What are gender data gaps and why they matter?

The lack of sex-disaggregated data and statistics that make gender gaps visible, has resulted in an incomplete picture of women’s and men’s economic, political and social situations in the world.

Why would that matter to you and me? It affects our daily lives, the way we perceive and experience the world, and in some cases,  it is a life-threatening situation. Here are some relevant examples about why we need sex-disaggregated data:

  • Doctors often misdiagnose women. In the case of heart attacks, women’s symptoms are different than to those of men. Because we mainly studied men’s symptoms, women are more likely to die for being misdiagnosed.
  • Medical treatments are less effective for women. We don’t tend to involve female humans or cells in medical trials, and the result of that is women have less effective medical treatments and more side effects.
  • There is a digital gender divide. Women are being left behind in an increasingly digitized world because they are less likely to own a cellphone, especially refugees and other vulnerable populations.
  • Household surveys capture less than 30 percent of women’s economic activities. When a woman answers that her “primary activity” is being a housewife, surveyors often stop asking about their other activities. Many women who are primarily housewives also engage in activities outside the home, for example, in farming or enterprise. By failing to question them further, those activities are not counted. As a result, household surveys currently capture 75 percent of men’s economic activities but no more than 30 percent of women’s activity.

Global challenges related to gender data gaps

Today I attended an event organized by UN Women on Gender Statistics, where public sector representatives from all over the world talked about their main challenges when capturing sex-dissagregated data.

At the event they mentioned the following: gathering quality data, coordinating data gathering within sub national agencies, sustainability, political ownership and how could data translate into action.

As a communicator, I would add the following challenge to the discussion today: how could we incentive the use of data for telling stories? How do we make sure reporters and public in general know how to access and interpret data that is already available? Data gathering, without understanding and effective dissemination, won’t do much alone.

Any thoughts?


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