Lessons on Policymakers, Gender Equality, and Data

Last week at the United Nations General Assembly, Equal Measures 2030 launched a multi-country policymaker survey that explored perceptions of progress on gender-related issues and access to and use of data to inform decisions.

By surveying 109 policymakers across Indonesia, India, Kenya, Senegal and Colombia, Equal Measures 2030 was able to get some insight into policymakers’ perspectives on gender equality and how much these were grounded in data and evidence—a crucial part of understanding where change needs to happen in order to reach the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for girls and women by 2030.

What did we learn from the survey?

1. Policymakers were not confident in their knowledge of key problems faced by girls, women

When asked to estimate the scale of several key issues relevant to women and girls in their country—maternal mortality, early marriage rate (before 18), women in the labor force, and women in parliament —policymakers were largely not confident in their knowledge of the facts.

Fewer than three in ten policymakers thought they knew the relevant figures on maternal mortality or the percentage of women in the labor force. And just 1 in 8 thought they knew the proportion of girls married before the age of 18.

It is crucial that policymakers are aware and informed about the gender equality challenges in their country if they are to effectively develop the right laws, policies and budget allocations to tackle these challenges and improve the quality of life for women and girls.

While many policymakers were unable to estimate the scale of issues related to girls and women, the majority said they would know where to access data on these issues should they need to. This is the gap that Equal Measures 2030 is trying to fill— ensuring that policymakers access, utilise and understand available data and evidence in order to inform decision making.

2. Men and women policymakers had varying perceptions of gender equality progress

The majority of policymakers (66%) believe that their country is more equal now compared to five years ago. While nearly eight in ten male respondents held this view (78%), only 55% of women agreed this was the case.

While some believed that gender equality had progressed, most were equally aware of the challenges in their countries and were able to make concrete suggestions about what needed to change so girls and boys and women and men were more equal.

Policymakers cited a variety of issues from social norms and the value of women, to women’s leadership and education. While education was most highly cited, political representation, employment, violence, and social norms all figured prominently as well, showing that those we spoke to were well aware of the range of challenges faced by girls and women.

3. Gender issues were not considered a priority in all areas of policymaking

Once we understood policymakers’ perception of progress on gender equality and their knowledge of key issues, we wanted to know which issues were considered important in the context of policymaking for gender equality.

Half of policymakers felt that there was too little attention to gender in policymaking, but with considerable variations between the men and women surveyed (67% of women, 33% of men).

Over four fifths of policymakers thought that gender equality concerns were a high or very high priority when setting policy on education, whereas just 38% thought that to be the case when making decisions about public finance.

It’s important to understand why gender-related issues are prioritized in some areas of policy more than others, and whether its linked to visibility and the accessibility of data and evidence.

These findings reinforce why it is so crucial that partnerships like Equal Measures 2030 work to ensure that gender issues remain a priority in all areas of policymaking. Gender equality is a cross-cutting and must not be considered as a single policy issue in the eyes of governments.

4. Available data on gender-related issues are not often used, and not always found to be helpful

One of the key aims of the survey was to understand the data being used by policymakers to inform their priorities and decision making as they pertain to girls and women.

Ranking gender-related data sources and evidence, policymakers said they most often use government data (79%), international data, such as from the UN (47%) and academic or research institution data (41%).

Fewer than half rated government data sources relating to gender equality as “very useful” (47%) and only about a third of policymakers were confident to say that data and evidence related to gender equality was “very” or “quite good” in terms of timeliness and disaggregation.

Equal Measures 2030 aims to use quality data and evidence to drive change for girls’ and women’s equality, putting data into the hands of decision-makers, advocates, and girls and women’s movements. To achieve our aim, we need to understand the needs of one of our main targets – policymakers. Understanding what data sources are used (and how often) is crucial for effective influencing and advocacy work across all levels.

The findings raise concerns about whether policymakers are equipped with and sufficiently using the information required to drive action towards the gender equality targets that are part of the SDGs.

The policymakers surveyed believe they have a strong understanding of the SDGs and, when given the chance to have a more open-ended discussion, were able to talk about the kinds of changes that are needed to advance gender equality in their countries.

But, there is a lot more work to be done to ensure gender-related issues become part of the “vocabulary of power” and a priority across all areas of policymaking.