This year’s theme for International Day of the Girl emphasizes the importance of data in examining and explaining the work that must be done to remove the remaining barriers for girls worldwide. In this op-ed, originally posted on Forbes on December 19, 2014, Clinton Foundation Senior Vice President Maura Pally discusses the role of data in advancing girls’ and women’s rights and full participation around the world. For more information on charting the road to gender equality, check out No Ceilings’ Full Participation Report, which uses data to outlines the gaps and gains that girls and women have made since 1995.
Data inspires progress and galvanizes change. To know where we need to go, we need to know what we’ve achieved — where progress is being made and where major challenges remain.
After years of working at all levels — policy, civil society, and nonprofit — advocates for women’s progress know too well that despite best intentions, strong programmatic work, and impassioned debate, without reliable data on the gains and gaps that women face, it’s near to impossible to accelerate and sustain lasting progress.
In the era of data driven metrics used to define success by analyzing statistics and trends, the need for data is as present in the gender equality conversation as in any other. It has become increasingly important, if not entirely essential, to have accurate reliable data to help guide us in developing the strongest solutions. Across the board, from climate change, to education, to global health, data has helped to revolutionize the way advocates and policy makers build solutions and garner support — disproving long-held myths and highlighting the effectiveness of diverse interventions. Now more than ever, we need to unite the discussion of gender equity with the rigors of data so that we can create a compelling evidence-based case for full participation.
At its core, data matters because it not only measures progress, it inspires it. Accurate reporting allows us to see where successful policy or programmatic interventions are taking root so that we can replicate those successes to reach women and girls at larger scale. In addition, it quantifies the depth and magnitude of persistent gaps to progress and the work that remains to be done. Finally, it acts as a yardstick to measure success.
Already, the data we’re uncovering tells us that for each of those successes, significant hurdles still remain. While most countries around the world have laws on the books recognizing women’s equality, many countries still restrict women’s full economic participation; and despite the fact 126 million women in 67 economies started and managed new business ventures in 2012 alone, women’s overall labor force participation rate has stagnated over the last 20 years.
The importance of this data cannot be overstated. Knowing the exact challenges facing women and girls will help to guide policies, develop effective interventions, set targets, and monitor progress to enhance prosperity and create sustainable equality.
The challenge we and many others have discovered, is that too often this data simply doesn’t exist, even in fundamental topics like access to health services, equal pay or basic human rights. We lack accurate records of births with particular consequence for girls, the hours of unpaid labor that women work, and the prevalence of many forms of gender-based violence — to name a few of the key gender gaps that data specialists and advocates for women’s equality are measuring.
The drive for this data has been years in the making, and building on that progress, the work we need to do now is clear. We must drive towards metrics and we must mine critical data to add to the strong evidence-based case that proclaims without a doubt, that investing in girls and women isn’t just the right thing to do; it’s the smart thing to do.