Remarks on Evidence and Impact: Closing the Gender Data Gap

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
July 19, 2012

Thank you very much. Well, it’s wonderful being here with all of you today, and I want to start by thanking Gallup for co-sponsoring this conference with the State Department and hosting us here this morning. Jim Clifton told me that this used to be the convention center in Washington in the late 1880s and that men would come here and tie their horses up down below and have all kinds of meetings. So it’s great that we’re back here today, and I am grateful to Jim Clifton and his team for joining us to highlight the urgent need for more and better information about women and gender equality around the world.

I’m pleased that so many thinkers and leaders in this field are here today. You’ve just heard from one of them, Dr. Jim Kim, the new President of the World Bank, and we’re so pleased that he’s in this position; Cheryl Mills, my chief of staff and counselor at the State Department who has really driven this process forward inside the State Department; and so many of you who are here with us today – all the panelists who will participate in today’s discussion and everyone who will leave here committed to following through on what we have said.

Now, I am sure when you received an invitation to a conference on data -- (laughter) -- you probably thought, “Oh, boy, how exciting.” But I think you would agree, even having just heard from the prior three speakers, this really is an exciting time for data, because we are living in the midst of a data revolution. Massive amounts of information are being shared faster, through more channels, and reaching more people in more places than ever. Now, globally, Twitter users generate 340 million tweets every day. And some of you are probably tweeting as I speak right now. (Laughter.) Remember, it is #gendergap. (Laughter.) Companies around the world catalog billions and billions of customer transactions in a matter of minutes. Governments crunch census data to determine the makeup, habits, and challenges of entire countries or specific communities.

Some measures suggest the world created as much as 1.8 zettabytes – that was a new term to me – zettabytes of data last year. To put this in perspective, you would need more than 57 billion 32 gig iPads to hold all that information.

But are we just collecting it for the sake of collecting it? Data only becomes valuable when it is organized and put to work. And before we make big decisions – in business, in government, in life – we should do the research, run the numbers. It’s how we minimize risk and maximize impact.

And data are making a huge difference in diplomacy and development already. MIT’s Engineering and Social Systems lab is doing pioneering work modeling the growth of slum areas. For instance, in parts of Africa, they did it by combining data from mobile phone networks with information from the Kenyan census. Now urban planners can use that model to figure out where to install water pumps and toilets so that as many people as possible can use them. Instead of having a powerful person in a slum demand that the toilet be put in a certain place because that’s where he wants it, now you can equip decision makers both locally within the slum itself as well as in local government to be able to say, “But more people will use it if we move it over there.” It sounds like a small thing; it’s revolutionary.

Or take Together for Girls, a public-private partnership the State Department helped build to prevent sexual violence against children. In many places, there is simply no information about how widespread the problem is, so we support collecting data at the national level. In Tanzania, for example it was found that almost 30 percent of girls and over 10 percent of boys have suffered an unwanted sexual experience. The Government of Tanzania then used this data to develop and implement a national plan to prevent violence against children. Concrete action is possible when we understand the scope and scale of a problem.

We keep statistics on everything we care about, from RBIs to ROI, the daily ups and downs of the Dow and our bank accounts. So if we’re serious about narrowing the gender gap and helping more girls and women, then we must get serious about gathering and analyzing the data that tell the tale.

Now, the data already provides strong evidence that demonstrates the links between gender equality and increased prosperity and security. This has been a real focus for us at the State Department. We have been clear from day one that when we’re making the case for elevating the roles of women, we can’t just rely on moral arguments as important and compelling as they might be. We have to make a rigorous case, backed up with solid evidence and data.

Last September at the first ever APEC Women and the Economy Summit in San Francisco, I shared the compelling evidence mostly collected by the World Bank that demonstrates how women jumpstart and then drive economic growth around the world. As I said then, when we liberate the economic potential of women, we elevate the economic performance of communities, nations, and the world. And in these tough economic times, none of us can afford to perpetuate the barriers facing women in the workforce. And you combine that with the information Jim Clifton provided, which is constant through Gallup data that the most important thing to people in the world is a good job with a decent income to support themselves and their families. And leaders and governments around the world have started taking action, because you can’t deny the data.

Now, we’re not just focused on economic growth. In December of last year, I also spoke about the important role that women play in fostering global stability. While more limited than our economic data, there is evidence showing that women make unique contributions during peace negotiation processes. And afterwards, they provide vital support to bring peace agreements to life in local communities and to help build lasting security. All these data went into creating the U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security, which is our government-wide roadmap for accelerating and institutionalizing our work to bring more women into all aspects of peace building and conflict prevention.

Now, these speeches called for bold ideas, for changing the way we approach business, global stability, economic growth, as well as how we approach diplomacy and development in the 21st century. Today I want to look more closely at how we can use data to inform and shape this work.

As we strive to achieve our foreign policy goals and to advance American global leadership by building peace, promoting democracy, growing economies, we already know that investing in women delivers returns for entire societies. But we are missing critical information to guide our investments better.

