Making Adolescent Girls Visible Through Gender Data

October 11, 2022

When adolescent girls are excluded in data collection, it’s impossible to see the whole picture.

Today is the 10th Anniversary of International Day of the Girl, a global moment to celebrate the power of girls in all their diversity — and to recognize the unique challenges they face. When we speak about gender data, the experiences of “women and girls” are often grouped together. But, when we focus on adolescent girls alone, the gender data gap often becomes more severe. The global lack of gender-disaggregated data is compounded by the fact that girls of adolescent age — between 10 to 15 years old — are commonly excluded from gender surveys and studies. Because of this, disparities faced by girls are undercounted.

Adolescence is a pivotal time where gender norms crystallize and gender disparities become visible. Disadvantages that women face like the unequal care burden and economic disparities begin in these formative years. Sometimes, the difficulties that women face in adulthood are a direct result of inequalities faced in girlhood, like insufficient access to education, early marriages and pregnancies, or other forms of gender-based violence. Data on adolescent girls is crucial to understand the root causes of gender inequality as a whole; when girls are excluded in data collection, it’s impossible to see the whole picture. 

The data we already have on girls is concerning — and shows us ways to improve.

Gender data currently available on girls is a reason enough for alarm. But, it also illustrates the need for further data collection in areas of concern. This data should be used to develop the case for policy action protecting the wellbeing of girls. 

Health data on adolescent girls is a prime example. The UNICEF Adolescent Data Portal shows that in countries that track gender data on girls, 75% of new HIV cases affecting adolescents are girls. In Sub-Saharan Africa, this number goes up to around 80%. Despite existing data, there is a lack of gender-disaggregated data on the causes of this gender gap in infections and on girls’ access to HIV-preventative services. 

Education data is another example — we know that of the 129 million girls out of school worldwide, about 75% (97 million) are 11-18 years old, UNESCO estimates. However, despite this, most education data is focused on primary school girls under the age of 10, where gender parity has already been reached. The sharp drop in girls’ enrollment at secondary school age is correlated to care burdens, gender norm consolidation, and rises in gender-based violence, but there is a lack of data sets that connect the causes to the effect.

Gender disparities for adolescent girls could actually increase in the following years. Around 12 million girls are married a year and this is projected to worsen; Save the Children predicts that over 25 years of progress on eliminating child marriage could be reversed in the next few years due to the pandemic. 

We also have to account for the virtual discrimination affecting girls in our increasingly digital world. Adolescents are spending more time online than ever before, and Microsoft’s Civility, Safety and Interaction Online 2022 study shows that girls face greater negative interactions online, which includes sexual harassment and threats to their safety. 

Girl-centered policies benefit gender equality as a whole.

As the world rebuilds from an array of global crises, there must be urgent action to support girls before they fall through the cracks. This requires that we use existing data and invest in new data focusing on adolescent girls. Reaching gender equality requires targeted efforts for women and girls of all ages; without it, the Sustainable Development Agenda is at risk.

When girls are kept from achieving their potential, it is not only a loss for them, but for their family, community and nation. Every $1 USD invested into girls generates $2.80 in return, equivalent to billions of dollars in GDP. Including adolescent girls in gender data collection, and subsequently strengthening legal and policy frameworks, is an investment into our collective future. 

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