Without Data Equality, There Will Be No Gender Equality – Women Deliver

Apply for the Emerging Leaders for Change Program East Africa Cohort!

Apply Today
June 11, 2018 Eva Noble Women for Women International

Without Data Equality, There Will Be No Gender Equality


Credit: Monilekan/Women for Women International 2017

As humanitarian work becomes increasingly data-driven, it is critical that the data allow for learning about how different members of society experience the world. Without accurate global data on women and girls, humanitarian and development responses won’t fully address women’s urgent needs and progress toward gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls won’t be adequately measured. In emergencies, needs assessments often lack gendered analysis to understand who is most affected and what men’s and women’s different needs are, despite widespread knowledge that crises affect women, girls, men, and boys differently.

Household-level data predominates information collected and shared at the national level. For example, Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) ask: “Does any member of this household own any agricultural land? Does any member of this household have a bank account?” This means few are learning how members within a household share resources or access services and support. Consequently, decision-makers mainly rely on data that do not differentiate between women’s and men’s realities, and they act accordingly.

Below are three examples of why gender-disaggregated data is so important to women’s empowerment –  particularly for women living in crisis or fragile settings:

Women have unequal access to technology
Mobile phone usage is proliferating globally, and many donors and service providers are shifting towards mobile platforms for delivering services and payments in crisis response and broader development programming. Unfortunately, data on phone usage and ownership are not often disaggregated by gender, so decisions to prioritize mobile platforms frequently ignore who are most (and least) likely to benefit.


The latest GSMA report highlighted a wide gender gap in mobile phone access: globally, 200 million fewer women than men own mobile phones. Compared to men, women are on average 14% less likely to own a mobile phone. In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), one of Women for Women’s countries of focus, mobile phone ownership is 33% lower for women than men. If services and payments shift mobile, will women who lack access to technology or digital literacy be disproportionately left behind?

Women have unequal ownership of assets
Global datasets on land and household ownership rarely capture data at the level of individuals within a household or (publicly) present gender-disaggregated data. Instead, datasets present information on asset ownership at the household-level, which means end users of the data cannot learn whether ownership is equitable within a household, between a husband, wife and/or other family members, and cannot be analyzed by gender at the community, national, or global levels. Available evidence shows women own less land and fewer assets than men globally, which undermines women’s financial independence, and can act as a significant barrier to leaving unsafe relationships or households. Conversely, research shows, women who own land are up to eight times less likely to experience domestic violence.

Better measurement of women’s assets and financial constraints is essential to understanding their economic empowerment. In a baseline survey for a randomized control trial (RCT), Women for Women International surveyed 2000 ultra-poor women in South Kivu, DRC. We found that only 10% of women in land-owning households own land themselves and only two-thirds of women who reported household-level savings have any personal savings of their own. Smaller surveys that capture personal assets tell a story of asset inequality; however, this information needs to be routinely collected globally to influence widespread policy and programmatic changes.

Current data miss women’s labor force participation

Women are much more likely than men to engage in domestic work, entrepreneurship, or informal employment, which are often unpaid or irregularly paid. Crises often destabilize women’s livelihoods further, in part because of working in informal sectors, which can increase the risk of engaging in poorly paid and/or dangerous work or transactional sex.

While around 80% of countries regularly produce gender-disaggregated statistics on unemployment, labor force participation, and education and training, less than 33% of countries regularly produce gender statistics on informal employment, entrepreneurship, and time use. Without better tracking of women’s work—both paid and unpaid—and women’s contributions to the household and economy, we may focus on post-emergency cash-for-work projects and economic reconstruction efforts on the formal economy that leave women behind.


Better gender-disaggregated data will allow us to make visible women’s contributions to society, quantify women’s current wellbeing and vulnerabilities, measure gender inequalities, track changes over time, and better inform policies and programs to address women’s needs. But getting the data will be difficult: case studies consistently show that capturing gender-disaggregated data and using it for gender-responsive programming is far from standard practice in humanitarian response, and one review of ten years of multisector coordinated needs assessment reports found only 40% provided sex and age-disaggregated data (SADD). Less than a quarter of the Sustainable Development Goals’ key gender indicators have adequate information for tracking, and only 13% of countries regularly budget for collecting and analyzing gender statistics.

Next steps

Looking forward, promising initiatives have emerged to address the gender data gap, including:

  • Data 2x, spearheaded by the UN Foundation, which strives to increase the quality, availability, and use of gender data to improve the lives of women and girls worldwide. Their work includes identifying gender data gaps across health, education, economic opportunities, political participation and human security, and promoting 16 global indicators that are “ready to measure” outcomes for women and girls.
  • The Evidence on Data and Gender Equality (EDGE) project, through which the UN Statistical Division and UN Women collaborate to bolster the integration of gender issues into the regular production of official statistics;
  • Commitments from major funders, including $40 million recently earmarked by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to close the gender data gap, and efforts by USAID and other bilateral donors to integrate gender and gender-disaggregated data throughout their project cycles; and
  • Centralized repositories of what gender-disaggregated data already exist, including the World Bank Gender Data Portal and the OECD’s Gender Data Portal.


At Women for Women International, our work relies heavily on gender-disaggregated data to understand the status of women survivors of war and to track their progress towards our goals. To achieve gender equality and support the empowerment of all women, we must ensure women are counted and their realities are seen. We know that without data equality, there will be no gender equality.


News & Updates