Focus on Gender: Reliable data can erode inequality

UNESCO has just launched a global project targeted at the gender gap in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects. The initiative, known as SAGA (STEM and Gender Advancement), will address the lack of data on women in STEM — a dearth that restricts the design and monitoring of policies to address gender equality. By developing new indicators and methods to measure and assess sex-disaggregated data on women’s participation and the barriers they face, SAGA hopes to help reduce the gender gap at all levels of education and research.  

The launch comes a few months after a Washington Post article revived debates about ‘zombie statistics’ on women, agriculture, labour and land ownership, such as “women produce 60 to 80 per cent of the world’s food”. Such figures are kept alive by continual referencing in research papers and interviews on the subject, and are even used as the basis for funding requests or policy decisions — but, on closer inspection, no one knows where they come from. Like zombies, this dubious data refuses to die.

Its persistence points to another major problem: reliable and meaningful global and comparative figures for women’s participation in labour markets and agriculture tend to be few and far between.

This is also the case with women in science, technology and innovation. International organisations have made attempts to amalgamate the data collected by different countries and regions to produce sex-disaggregated comparative figures for different places. For example, the highly respected SHE figures — published every three years by the European Commission — maps data on women in STEM across Europe. [1] And the Organization for Women in Science for the Developing World (OWSD), in partnership with WISAT (Women in Global Science and Technology), has spent the past few years mapping gender-sensitive data on important ‘knowledge society’ issues, including science and technology, in different countries. Assessments on four African countries — Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda — took place in 2015.

UNESCO has just launched a global project targeted at the gender gap in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects. The initiative, known as SAGA (STEM and Gender Advancement), will address the lack of data on women in STEM — a dearth that restricts the design and monitoring of policies to address gender equality. By developing new indicators and methods to measure and assess sex-disaggregated data on women’s participation and the barriers they face, SAGA hopes to help reduce the gender gap at all levels of education and research.

The launch comes a few months after a Washington Post article revived debates about ‘zombie statistics’ on women, agriculture, labour and land ownership, such as “women produce 60 to 80 per cent of the world’s food”. Such figures are kept alive by continual referencing in research papers and interviews on the subject, and are even used as the basis for funding requests or policy decisions — but, on closer inspection, no one knows where they come from. Like zombies, this dubious data refuses to die.

Its persistence points to another major problem: reliable and meaningful global and comparative figures for women’s participation in labour markets and agriculture tend to be few and far between.

This is also the case with women in science, technology and innovation. International organisations have made attempts to amalgamate the data collected by different countries and regions to produce sex-disaggregated comparative figures for different places. For example, the highly respected SHE figures — published every three years by the European Commission — maps data on women in STEM across Europe. [1] And the Organization for Women in Science for the Developing World (OWSD), in partnership with WISAT (Women in Global Science and Technology), has spent the past few years mapping gender-sensitive data on important ‘knowledge society’ issues, including science and technology, in different countries. Assessments on four African countries — Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda — took place in 2015.

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by Tonya Blowers

Photo Credit: Panos/Marcus Rose