Policy and development initiatives to address women’s economic empowerment face staunch barriers in a lack of relevant and reliable data to inform advocacy for gender-sensitive policy. “Sex-disaggregated data” offers essential insight into the ways that policies on paper come to life in the experiences of a particular community. Such data also allows for parties to make appropriate decisions and accurate conclusions. The lack of such data precludes the advancement of informed and high-impact gender policies, thus impedes the integration of more women into the global economy. Gender equality and female empowerment are increasingly recognized as core development objectives and key to effective outcomes across a range of issues, from food security to climate change. Thus, demand for sex-disaggregated data will only increase over time.
The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap report provides a measure of economic participation and opportunity, but as noted here, we still need more data. We need data that captures women's economic status across countries, data that takes into account variables such as participation in the informal economy, and data around access to assets such as land or finance. Steps in the right direction are in place—there exist key initiatives focused on improving the availability of gender indicators, centralizing data held by different entities, identifying gaps in knowledge and new indicators, and expanding national capacity to collect and analyze sex-disaggregated data. Knowing where these gaps exist is important, and the onus to fill them falls jointly on the public and private sectors to expand capacity for gathering and consuming sex-disaggregated data for policy and business objectives.
Data shows policymakers how to better integrate women into economies and can be a motivating factor behind the advancement of gender-inclusive development. According to the World Bank’s 2012 World Development Report: Gender Equality and Development, gender equality is simply smart economics. The report asserts that greater gender equality can enhance productivity, improve development outcomes for the next generation, and make institutions more representative. At 40% of the global labor force and more than half of the world’s university students, overall productivity will increase if women’s education and economic participation are enhanced. Greater gender equality also enhances and improves other development outcomes. For example, eliminating barriers against women working in certain sectors or occupations could increase output by raising women’s participation and labor productivity by as much as 25 percent in some countries—just through better allocation of womens’ skills and talent.
In order to take advantage of accelerated growth that women’s economic participation can bring to economies, it is important to design and implement policies that empower women to overcome existing barriers. In remarks about the gender data gap, US Secretary of State Clinton recalled an old adage that what gets measured gets noticed, and it couldn’t be more fitting. Data provides evidence for not only what’s needed but also what’s possible. When we consider what’s possible by economically empowering women, data must inform what we do and how we do it.
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