• Opinion
  • January 21, 2019
  • 8 minutes
  • 1

Without better data, we won’t meet the SDGs for girls and women

Opinion: Equal Measures 2030 uncovers gender equality advocates’ data and policy priorities

gender data

This piece is part of a special series on Gender-Smart Investing, following the world’s first ever Gender-Smart Investing Summit in 2018.

It was written by Jessica Lomelin, Head of Media and Communications, Equal Measures 2030. For more like this, see our data for impact newsfeed.


“When I see numbers, I see the faces of those who make up the statistics, and I am no longer able to live with what I see without doing something. Stories moved me, but data changed me,” said one gender equality advocate.

The meaning behind this powerful statement drives a lot of the rationale and thinking behind Equal Measures 2030’s SDG Gender Index: a data and accountability tool that aims to tell the story of progress for girls and women and determine whether the world is on track to reach gender equality by 2030 — a target of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

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In 2018, Equal Measures 2030 (an independent civil society and private sector-led partnership which connects data and evidence with advocacy and action, helping to fuel progress towards gender equality) worked with research firm Ipsos MORI to hear global gender equality advocates’ views on progress, how they feel about current data sources and what issues to prioritise in our push for better and more accessible data to better meet the SDGs for girls and women.

Findings from the more than 600 advocates surveyed revealed that we have a lot more to do to ensure that gender data are accessible, available and effectively used by those in positions of power and those advocating for change if we want to improve the lived realities of girls and women.

Some 91% of surveyed advocates, for example, believed that collecting data on issues that affect girls and women is not prioritised by governments. What can be done to make this a priority for policymakers? Furthermore, 89% agreed that achieving the SDGs for girls and women will not be possible without the right data.

In places where gender data are limited or lacking completely, how can gender equality progress effectively be measured? And how would we know if governments are on the right track to meeting the 2030 targets? 

EM2030’s pilot Index responds to an urgent need for data on gender equality and identifies a number of critical issues for girls and women that are, at present, “missing” from, or insufficiently covered in, the current stock of global data on gender equality. 

Highlighting gender equality priorities

The breadth of issues reflected in the Index reflects the wide-ranging gender equality issues that advocates see as priorities for the achievement of the gender equality aspects of the SDGs.

In the push for more accessible, available and better data, the survey also sought to understand advocates’ policy priorities.

Some 58% of respondents marked gender-based violence as one of their top three gender equality priority issues. The issue warrants top attention, given that EM2030’s SDG Gender Index shows that as many as 49% of women in Senegal and 45% of women in India agree that a husband/partner is justified in beating his wife/partner under certain circumstances (compared to Colombia 3%, El Salvador 8%, Kenya 42%, and Indonesia 35%).

Conversely, issues such as climate change and tax and public finance were amongst the lowest priority issues for gender equality progress. Just 9% of the gender advocates surveyed, for example, chose climate change as a top three gender equality policy issue, despite the significant impacts it has on the lives and livelihoods of girls and women.

In 2004, up to three to four times more women than men were killed in some villages from the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami. Despite the impacts of natural disasters on gender equality, in many cases, the links tend to be poorly understood.

Further, just 7% of surveyed advocates identified tax and public spending as one of their top three high-priority gender equality issues. This is a concerning finding given that domestic resources and taxation in developing countries can offer a sustainable source of funding for the national development plans that can drive progress on the SDGs.

As alluded to throughout an ActionAid report, tax systems, and subsequent tax breaks and loopholes identified, for example, are impacting girls and women, underfunding many of the public services that would be critical to their health, well-being and livelihood.

Data can drive change

Good, reliable and accessible data can help shine a light on the lived realities of girls and women. This is particularly true when data are in the hands of — and used effectively by — girls’ and women’s movements and advocates.

Surveyed gender advocates expressed a need for better gender data (including gender disaggregated data) to fill gaps to measure several critical gender equality policy issues. 66% of advocates surveyed, for example, identified insufficient data disaggregation (including by sex, wealth, location) as a challenge.

Even when gender data are available, they are often not accessible enough, or used enough, by the policymakers and gender equality advocates on the front-lines driving change.

Improving gender equality globally requires strong political commitment and will from all stakeholders. It is critical to ensure that the ones who can really drive change have the robust data they need, when they need it, and in a format they know how to use to tell the real story of gender equality progress in their communities and countries.

The EM2030 SDG Gender Index aims to help resolve these dilemmas, bringing more accessible data about countries’ progress on the gender equality dimensions of the SDGs to advocates and decision-makers alike. — Jessica Lomelin

(Picture credit: Jessica Lomelin, Equal Measures 2030)

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