(April 2011) Without gender statistics that measure the status of women and men and their roles in social, economic, health, and political spheres, we have limited ability to assess progress in achieving gender equality or in prioritizing actions to address gender disparities. Because of their importance to advancing the status of women, the development of gender statistics was identified as a high priority in the 1995 Beijing Platform of Action. However, 16 years later, an internationally agreed upon set of gender indicators has yet to be defined. Countries have largely undertaken this work independently, guided by national legal and policy frameworks, the few explicit gender targets contained within the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and less explicit guidelines defined in internationally endorsed agreements including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, and the Programme of Action of the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD).

UNFPA supports efforts in some countries to incorporate a gender perspective into data collection and analysis and ensure that gender indicators are included in census and survey data. However, a 15-year review conducted by the United Nations found a wide range of progress in implementing the Beijing platform across countries. At a recent auxiliary event of the 55th Commission on the Status of Women, held in New York City, UNFPA, the UN Statistical Division, and the new agency UN-Women invited country and regional representatives from the Philippines, Uganda, and the Pacific Region to discuss their progress in “making gender statistics meaningful on the ground.”

Established Gender Statistics in the Philippines

Romula Virola, the secretary general of the Philippines National Statistical Coordination Board, reported that it is now widely recognized in the Philippines that advancing the status of women requires “timely and accurate information on the situation of women and men,” reflecting the recommendations of the Beijing platform. A 2009 “Magna Carta of Women” mandates gender mainstreaming in all government offices, and the generation of gender statistics and sex-disaggregated data to aid in planning, programming, and policy formation.

The Philippines government has a fairly sophisticated system of gathering and reporting gender statistics, tracking, for example, 56 indicators of violence against women and children. An annual fact sheet on the status of women and men is produced as part of National Women’s Month. The fact sheet includes detailed sex-disaggregated information on gender-based violence, economic status, political participation, and human rights, as well as some comparative regional statistics and more novel gender statistics, such as access to microfinance and beneficiaries of agrarian reform. The 2008 Philippines Demographic and Health Survey included a women’s safety module with measures of marital controlling behavior, violence perpetrated by women, and consequences of spousal violence such as depression or job loss.

A fact sheet on progress toward MDG indicators shows that it is probable that Goal 3 (to promote gender equality and empower women) will be met. However, Virola said that so far, only initial efforts have been made to measure the time women spend on uncompensated work, such as caring for dependents, food preparation, and subsistence agriculture, and the relative amount of time that women spend working as compared to men.

Initial Efforts in Uganda

Uganda, a far less developed country than the Philippines, is not surprisingly less advanced in terms of gender statistics. John Male-Mukasa, representing the Uganda Bureau of Statistics, remarked that although all government ministries have a gender focal point—personnel assigned to monitor gender integration—he sensed that government employees in general have insufficient understanding of gender as a concept, and that few really understand the relevance of gender statistics for government. Among other challenges, he cited limited involvement of women in defining key frameworks and an inadequate national gender statistical infrastructure.

Male-Mukasa noted that “gender-responsive” data means going beyond merely disaggregating by sex to take account of the differing power relationships between women and men and boys and girls. As in the Philippines, there remains a need for studies that document time use by men and women and differentials in their responsibilities, unremunerated work, assigned roles, privileges, and opportunities. However, he said that some available time-use data are ignored because they are not disaggregated by sex. The fact that almost all the time spent fetching water in Uganda is spent by women speaks for itself.

Progress in the Pacific Region

Treva Bruan, a human rights lawyer and gender equality adviser for the Secretariat of the Pacific Communities described impressive progress in the region. The 26 countries and territories that make up the secretariat have also recognized that in order to implement and monitor their commitments to international and national agreements, the region needed evidence of the current situation of women and men and how it is changing over time—information also critical for law and policymaking, international human rights reporting, and advocacy.

The Pacific Regional Gender Statistics Initiative was developed to respond to gaps in data availability, accessibility, and use. Since 2006,the secretariat identified 180 gender indicators and produced a gender statistics training manual and spreadsheet-based country worksheets to help countries coordinate data collection and reporting. Since 2010, the secretariat has launched a website; and is compiling existing data across the region, establishing national gender statistics mechanisms, developing national statistical reports, building capacity to use existing data and fill data gaps, and developing regional tools and publications. These steps are enabling cross-country comparisons and exchange between developing countries.

The Power of Data

Commentator Jeff Edmeades, a social demographer from the International Center for Research on Women, noted that the MDGs, which establish numerical, time-bound benchmarks for achieving reductions in poverty and improvements in gender, education, and health, have far surpassed previous international agreements in terms of spurring interventions and motivating countries to track progress, including on gender issues. While the MDG indicators for gender are far from sufficient by themselves, they are a necessary starting point from which to build a framework of gender statistics.

Engaging the media in understanding and using gender statistics can be a powerful strategy to raise overall awareness of the relevance of gender statistics and their importance in holding governments accountable to address gender inequities. For example, efforts are being made in the Philippines to engage the media in using gender statistics to raise public awareness that gender-based disparity in access to health care is also a governance issue. Last year, the Philippines Center for Investigative Journalism provided training on the MDGs to journalists, specifically focusing on MDG 5 (to reduce maternal mortality by two-thirds of its 1990 level by 2015). The message from the media that emerged from this training was that slow progress on MDG 5 in the Philippines reflects a failure of government to invest sufficiently in women’s health and their right to safe pregnancy and birth.

The three presentations illustrate that gender statistics “on the ground” are at quite different stages around the world, and that countries less far along (including the United States), can benefit from progress made by others. In particular, studies on how men and women spend their time, in paid and unpaid labor, child care and housework, called for in the Beijing platform, have yet to be conducted in most countries. As gender-responsive data become increasingly available to governments, advocates, and donors, it will be increasingly difficult to ignore gender-based disparities in economic, health, social status, and access to leisure time. Gender statistics provide essential evidence for action.


Karin Ringheim is a senior policy adviser, International Programs, at the Population Reference Bureau.