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NEWS: Gates Foundation announces $80 million commitment to close gender data gaps


New initiative will promote gender equality and support the implementation of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

SEATTLE/COPENHAGEN (May 17, 2016) – In her keynote speech today at the Women Deliver conference in Copenhagen, Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, announced that the foundation will commit $80 million over the next three years to close gender data gaps and help accelerate progress for women and girls around the world. Alongside the Gates Foundation’s commitment, partners across governments, nonprofits and philanthropic organizations have also agreed upon a new statement of principles regarding gender data and its importance for accelerating development outcomes.

Data holds power: It demonstrates the size and nature of social or economic problems, and brings clarity around who is falling through the cracks. Through reliable data, women and girls’ lives can become visible and counted, helping to inform programming and hold leaders to account. However, a lack of comprehensive, current information about women and girls, especially in developing countries, hinders efforts to advance gender equality. If the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals are to be reached by 2030, the world must advance its knowledge about women and girls’ lives and livelihoods, their welfare and well-being, and their contributions to their communities, countries and economies.

“By adopting the SDGs the world agreed to achieve gender equality by 2030. But we cannot close the gender gap without first closing the data gap,” said Melinda Gates. “We simply don’t know enough about the barriers holding women and girls back, nor do we have sufficient information to track progress against the promises made to women and girls. We are committed to changing that by investing in better data, policies and accountability.”

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The zombie myth on women’s contribution to agriculture and control of income

Does this sound familiar?

“Women provide 66% of the work, produce 50% of the food, but earn only 10% of the income and own 1% of the property. We can change this.”

Today in the Washington Post, the Fact Checker unravels the backstory of this “zombie statistic” on women’s share of income and property.

All of the available evidence, particularly the statistics cited in the FAO 2010-2011 State of Food and Agriculture on gender in agriculture, suggests that this statistic is inaccurate. Labor force and time use data do not support this claim, and furthermore, it is difficult to define exactly who is responsible for food production, since both men and women often contribute to a single product with their land, labor, inputs, processing, and so on.

Cheryl Doss examines these statistics in an FAO working paper, “If women hold up half the sky, how much of the world’s food do they produce?” which is now out in Gender in Agriculture: Closing the Knowledge Gap (2014). In her blogpost, How much food do women produce?, she writes:

If women were producing 60-80% of the food in developing countries, given their limited access to land and other inputs and their household responsibilities, they would be miracle workers indeed! But perhaps we should focus less on how much they are currently producing and more on how to ease these constraints that limit their potential.

The rationale for paying attention to women as farmers should not rest on inflated estimates of how much food they “produce”, but rather on recognition that removing barriers that limit women’s potential could have the double benefit of raising incomes of women farmers and making more food available for all.

Many researchers are working to fill the evidence gaps on gender and development and improve the quality and coverage of data on women. A couple of examples of initiatives to improve data include:

  • The EnGendering Data blog, which seeks to generate better sex-disaggregated data.
  • Gender2x, an initiative dedicated to closing gender data gaps.
  • Bread for the World’s recent report examines missing data on women globally.
  • The Gender Asset Gap project demonstrates the importance and feasibility of collecting individual-level (sex-disaggregated) data on men and women’s assets

Do you have additional examples? If so, please share in the comments section!

Better data makes it possible to accurately recognize and track women’s progress and barriers — and to advocate for effective interventions that support women.