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Gender Data’s Critical Role In International Development

Data powers today’s world, informing decisions about everything we do. It plays a critical role in driving progress for the world’s poorest people and it leads to better decisions and better policies. However, for women and girls, data is lacking and basic information about their lives is minimal. Among the 2.5 quintillion bytes of data created everyday, little is known about the inequalities and injustices this population faces. Without this data being separated by gender, understanding the barriers to gender equality and identifying solutions becomes a lot more challenging. This creates a pressing need for more and better data where the complex realities of the lives of women and girls are accurately displayed. 

“When we don’t count women and girls, they literally become invisible.”

-Sarah Hendriks, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

It is difficult to close gender gaps when there is little data available that would inform the decisions of policymakers and provide them with meaningful evidence to prioritize gender equality. In addition, without accurate data on women and girls, there is no way to measure progress toward achieving gender equality, a global ambition stated in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals for 2030. If this goal is to be reached, the world must advance its knowledge about women and girls’ livelihoods, which includes their well-being and their contributions to their communities. 

Understanding who the most excluded groups are, where they live, and what stands in their way is the most challenging part of building the capacity of adolescent girls and young women to thrive. Unless the most vulnerable girls are carefully identified and recruited, they will remain unlikely to benefit from development policies. The need to address this problem is critical, especially in Sub-Saharan African countries such as Benin, due to their growing populations of vulnerable female youth. 

In Benin, gender disparities persist extensively in health, education, economic opportunity, political participation, and safety of women and girls. As a result, advocating for data collection, gender disaggregated data and programs that take a data-driven approach has landed at the forefront of Batonga initiatives. 

Here at Batonga, we recognize the need for data that is inclusive of the most marginalized women and girls to inform development initiatives. We seek to dismantle the barriers holding women and girls back and are committed to changing their lives by advocating for better data. Through collaboration with the Population Council, we have developed the Girl Roster tool and incorporated it into our programs. The Girl Roster is different from other methods of information collection because it reaches all girls in a community, rather than an elite sub-sample, and it provides insight into the root causes of gender exclusion. This digital survey tool and mapping application allows us to go door-to-door to in order to gather household-level information regarding girls’ schooling, marital and childbearing status, and living arrangements. 

This new tool helps us see and understand the full universe of girls in the communities we work in and then craft intentional plans to target the most excluded segments including young mothers, young brides, out-of-school girls, orphans, and domestic workers. Since 2016, our efforts have led us to collect information and data on over 3,600 vulnerable young women and have provided more accurate data to inform decisions regarding programming for adolescent girls in Benin and beyond.  We believe that the gathering, analyzing, and incorporating of this essential data into policy reform will allow more women and girls to become empowered to transform their lives. In turn, this will be beneficial to their families, communities, and countries.

Batonga staff using The Girl Roster technology in Benin.

As such, women and girls can no longer be left in the dust when it comes to data collection. Reliable data holds an incredible amount of power as it brings attention to the most invisible members of communities. As policymakers move forward in making global-development policies, they need a practical, evidence-based, multi-sectoral framework in order to prioritize which populations are the most in need and to avoid objective data.

After women and girls are successfully represented in data, program designs must be influenced based on that data. International NGOs must all work together to ensure that quality data and statistics are at the center of development policies. This means committing ourselves to creating a gender data revolution where data-driven solutions are used to ensure that effective and impactful programs are implemented for young women and girls everywhere. In the end, having more inclusive data will not only uncover contributing factors to gender inequality, but will also guide better policy in Benin and the world beyond.