Gender Data Needs a Global Champion. The United States Is Up to the Task

Natalie Cleveland January 18, 2023

(This blog post was cross-posted from the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition’s blog post, which can be found here.)

As governments worldwide work to emerge from the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic and contend with global crises, multilateral convenings are back in full force, from the G7 and G20 to the UN’s midpoint review of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG Summit). For ministers and civil society advocates focused on global gender equality, the year holds further opportunity to reconnect and commit to global partnership, including a fully reopened Commission on the Status of Women and a Generation Equality Forum midpoint review during the 78th U.N. General Assembly. In each of these spaces, the United States must use its influence as a global leader—and major bilateral donor—to drive multilateral cooperation that helps to accelerate gender equality.

Indeed, the United States is the world’s largest bilateral provider of official development assistance. This includes strong support for gender equality—where the U.S. has disbursed nearly $16 billion USD in aid since 2019 for projects significantly focused on gender—in addition to longstanding leadership on data and measurement, including the Demographic and Health Surveys, funded by USAID since 1984 and operational in over 90 countries; the Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index, launched in 2012 with USAID funding; and PEPFAR, which focuses on data-driven policy and has benefited from bipartisan support for nearly twenty years. Yet gender data, which exists at the intersection of these U.S. foreign policy objectives, remains relatively under-prioritized. Indeed, the United States has yet to become one of the world’s top five bilateral funders of gender data despite the size of its economy and historic global leadership in foreign assistance.

Gender data is disaggregated by sex and reflects gender issues, including roles, relations, and systemic inequities. It is a critical lever of progress, identifying and measuring the scale of inequalities; informing policy innovation and action; and enabling better monitoring and evaluation. When used to craft evidence-based policies and programming, gender data enables tangible progress for gender equality, from supporting crisis recovery and resilience to combatting the gendered impacts of climate change. It also provides accountability for the evaluation of any strategic intervention, ensuring that domestic taxpayer dollars are well-spent. Gender data is, consequently, a key factor for the success of any foreign policy initiative targeted toward improving the lives of women, girls, and gender-diverse people.

Counter to its importance, gender data collection and use faces chronic underfunding worldwide, resulting in significant knowledge gaps across all areas of development, from health and education to economic opportunities and human security.

Positively, the U.S. government has made recent progress to recognize the centrality of gender data to its foreign policy priorities. Most notably, the Biden administration launched the National Strategy on Gender Equity and Equality in late 2021, the country’s first-ever whole-of-government effort to mainstream gender as a cross-agency priority. Mandated by Executive Order, the Strategy covers both domestic and foreign policy—and decisively centers gender data as a key pillar of success across priorities and plans for implementation. This includes an emphasis on the need to fill data gaps that obscure the scale of systemic inequalities faced by marginalized groups, and ultimately prevent the achievement of the United States’ goals. While agencies work toward implementation, the government is still in the early days of its work to close data gaps, identify cross-comparable agency metrics, and set forth processes of monitoring and evaluation—but the administration’s strong statement of U.S. leadership on gender, and of the necessity of policymaking grounded in data and evidence, merits continued championship as a global best practice.  

In the last 12 months, the United States has continued to forge a global agenda for gender data. This included at the most recent U.N. Commission on the Status of Women last spring, where the U.S. mission introduced historic new language that was adopted in full in the session’s agreed conclusions. The mission’s insertion included first-time reference to the necessity of using gender data to craft and monitor evidence-based policies and programs, and strengthened language on the importance of financing gender data systems worldwide. In the last month alone, the administration reaffirmed its commitment in both an updated National Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-Based Violence Globally, where data-driven policy was presented as a core pillar of the Strategy’s theory of change, and the newly-released United States Strategy on Global Women’s Economic Security, which unequivocally commits to advocate for gender data collection and analysis at home and abroad. From New York to Washington, the Biden administration has emphasized gender data as a strategic foreign policy priority.

Turning aspirations to action, however, will require decisive global championship. By building on the leadership it has already demonstrated—and leaning in to multistakeholder partnership and cooperation—the United States can further drive political will for gender data worldwide.

First, the United States must strengthen official development assistance (ODA) for gender data. This not only includes re-evaluating and augmenting existing contributions via USAID and the Department of State, but also means relying on its influence as the largest global provider of ODA to encourage both national recipients and other bilateral donors to mobilize resources that finance core gender data systems.

Next, the administration must use its existing appointments to advocate for gender data across multilateral fora. In the next year, this includes at the 67th Commission on the Status of Women, where the U.S. is serving its final term; during the 2023 SDG Summit, the world’s official midpoint review of progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals; and as an appointed leader of the 2023 Generation Equality Forum, where a multistakeholder group of dozens of leaders will evaluate the achievement of gender equality across sectors.

As a crucial tool for accountability and progress, U.S. leadership for gender data holds direct benefits for populations worldwide, from the women and girls for whom development interventions are crafted to the citizens who trust in effective government stewardship of their taxpayer dollars. The United States is well-positioned to take up the mantle—and ultimately demonstrate accountability to the communities it serves around the globe.

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