As Jim just said, for too many countries we lack reliable and regular data on even the basic facts about the lives of women and girls – facts like when they have their first child, how many hours of paid and unpaid work they do, whether they own the land they farm. And since women make up half the population, that’s like having a black hole at the center of our data-driven universe.

It keeps us from fully realizing how advancing the status of women affects women, their families, their communities, their countries, and the rest of us. And it keeps those of us looking to close the gender gap from getting the most out of our investments from either the public or the private or the not-for-profit sector. Because ultimately data are a means to an end to a more peaceful, prosperous world where women are full participants who, like men, can reach their God-given potential.

And we now have an opportunity we’ve never had before. The technological advances of this century give us a chance to gather unprecedented amounts and types of information that can guide our decisions and help maximize our impact. Now let me hasten to add that we must of course be thoughtful and careful about how we do this and take care to protect the information we collect. We need the data, but we have to respect the rights of the people behind the data. So today I want to talk about the historic opportunity we have to improve the lives of billions of people and what it will take to seize that.

I’ll start with the story of one of my personal heroes: Ela Bhatt, the founder of the Self-Employed Women’s Association in India. She earned her law degree in the early 1950s at a time when not many women were in the law and certainly not many women in India. She used her degree to work for a local textiles labor union, but the law only granted rights and recognitions to industrialized laborers. All around her, she saw plenty of women doing lots of work in the informal economy.

Ela learned that only 6 percent of women in India were officially counted as employed. And she recognized that the first step to helping women who were obviously very hardworking but invisible to business and government would be to bring their work into public view. Now, one easy way to prove the economic value of women in the informal economy would be to ask them all to take the week off – (laughter) – and just see what happens. But Ela Bhatt had a better idea. She convinced researchers to collect and analyze data about all the work people – mostly women – were actually doing from their homes.

And once the numbers came out, policy makers couldn’t ignore them. And in 1996, thanks in large part to Ela’s leadership, the International Convention on Home Work recognized the rights and contributions of those who work from their homes and established new standards for employment conditions.

Data not only measures progress, it inspires it. As we have learned in this country, what gets measured gets done. Once you start measuring problems, people are more inclined to take action to fix them because nobody wants to end up at the bottom of a list of rankings.

So data are critical on both sides of the question – knowing what to do, and how to do it. And we want to achieve the best outcomes for women and men, girls and boys, because after all, if our investments aren’t helping us meet that goal, we need to change our approach. For example, there is evidence that boys in some countries are falling behind girls in primary school enrollment. Once in secondary school, however, girls are more likely to drop out. With more and better data and analysis, we can understand the nuances that could point us toward more targeted and effective solutions to both problems.

So the question for us and for our work on improving gender equality becomes: What do we know, and perhaps more important, what don’t we know?

The good news is we know more than we used to. For a long time, basic information about women was hiding in plain sight. But thanks to UN agencies, the World Economic Forum, the OECD, the World Bank, international NGOs, and research institutes, we now have a range of tools that are helping us understand the circumstances of women around the world and to quantify the social and economic benefits of gender equality. And today, as you heard, Dr. Kim launched an important addition to our toolkit – a gender data portal that will further sharpen our understanding of the gender gap.

The U.S. Government is also focused on filling in the gaps. Last year, for example, I launched the EDGE initiative – Evidence and Data for Gender Equality – to improve sex-disaggregated data on entrepreneurship and assets in developing countries, two areas where our information is particularly lacking. We also helped launch the OECD’s Gender Initiative, which is gathering data on women in poverty, in science education, in management, and providing a toolbox of policy ideas. Everything we have learned from these new studies paints a picture that is sobering, but also hopeful.

The Human Development Report finds that inequalities between men and women can reduce a country’s overall progress in health, education, and standard of living by up to 85 percent. This points to a tremendous opportunity. Elevating the status of women and girls has been shown to have a positive impact on entire societies. And in country after country, education improves, spending on nutrition and health increases, productivity goes up, economies grow.

Just as investing in women and gender equality has a multiplying effect that brings about positive results for entire societies, investing in collecting and analyzing data on women and gender equality can exponentially increase those benefits.

Now, even with the strong evidence on the benefits of women’s participation in the economy, there are still lots of gaps in our understanding. We know, for example, that 2.3 billion people around the world have access to the internet. We don’t know how many of them are women. That means researchers don’t have data to study how women in developing countries use the internet to educate themselves, to start or run a business, or to find the information they need to tend to the health and well-being of their families.

We also have studies suggesting that eliminating barriers to women’s participation in certain industries or levels of management could increase the productivity of all workers from 3 to 25 percent. That’s a huge range, and it encompasses vastly different countries and any number of economic barriers. For example, what are the barriers in Indonesia, and how are they different from the barriers in Nigeria? More gender-sensitive data and analysis could tell us.

If women farmers had access to the same seeds, equipment, irrigation as men farmers, they could increase their crop yields 20 to 30 percent and feed up to an additional 150 million hungry people. Yet we lack critical information on women’s land use, property rights, and access to seeds and fertilizer. Without the data, it is difficult to address these issues, which means we’re likely leaving much-needed value on the table.

