for Gender Equality:
Takeaways from Women Deliver
By Deirdre Appel
Last week more than 8,000 participants gathered in Vancouver, Canada for Women Deliver, the world’s largest conference on gender equality and the health, rights, and wellbeing of girls. The four-day conference brought together advocacy organizations, academics, government officials (including Ethiopia’s first female president, Sahle-Work Zewde) activists, journalists, and more from over 160 countries around the world.
From panel discussions on the role of technology and the state of fatherhood to film screenings on access to abortion and child marriage, the agenda was packed from 6AM to 8PM. It was an information overload — and perhaps even sensory if you participated in the Virtual Reality booths. Though there were so many topics and discussions to indulge in, Open Data Watch attended the conference with a mission in mind. We packed our bags and set off for Vancouver with the goal of bringing civil registration and vital statistics (CRVS) into the discussions. Alongside our partners, Data2X and the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), we entered the conference doors on Monday morning ready to show gender equality advocates that while it may not be making the headlines civil registration has an important seat at the table.
We did this by co-hosting an early morning side event with IDRC and Data2X, leading a talk at IDRC’s booth in the fueling station, participating in IDRC’s high-level panel, and connecting with new and familiar faces of those who wanted to learn and discuss more. Despite these completed tasks, there are still stones left unturned. Now that the dust has settled from Women Deliver, we reflect on our time in Vancouver and take a look at what’s left on our CRVS to-do list.
Continue to increase our knowledge on how gender equality intersects with CRVS on a systems level
Despite the increasing attention on the importance of CRVS for gender equality (see the outcome document of last year’s first-ever conference on the topic hosted by IDRC), there remain knowledge in fully understanding the intersection of the two issues. While our first knowledge brief of the CRVS Gender series documented the existing literature, it spurred an acknowledgement that there is much left to learn on topics such as how customary versus civil marriages may impact registration rates and therefore women’s empowerment; how cause-of-death notations in death registration may be gender biased; and how to apply a life-course approach to systems. To date most attempts to strengthen CRVS systems have been ad hoc and piece-meal, focusing on single components of the system and introducing short-term technical fixes such as assessment, digitization of administrative tasks, advocacy and training.
Make the case for better financial support for CRVS systems
Reviewing the Women Deliver program one can quickly recognize the array of issues that intersect with gender equality. Access to health services, protecting women’s sexual and reproductive health, combating child marriage — the list goes on and on. With so many pathways towards achieving gender equality, it is important that the case for investments in CRVS be strongly articulated, presented and evidence-based. A mix of stories for advocacy and case studies for return of investments is needed to highlight the value.
Explore how ID systems are complementing or competing with CRVS systems
On multiple occasions attendees of our events posed questions around the linkages between ID and CRVS systems. This is a point of contention in the space and requires additional research and attention. As initiatives for identification systems continue to forge ahead a solution to many pressing problems, CRVS systems must not be left behind. Understanding how the two can complement – as opposed to compete – is critical. Motivated by this need, one of the forthcoming papers in the knowledge brief 2 of the CRVS Gender series will cover this topic. Stay tuned for its release in early July.
Reinforce that CRVS is not only a technical issue but a political and cultural one
CRVS systems do not operate in a vacuum. Rather they exist in a complex web of politics, cultures, and legal frameworks, and social norms. Getting the data right is not just about having the right statistical capacity or technology in place but will depend on a broader understanding and acknowledgement of the context in which a system operates. Each CRVS system is embedded in a particular national political, economic, social, health and information environment. And each encompasses multiple subsystems that deal with legal identity, civil registries, vital statistics and information technologies.
Even if the funding is flowing and the systems are digitized, if individuals do not recognize the benefits of registering vital events, the systems will continue to leave those most vulnerable uncounted. The same will be the case if the systems fail to recognize and adapt to the norms that may disincentive registration, such as naming practices, or if the legal frameworks overlook gender biases within them, such as requiring the father to be present.
Focus on openness, accessibility and use
Alongside the push to strengthen CRVS systems, there should be an equal focus on ensuring the data from such systems are open, accessibility and used. After all the aim is not just to have data for the sake of it but to use data to inform policies and improve lives.
It is a tall order and we certainly have an ambitious work program ahead of us. Luckily we have partners who are also committed to completing this to-do list and plan to keep riding the momentum to ensure all births are counted, all marriages are registered, and all deaths are counted.