not enough, we must ensure that evidence gets into the hands of those making decisions on issues that impact the lives of girls and women. African governments have reported that the limited accessibility of data, particularly gender-disaggregated data, will be a major challenge in achieving the SDGs.”

“Equal Measures 2030 is well positioned to help get the right data into the hands of advocates who can use it. By bridging this gap and making data actionable, we’re excited that local organizations will be better equipped to fight injustice and influence policies that can maximize the potential of women and girls in their communities,” said Gayle Smith, CEO of the ONE Campaign.

Jonathan Glennie, Director of Ipsos’ Sustainable Development Research Centre, said, “In the modern world we are increasingly able to gather data on key social and economic issues, including gender. But our research for Equal Measures 2030 shows that we are still some way from ensuring that crucial information is in the hands of the people that need it. We need to get better at both gathering data on gender issues, and also making it accessible to busy people with many competing priorities. That will take dedication and creativity – but it is possible.”

This survey is the first of new research carried out by Equal Measures 2030. Moving forward, the survey findings will be used to build on the value-add and role that data and evidence can play in helping policymakers make the right decisions to reach the SDGs for girls and women.

About Equal Measures 2030

Equal Measures 2030 is a global civil society and private sector led partnership with the mission of fueling progress towards gender equality by making sure girls’ and women’s movements, advocates and decision makers have easy-to-use data and evidence to guide efforts to reach the Global Goals by 2030 and leave no one behind.

Equal Measures 2030 partners include Plan International, ONE Campaign, ARROW, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Data2X, Women Deliver, KPMG, International Women’s Health Coalition (IWHC), and The African Women’s Development & Communication Network (FEMNET).

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