UN Women, 12 March 2012

There has been growing recognition that good development models are based on evidence and mutual accountability. Yet for years the lack of gender-related statistics has been used as a reason to not take bolder action on gender equality and women’s empowerment.

A dynamic new partnership, the Evidence and Data for Gender Equality (EDGE) Initiative, is responding to this gap. Jointly managed by UN Women and the UN Statistics Division, in collaboration with Member States, the World Bank, the OECD and others, it will work to meet the rising demand by countries across the world for greater support in accessing and using gender statistics – mainly by helping to build national capacity and strengthen national systems on data collection in critical areas. It will also promote the work already being done to develop standards and definitions for those who gather statistics, and those who use them.

“We need high quality evidence to make the case, and design and deliver effective policies. We need to understand the complex barriers – political, economic and social – that women face in addressing their rights,” said Ms. Saraswathi Menon, Director of UN Women’s Policy Division, speaking at a high-level panel of partnering representatives at the UN’s 56th Commission for the Status of Women and the 43rd UN Statistical Commission in New York. “We cannot determine the effectiveness of policies and interventions if we cannot measure their impact,” she added.

The initiative, launched in November at the Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Busan, Korea, has grown out of work by the Inter-Agency and Expert Group on the Development of Gender Statistics, convened by the UN in 2006, and the sub-group that it formed to create a minimum set of gender indicators. In 2011 the UN Statistical Commission requested that a global programme on gender statistics be implemented, and the call to harmonize gender data was reiterated in an OECD ministerial session in Paris by US Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The first three-year phase, between March 2012 and February 2015, will focus on the ‘three Es’: women’s education, employment and entrepreneurship. This will see a database developed to compile guidelines for the collection of gender indicators. Pilot data will then be collected in 10 participating countries. Over the longer term, EDGE hopes to refine an approach that integrates gender issues into regular statistical production, and build countries’ capacities so that they can produce gender data in all critical policy areas.

Speaking at the Commission event, the Director of the World Bank Development Data Group, Shaida Badee noted that in her view, “gender statistics need to become part of the DNA of the statistical system”; while the OECD’s Director of Statistics, Martine Durand, illustrated how these gaps may have excluded the experiences of women entrepreneurs. “Female entrepreneurs’ activities are still hampered in many countries by gender specific constraints,” she said. “Women tend to own smaller business with lower levels of overall capitalization, start and mange firms in different industries than men, and grow their business less than men. Women also tend to face higher barriers to access finance; in particular, women entrepreneurs are often discriminated against by credit providers.”

By bringing women into focus in the field of data collection, EDGE will allow for a more complete view of the key issues and complex barriers in women’s lives around the world, ensuring, critically, that gender responsive policies and actions are backed by sound evidence.