“Big Data” is an umbrella term referring to the large amounts of digital data continually generated as a by-product of everyday interactions with digital products or services. Big data is often characterized by its great volume, variety, lack of structure, and high rate of velocity. Information on women and girls can be derived from big data sources as diverse as cell phones, remote sensors, and internet actiivity. Analysis of cell phone data usage patterns can inform understanding about women’s socioeconomic welfare, mobility patterns, and financial activity. Remote sensors can help reveal epidemiological trends of concern to women and provide information on access to markets, schools, clinics, and other essential services. Internet use, especially the expression of thoughts and emotions on social media platforms, can offer insights into a wide variety of topics related to women’s welfare, including mental health, women’s political engagement, and societal attitudes about gender roles.[1]

Why it matters

There is great excitement about the role of big data in development, yet there are few examples demonstrating what big data can and cannot achieve, and efforts to date have rarely addressed gender questions. Effective use of big data in development policymaking and advocacy could improve the lives of women and girls by resulting in more efficient services and programs. However, both more research and technology development are needed to fulfill this potential and ensure that women are not underrepresented in big data. In addition, new institutional norms and safeguards need to be put in place to ensure that big data does not pose more risks and harms to women and girls, particularly with respect to individual privacy and irresponsible handling of sensitive datasets.

Partnering with Data2X

In collaboration with UN Global Pulse and individual academic researchers, Data2X spearheaded research pilots to explore how different methods of collecting and analyzing big data can close global gender gaps. The partnership is a springboard for future big data for development efforts to ensure that gender remains at the forefront of this nascent field. In 2017, Data2X will announce a new opportunity for researchers interested in using big data to fill gender data gaps.

For more information on the pilot projects, please check out our Overview of Current Big Data and Gender Projects. A synthesis of findings from our first phase of pilots will be available in April 2017.

Partnership Products

[1] See A Landscape of Big Data for Development.