“To me, data is kind of sexy!” That’s what Melinda Gates told NY Magazine while discussing the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s recent $80 million-dollar investment to take gender bias out of reporting data. She announced this investment at the opening ceremony of the Women Deliver conference in Copenhagen this week.
Taking gender bias out of data is much overdue. This data will be used to help close the gender gap in so many facets of life including governance, land ownership, health, unpaid labor and education. As someone who spent years inputting key HIV & AIDS indicators into U.S. government databases in South Africa, I understand the importance of this kind of investment. If you don’t have good data that shows a true and full perspective of what is actually happening on the ground, you cannot effectively empower women and girls.
For example, data can be used to track how many days of school girls miss because of their menstrual cycles and how that affects their education and ultimately their personal economic status and that of their family.
We can use Uganda as an example of how data can be used to empower women. Farming accounts for about a quarter of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and 80 percent of those farmers are women but they only own 1% of the land. Knowing that, we need to enable these women to reduce the time spent working the land through technology and innovation which will then free up time to spend on other important tasks that can eventually help them become landowners.
We need to put more women at the table to make decisions including deciding what the key indicators are for data collection. They will likely include things like how many hours a week women and girls spend collecting water or firewood, walking to school, or the amount of money they make in the informal economy and what they do with that money.
From there we can work on designing ways to cut the hours collecting water by creating water collection systems and permaculture programs in their communities. Or we can invest in more bio-gas programs that reduce the need for firewood allowing women to do something else with their time. Women are often the target of sexual violence while collecting firewood especially in places like refugee camps, so the number of rapes and violence would decline, too. Bio-gas programs can also benefit the environment and the health of community members.
Data-driven design – making decisions based on data that is not gender biased or based on assumptions – will make a huge impact on the empowerment of women and girls.