International Women’s Day: Why We Need to Connect Data and Advocacy to Achieve Gender Equality

By Alison Holder, Director of Equal Measures 2030, and Silvia Montoya, Director of the UNESCO Institute for Statistics

On International Women’s Day, social media channels light up with a flurry of messages and infographics about gender equality. While we welcome this spotlight on data, we also need to look beyond the moment and focus on how we can use the information to bring real change to the lives of women and girls around the world.

That is the goal of Equal Measures 2030, a new initiative that formally launches on 14 March in New York during the Commission on the Status of Women. Equal Measures 2030 is an independent civil society and private sector-led partnership working towards a world where gender equality is achieved, and where every girl and woman counts and is counted.

By connecting data and evidence with advocacy and action, the aim is to fuel progress towards gender equality. How? By making sure that girls’ and women’s movements, rights advocates and decision makers have easy-to-use data and evidence to guide efforts to reach the Global Goals by 2030 and leave no one behind.

This can only happen by working with a wide range of stakeholders – from activists on the frontlines to agencies like the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), which develops the data and standards needed to track and compare the education of girls and women in about 200 countries around the world.

Bringing data to life

Brought together by Asia-Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women (Arrow), Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Data2X, the African Women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET), International Women’s Health Coalition, KPMG International, ONE Campaign, Plan International and Women Deliver, Equal Measures 2030 has three key objectives:

  • to gather data and evidence and provide analysis;
  • to work with girls’ and women’s movements and other rights advocates to influence policies and decisions; and
  • to engage decision makers who have the power to act.

A key factor for success lies in bringing the data to life. So in this spirit, it is our pleasure to announce the release of a new edition of the UNESCO eAtlas for Gender Inequality in Education, produced by the UIS. With the eAtlas, you can clearly see where girls and young women are making progress and where they are being left behind at every level of education.

For these facts to fuel real progress on education and gender equality, they need to get into the hands of rights movements and advocates, as well as decision makers. It is exactly this dual approach – using evidence to fuel action – that Equal Measures 2030 plans to take.

What does the 2017 eAtlas tell us about gender inequality in education? 

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Despite all the efforts and progress made over the past two decades, girls are still more likely than boys to remain completely excluded from education, According to UIS data, 15 million girls of primary-school age will never have the opportunity to learn to read and write in primary school if current trends continue, compared to about 10 million boys. Moreover, the data also show that the rates of exclusion and related gender gaps tend to rise with higher levels of education in many regions and countries.

Considerable progress has been made – it is important to recognize that. We are seeing the balance tip in favour of young women in many middle and high income countries at different points in their education. But there are far too many zig zags. For example, there are now more women pursuing Bachelor’s degrees globally than men. But a closer look at the data shows the persistence of barriers  which discourage women from reaching higher levels of study and accounting for less than 30% of the world’s researchers.

The eAtlas lets us navigate through a wide range of indicators on access, transition and completion of each level of education to try to parse through some of the complexities. For example, a map on enrolment rates highlights the trouble spots where girls are barely starting school. In Afghanistan and Sudan, there are only about 70 girls enrolled in primary school for every 100 boys while large gaps persist in countries like Chad (77 girls for 100 boys), Yemen (84 girls) and Pakistan (85 girls).

But we also see that girls who do manage to enrol tend to persist even if they must repeat grades. For example, the same number – 14 million – of boys and girls enrolled in primary education repeated a grade in 2014. However, about 20 million boys left school that year compared to about 17 million girls.

Perhaps most importantly, the data let us contextualize policies and research. Consider the studies showing the positive effects that female teachers can have on girls’ learning. But as shown in the eAtlas, there are far more men teaching primary classes than women in the region facing the greatest challenges: sub-Saharan Africa. In countries like Liberia only 13% of teachers are women while more than half of girls are out of school.

Connecting data to policies

The eAtlas illustrates what can be done with the wide range of UIS data disaggregated by sex. The good news is more data are on the way. As the official data source for the Sustainable Development Goal on education (SDG 4), the UIS is developing new global measures on the extent to which girls are learning and women are acquiring basic literacy skills needed in today’s world.

The challenge will lie in transforming this information into power by getting it into the hands of activists and decision makers. This is the raison d’etre of Equal Measures 2030, which will work with a wide range of stakeholders, like the UIS, who are committed to achieving the deep transformation needed for gender equality.