International Women’s Day 2021
What we know and don’t know about women
by the Open Data Watch Team
8 March 2021
International Women’s Day is a day to remember the contributions of women to the economy, to society, and to their families. The COVID-19 pandemic has made us more aware of women’s roles as frontline workers in schools, hospitals, at home, and in other settings. The spread of the pandemic has been uneven and so has its effects on women and men. Even more uneven is our ability to measure these differences.
On International Women’s Day 2021, we call on governments, civil society, and the private sector to fill the gaps in our knowledge by building statistical systems that leave no woman and girl behind.
Tracking the COVID-19 pandemic
Our knowledge of the impact of COVID-19 on men and women and different demographic groups is incomplete. In the first months of the pandemic, Open Data Watch and Data2X proposed an indicator framework for monitoring the vulnerability of women to the primary and secondary effects of the pandemic. (Buvinic et. al. 2020a) In a second paper, the authors applied the framework to 75 low- and lower-middle-income countries to identify where women are most vulnerable (Buvinic et. al. 2020b). Countries were ranked by the severity of COVID-19 infections, the expected drop in economic output, measures of women’s health, economic wellbeing, and human capital, and the availability of data.
Figure 1 Overlapping vulnerabilities
The results show how risks are compounded to increase women’s vulnerabilities. Low scores on the composite index of women’s wellbeing were shared by 4 countries experiencing economic shocks and 6 that lack adequate data. While only 7 countries recorded high levels of COVID-19 infections alone, 8 more were projected to experience a decrease in GDP per capita of 7 percent or more. And although our understanding of total COVID-19 caseloads has improved, 31 of the countries studied countries lacked sex-disaggregated data on COVID infections.
Building better gender databases
The lack of gender data is endemic. Open Data Watch and Data2X have conducted in-depth reviews of the availability of the gender indicators included in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) or among those recommended by UN Women in Sub-Saharan Africa (2019), Latin America and the Caribbean (2020), and Asia and the Pacific (forthcoming 2021). While not a representative sample of all countries, the data for these 25 low- or middle-income countries show a large gulf between the aspiration of the SDGs to build robust and consistent databases to guide development programs and the fragmented reality of our knowledge of the conditions in which women live and work.
The availability of sex-disaggregated data varies widely by domain. Almost two-thirds of education indicators are sex-disaggregated while environmental indicators are least likely to be sex-disaggregated. Measures of public participation, human security, and the environment all have substantial numbers of missing indicators. In national databases, almost 50 percent of gender indicators lack sex-disaggregated data or are entirely missing.
There are similar gaps in international databases, although international databases typically have more missing indicators but are more likely to be sex-disaggregated. National databases (shown in Figure 2 below) fill some of the gaps with non-standard indicators that lack sex-disaggregation.
Figure 2 Gender data in national databases, 2010 to 2020
Open gender data
The Open Data Inventory (ODIN) (Open Data Watch 2021a) tells us more about the state of gender data. ODIN documents the coverage and openness of data in 22 categories of official statistics in 187 countries, low income, high income, and in between. Ten statistical categories comprise the ODIN Gender Data Index. They include indicators that measure the status and well-being of women through sex-disaggregated data or measures of the overall welfare of households. Where they are available, these indicators can tell us whether women have equitable access to healthcare, education, employment, food security, public safety, and safe water and sanitation. But too often they are missing or lack timely and subnational data.
As the ODIN 2020/21 report (Open Data Watch 2021b) shows, countries with low scores on the ODIN Gender Data Index are also less likely to report sex-disaggregated data on the COVID-19 pandemic.
Figure 3 ODIN Gender Index and COVID-19 reporting
Whether a matter of capacity or interest, gender-relevant statistical categories have poorer coverage than non-gender categories, such as macroeconomic statistics, land use, and pollution. In addition, this gap has been growing. In 2020 the difference in coverage between gender and non-gender data categories was 11.5 points. Where gender data fall behind most often is in timeliness and frequency of observations. When data are available, differences in openness are relatively small. But, as we never tire of saying, “To have open data, you have to have data.”
Figure 4 ODIN Gender Data Index compared to non-gender ODIN data
Closing the gaps
A year into a global pandemic and with less than ten years to achieve the SDGs, we still know little about the obstacles faced by women at home, at work, and in the public sphere. We cannot wait until 2030 for the evidence needed to inform policies and strategies for gender equality. Increased investment in national statistical systems should be accompanied by innovative use of new technologies to expand the capacity to collect, disseminate, and use gender data. Women’s lives and livelihood depend upon it.
- Buvinic, Mayra, Lorenz Noe, and Eric Swanson 2020a. Tracking the Gender Impact of COVID-19: An Indicator Framework. https://opendatawatch.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/Blogs/BRIEF-Tracking-the-Gender-Impact-of-COVID-19.pdf.
- ———. 2020b. Understanding Women’s and Girls’ Vulnerabilities to the COVID-19 Pandemic. https://opendatawatch.com/publications/womens-and-girls-vulnerabilities-to-the-covid-19-pandemic/.
- Data2X and Open Data Watch. 2019. Bridging the Gap: Mapping Gender Data Availability in Africa. https://data2x.org/resource-center/bridging-the-gap-mapping-gender-data-availability-in-africa/
- ———. 2020. Bridging the Gap: Mapping Gender Data Availability in Latin America and the Caribbean. https://data2x.org/resource-center/bridging-the-gap-mapping-gender-data-availability-in-latin-america-and-the-caribbean/
- Open Data Watch. 2021a. Open Data Inventory. https://odin.opendatawatch.com/.
- ———. 2021b. ODIN Open Data Inventory 2020/2. “Annual Report.” https://odin.opendatawatch.com/Report/annualReport2020.