We need more data in areas related to women’s political participation and in their role in peace building. We know how many women sit in national parliaments, but what about local and regional bodies? We have very strong data from India, and some evidence from other countries, that women leaders are more likely to direct spending toward infrastructure related to women’s roles and responsibilities, like better drinking water and sanitation. But we need to learn more about the ways and degree to which greater representation by women influence public spending and public choices, as well as the overall efficiency of the outcomes that are sought.

So we have strong evidence that women play roles in all kinds of things, and in particular in peacekeeping and conflict prevention. They raise issues in these kinds of negotiations, like human rights and human security, that are fundamental to forging a lasting and sustainable peace. But we need more internationally comparable data to examine how women’s contributions affect conflict regions. And only then can we really create frameworks for making sure they are included.

Now, such examples as these only scratch the surface. To put it simply, we have neither invested enough in collecting gender-sensitive data nor in quantifying how increasing gender equality yields benefits to societies. So we have to push, not only for more data, but better data – data that illuminates the challenges and opportunities that women and girls face, on their own and relative to men and boys, and their effect on shared stability and prosperity. And we have to ask questions we’ve never asked before and make sure we’re asking them the right way.

To achieve the benefits of this new age of participation, an era when every person on the planet will eventually be connected up in some way, we must find ways to lower the barriers that are still in legal systems, cultural taboos, economic discrimination, educational problems. That will give us a better chance of not only solving the problems but doing so in a sustainable and strategic way. So we are seeking the sufficient information needed to guide us.

Now, this room is filled with experts and researchers and practitioners at the forefront of addressing our data gender gap, and it’s because of many of you that we have made the progress we have seen in the last few years. But we need to keep going and to be champions of the widespread movement for gender-sensitive data. As we fill these gaps, then we have to put the data we collect to use, improving outcomes and creating real changes in people’s lives. So what should be our next steps?

First, let’s dedicate the resources to collect new data, analyze and publish the data we already have. That takes time and commitment, and it does take political will at the highest levels to make gender-sensitive data a priority for donor and partner governments, corporations, foundations, research institutions, and multilateral organizations. It will also take coordination across these groups to ensure the questions we ask, the data we collect, the measures we use are compatible and comparable to each other.

Next, we need to capitalize on 21st century tools for collecting and analyzing information, like behavioral economics, which looks at the social, cognitive, even emotional factors that affect people’s decisions, or the vast amounts of data that social media provide. We must find opportunities for innovative public-private partnerships to harness new technologies and reduce the overall cost of collecting and analyzing data.

And then for our efforts to be sustainable, we need to build the capacity of national statistics bureaus and share with future data scientists and policymakers the value and methods of gender-sensitive data.

So today, I’m pleased to announce a new initiative that will help carry today’s work forward. We’re calling it Data 2X – a symbol of the power women have to multiply progress in their societies. With contributions from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and USAID, Data 2X will develop new curriculum standards to ensure data producers and users train in gender-sensitive techniques. Working with key data organizations, including the UN, World Bank, OECD, PARIS21, and Gallup, the project will also publish a roadmap on how we together can fill priority gaps in gender-sensitive data as quickly as possible. And, in keeping with the spirit of this conference, Data 2X will report on its progress in one year’s time.

I hope this set of commitments, as well as the significant challenges that we are and will be discussing today, inspire others to action as well.

In my time as Secretary of State, I have – as you may have read – traveled a lot of miles and visited many countries. (Laughter.) But it’s not the miles I remember. It’s the people along the way, like the remarkable women who have overcome backbreaking poverty to build communities of their own, or heroes who have refused to buckle or back down in the face of threats and intimidation.

Everything I have done and everything I have learned in my work over the years has convinced me that improving the rights and the status of women is not simply a matter of human dignity, although it certainly is. It is also essential to our shared prosperity and security. We will not be able to move forward on any of our larger strategic goals or improve our security here at home unless we take on the fundamental instability and strife that inequality creates in our world. That’s one of the reasons we have put women at the heart of our foreign policy priorities at the State Department. It’s the right thing to do, and it is also the smart thing to do.

Getting the gender-sensitive data we need is a critical starting point. That will help act as a blueprint for building a better future for us all. It will help move toward finishing the unfinished business of helping more women become full and equal participants in every aspect of society.

I look forward to working with all of you to make that future not only a measurable and quantifiable one but an undeniable reality. There is so much that we can do together. And I thank Gallup, which has been at this business longer than most of us, for reminding us that sometimes our own views and perspectives are not reflective of the aspirations, feelings, and experiences of other people. And one of the great challenges for all of us is to continue to put ourselves in the other’s shoes, to try to walk those miles, here in our own country and certainly around the world. That gives us more insight and empathy and better equips us to make decisions for ourselves and others that will be closer to being right and will stand the test of time.

Thank you all very much. (Applause.)

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PRN: 2012/1177