Closing the gender data gap with Data2X

Conversations with Data: #47

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We've all heard about the gender pay gap, but what about the gender data gap? To mark International Women's Day, we spoke with Data2X's executive director Emily Courey Pryor about how missing or incomplete data on girls and women stop journalists from telling the full story. You can listen to the entire 30-minute podcast with Emily, or read the edited version of our Q&A with her below.

What we asked

First of all, what is gender data?

The official UN definition of the gender data is: data that is collected and presented by sex as a primary and overall classification; reflects gender issues; is based on concepts and definitions that adequately reflect the diversity of women and men and capture all aspects of their lives; and is developed through collection methods that take into account stereotypes and social and cultural factors that may induce gender bias in the data.

Simply put, this means that we are looking at data that has been sex-disaggregated and describes the lived experiences of a particular sub-set of the population. This doesn’t necessarily mean data about the lives of women and girls – gender data could also be data about men and boys; and of course, we recognise that gender doesn’t exist in a binary. But when Data2X talks about “gender data” we are specifically referring to data (or the lack of data) about women and girls.

Why are women and girls being left out of the picture?

For far too long, women and girls have been misrepresented or left out completely from data. And if data is being used to guide the creation of policies and programmes, and that data is missing half the population, those policies and programmes will not meet the needs of that missing population. This is a problem.

As for why women and girls are being left out, well, there are many reasons. Historically, the way data collection methods were developed and have evolved do not capture women’s and girls’ experiences. For example, if a survey enumerator asks questions of the head of household, and the head of household is usually a male, are women represented in his answers? Also, women’s and girls’ experiences haven’t always been prioritised by governments, so data hasn’t been collected about them. For example, unpaid care work is now getting so much attention in the media— but that wasn’t always the case, so governments didn’t prioritise collecting data about unpaid care work as part of their labour statistics programmes.

How is Data2X working to close these gender data gaps?

Data2X works to close gender data gaps in two ways. First, we build the case and mobilise action for gender data through our research, advocacy, and communications work, which aims to show the critical role gender data plays in efforts to achieve gender equality. 2020 is a critical year for our advocacy work as we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action, a landmark moment for gender equality. We are working with our partners to ensure that gender data is recognised as a key enabler for gender equality and that real commitments are made to its advancements by governments around the world.

Second, we work to augment the production and use of gender data by partnering with data producers to strengthen data collection, experimenting with new data sources to improve insights on women and girls, and building global gender data expertise by supporting organisations that are guiding gender data production and use. By shining a light on the issue and catalysing action, we have been modelling how good gender data can be produced— and inspiring others to take up the cause.


Emily Courey Pryor is the founder and executive director of Data2X.

What about the work Data2X has done on big data?

We have also been a leader in exploring the potential of new sources of data, like mobile phone, geospatial and app data, to fill gender data gaps. Last year we released a report called Big Data, Big Impact that summarised findings from 10 research projects that we supported, and we found that big data holds huge promise to help us understand aspects of girls and women’s lives that traditional data often struggle to see. One of the projects with a fantastic researcher, Jihad Zahir of Cadi Ayyad University in Morocco, used social media data to assess sentiments towards violence against women, breaking new ground in the analysis of non-English language data.

Tell us about your new report on mapping the gender data gaps.

We’re thrilled to be releasing Mapping Data Gender Gaps: An SDG Era Update of our mapping gaps work. This report looks across six key domains— health, education, economic opportunity, public participation, human security, and environment— to identify the major gender data gaps in our collective knowledge. We also wanted to highlight all of the fantastic work that has happened since we released the last iteration of this report in 2014.

So, we started by asking key researchers in each field about the major gaps in data that hamper their ability to answer the most pressing questions. We also collected information on major databases and research studies. What we found was that in some areas, such as maternal mortality, there has been really significant progress in increasing and improving gender data collection since 2014. But, of course, what constitutes a data gap does not remain static— the data we need depends on the questions we are trying to answer. In 2015, the world agreed the Sustainable Development Goals, and with these came a host of new and more nuanced questions than the international community had ever striven to answer before.

The result of this expanded horizon is the opening of new gender data gaps. This is why we added environment as a domain. We know anecdotally that women and girls are disproportionately impacted by climate change and natural disasters, but the effort to systematically collect data on these adverse effects is just getting underway. With the rise of the gig economy and increasing informalisation, we also highlighted the critical need to collect data on decent work for women. As the world changes, so do our data needs.

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How can journalists tell stories differently so there is a bigger push for this kind of gender data being collected by governments and researchers?

We need to differentiate between stories with data and stories about data. Journalists should, of course, continue to tell stories with data and incorporate statistics and visualisations that make readers better understand and relate to their topics. But we also need journalists to tell stories about data – and about the lack of data. If this issue is exposed, if it could make headlines in national and international news, if world leaders and funders across the globe could be made to realise that the issue of missing data is as critical as the issue of health or education disparities, we might see some progress.

And to be clear, the picture is not all bleak. Over the past few years, a spotlight has been shined on the issue of gender data gaps, thanks to champions like Melinda Gates and Her Majesty Queen Maxima, and also thanks to authors like Caroline Criado Perez who have given the issue urgency and prominence in the collective psyche. But for the huge, system-wide changes we need to make a dent in this issue, we need more champions, more authors, and more journalists to keep the pressure up.

Other happenings on

Public health reporting has the potential to empower communities. Yet, medical research is easy to misreport. Investigative health reporter Aneri Pattani explains how to understand medical research data, challenge it, and, of course, report it accurately and ethically. Check it out here.

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Our next conversation

As you've probably heard, the annual International Journalism Festival in Perugia has been cancelled. But we still want to celebrate the winners of The 2020 Sigma Awards. That's why we plan to feature the competition's winning projects in our next issue. We'll also ask the winning teams for their top tips and resources for improving your data, design and editorial skills in the newsroom.

As always, don’t forget to let us know what you’d like us to feature in our future editions. You can also read all of our past editions here.


Tara from the EJC Data team,

bringing you, supported by Google News Initiative.

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