Fund gender data. Use gender data. This was the parting shot from Papa Seck, Chief Statistician at UN Women during a keynote address at a recent all-Africa forum on gender data. More than 120 public policy analysts and gender data practitioners from 30 African countries convened in Nairobi, Kenya in September 2022 for the Africa Gender Statistics Conference—the biggest gender statistics workshop ever held in Africa. Delegates met to interrogate gender statistics through two lenses; Agenda 2063—the African Union’s blueprint for transforming Africa into a global powerhouse, and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that support gender equality and women’s empowerment.
Africa’s rallying call for gender data resonates with the global move towards data innovation and partnerships as emphasized at the just-ended 2023 UN World Data Forum.
The focus on production and use comes on the back of several multi-stakeholder initiatives since 2017 that are transforming the region’s gender data and statistics landscape.
Set in motion by a pivotal initiative spearheaded by UN Women, the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), and the African Development Bank (AfDB), and further unpacked at a pan-African gender statistics forum held in Dakar, Senegal in November 2017, the multi-stakeholder initiatives aim to foster collaboration in gender statistics.
At the 2017 Dakar forum, experts underscored the urgent need for increased and improved gender data to effectively review and monitor the region’s gender equality and women's empowerment policy commitments. They also purposed to revive the Africa Group on Gender Statistics (AGGES) to make it a more effective coordination and capacity mechanism and improve engagement with regional economic communities. AGGES was established in 2008 by the Statistical Commission for Africa. ECA currently serves as its secretariat.
“The proposal was to ensure that AGGES could deliver better on its mandate to support and advise on gender statistics needs, and challenges, and on the local implementation of the global development agenda,” said Fatouma Sissoko, Gender Statistician, ECA.
The Dakar forum also pressed for more support to improve the quality and standardization of gender statistics practice as across the continent. The development of a Minimum Set of Gender Indicators for Africa (MSGIA) as per the imperatives of the Beijing Platform, as well as data produced using the Africa Gender Index (AGI) were also identified as regional priorities. The Index is currently jointly supported by AfDB and ECA and is aimed at assessing the well-being of women compared to men from an economic, social, and empowerment perspective.
The result of all these initiatives? Impressive resource boosts and ramped up development of gender data as well as general statistics in Africa.
For instance, through its Statistical Capacity Building Program funded by AfDB, COMESA has contributed to building gender data and statistics capacity in 37 countries in the region. On its part, UN Women’s global flagship gender data and statistics program (dubbed Making Every Woman and Girl Count) has steered an increasing number of countries across the continent to strengthen how gender data and statistics are produced and used. A multi-partner-funded initiative, in its first phase, Women Count invested more than $13 million in Africa. The program is currently in its second phase.
In partnership with NSOs and other partners, UN Women has also supported national surveys to fill critical gender data gaps in Africa. These include data gaps on violence against women, for which a total of eight countries have carried out national surveys. Uganda’s survey is already informing law and policy in the country. Several countries, including Uganda and most recently Kenya, have also carried out time-use surveys to establish how women and men spend their time in relation to daily tasks such as household work, paid work, and commuting. These are critical to better understand the social and economic effects of how women and men use their time and to inform related socio-economic policies and decisions including on remuneration and social support.
At least fifteen African countries including South Sudan, Sudan, Niger, and Mozambique have carried out national gender statistics assessments or evaluations of their national statistics development strategies (NSDS) to identify data and capacity gaps for improved coordination and inform further development of their statistics systems.
In response to these assessments and high-level advocacy, governments have expanded existing or developed full-fledged gender statistics projects in Côte d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Cameroon, Senegal, and Sierra Leone. These projects have been instrumental in developing and monitoring policies and programs to improve the lives of women and girls.
What about the use of gender data? There are numerous successes in this area as well. A good example is in Kenya where county gender data profiles developed with the support of UN Women and partners triggered the development of gender-responsive policies and legislation in Kitui County—a County Gender Policy, an Empowerment Bill to allow the County to target women in income-generating activities, and a Mainstreaming Bill to ensure that gender is factored in when allocating public resources.
Significant gains have also been realized from the proposed use of the Africa Gender Index. With data from 51 of 54 countries on the continent, the first joint edition of the AGI Report offers a comprehensive picture of gender equality and thus provides invaluable evidence for planning, policy, and decision-making.
The Africa Programme on Gender Statistics (APGS), a regional initiative established under AGGES, has also contributed significantly to improvements in gender statistics both at the regional and national levels. Currently in its third phase, the umbrella program has made strides in ensuring coordination, collaboration, and harmonization in gender data, a sea change from previous largely project-based and ad hoc efforts that often resulted in duplication of effort.
Under the leadership of UN Women, ECA, and AfDB, the APGS has led and contributed to strengthening statistical coordination and integration of gender in national statistical systems including supporting the inclusion of gender and gender statistics in government planning processes and monitoring frameworks. APGS has also developed appropriate methodologies for producing gender statistics in Africa, most notably the recommended minimum set and standards for gender indicators in Africa (MSGIA) led by UN Women in collaboration with ECA and AfDB. This has improved the availability of accurate and standardized gender data as well as provided guidance to countries when developing their own national sets of gender indicators.
While these achievements speak volumes, a lot remains to be done.
For one, gender data for evidence-based policy and decision-making is still limited. So far, Africa only has data to monitor 35 percent of the sustainable development goal (SDG) indicators compared with the global rate of 42 percent (up from 26 percent in 2016). While capacity constraints and, to some extent, low political will, are partly to blame for this scarcity, inadequate funding remains a major issue.
Except in a few countries, funding for gender statistics in Africa is still largely donor-driven. Besides being unsustainable, overreliance on donor funding can influence and sometimes even distort national priorities. Domestic funding for gender statistics is therefore crucial and can be realized through planning for it, for example, through national sustainable development strategies (NSDSs), but also through advocacy and strong leadership.
That said, several initiatives are making inroads in using non-traditional gender data to fill existing gaps and meet rising demand promptly and cost-effectively. These include multi-partner efforts to promote and develop standards for using citizen-generated data and administrative data for statistical purposes.
More investment is still needed to scale up the uptake and use of gender data for planning and policy and decision-making.
“The bottom line in producing gender data is really to use this data to improve the lives of women and girls through gender-responsive and evidence-based policies and decisions,” said Dr. Maxime Houinato, UN Women East and Southern Africa Regional Director.
“In the same way that data that is not disaggregated by sex is bad data, good data that is not used is useless data,” said Seck.