Thursday 13th March 2014
Data is critical to advancing gender equality and economic and social development more generally. In 2012, then US Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton, announced the creation of Data2X, a global exercise that seeks to advance data collection for policy purposes on women and girls in five domains: health, education, economic opportunities, political participation and human security. As a first step, Data 2X mapped the gender data gaps around these five areas and synthesized the available sources, opportunities, and ways forward.
The GBA has among our members a unique data set that not only captures the business case for serving women but also enables us to look at behaviors of women as consumers of financial services. As the only aggregator of data on women served by banks, the GBA is delighted to announce a partnership with Data 2X to leverage the combined data that we collect globally as an Alliance. The partnership will seek to promote the collection and use of sex-disaggregated data, reduce our current data gaps, and leverage the power of data in promoting women’s access to finance. Below is an extract of an interview with Mayra Buvinic, Senior Fellow, UN Foundation, where we explore the knotty topic of data: why it is elemental to advancing gender equality and the important role she sees GBA playing in plugging some of the existing gaps.
GBA: Tell us a bit about your background and how you came to lead Data2X?
Mayra Buvinic: I am a real believer in policy guided by evidence and in the power of numbers to explain situations. Forty years ago we identified data as a critical piece in attaining gender equality and we are still struggling with the lack of it. We don’t have the data to design effective programs and we also largely don’t measure the impact of programs. Women and girls remain invisible in key policy domains. When I heard of the launch of this initiative I was happy to get involved.
GBA: Secretary Clinton announced Data 2x as part of her wider “No Ceilings” Initiative. Why is data so important to advancing gender equality?
MB: Secretary Clinton’s foresight on the relevance of data for policy and her awareness of the lack of data as a major stumbling block in supporting women and girls are behind this initiative. In the past 40 years there has been significant progress, but to have transformative development, we need to take action at a different level. Data is required to design large-scale investments both from the private and the public sectors.
GBA: How does Data 2X fit with the No Ceilings Campaign also led by Secretary Clinton?
MB: The data initiative within No Ceilings maps how much progress women have made since 1995, as input into the 20-year anniversary of the UN Beijing Women’s Conference. On the basis of this analysis, Secretary Clinton will define challenges and communicate a number of initiatives going forward. Data 2X seeks to help close data gaps in this forward looking agenda. It will inform the 2015 process as well.
GBA: What areas are we doing well with regard to data and what areas are we not doing so well?
MB: There is substantially more reliable and comparable data (within and across countries) in the areas of education and health than there is on women’s economic opportunity. We lack data on women’s access to finance, their employment and earnings and asset ownership, particularly given that so much of their work takes place in the informal economy. Data 2X prioritizes data gaps that affect large numbers of women and girls and that are particularly relevant for policy. One such gap, and precisely why the GBA is involved, is data on financial access, and this can lead directly to policy.
GBA: There has been great improvement in closing the gender gap in education. Is there a link between this progress and the fact that there is good data?
MB: Absolutely. Because we have measured the gap, people paid attention and did something about it, and now the gender gap is closing. What is measured is visible and is valued. Similarly, because we had relatively good data on girls’ access to education, the gender equality Millennium Development Goal was translated numerically into closing the gender gap in both primary and secondary schooling. Education rather than economic advancement was chosen because good educational data was available. And there was progress because it was measured. So there is a virtuous circle.
GBA: Focusing on access to financial services in particular, what gaps have you found?
MB: Thanks to Findex, we now have sex-disaggregated data on the demand for financial services. The evidence reinforces what we all thought was going on: women do borrow and save but they have less access to the formal financial system than men do. So clearly, there is unmet demand and this is an incredible opportunity for banks.
GBA: If you could waive a magic wand, what kind of data would you like to see coming from banks? Why?
MB: We need sex-disaggregated data. Starting with microfinance-the conventional wisdom says that a majority of loans go to women, is this true? From banks, what kinds of services are men and women using; what levels of savings and borrowing do we see and what other products are being used? If the majority of borrowers are men, why is this? Is it because women don’t apply, or at some point in the application process, women are rejected more than men?
If women don’t apply is it because they cannot access banks easily or that requirements are too high or do they need other kinds of support such as business and financial education? So from the point of view of a service provider, we want the type of information that will enable banks to design products, policies and marketing strategies that better fit women potential clients. And from the point of view of a policy maker, we need data that enables policy design to encourage greater access to bank services and more effective use of financial services.
GBA: What other uses does data from banks serve?
MB: There is advancing the business case of course, so that more banks will serve women. And then, if the GBA is then able to get all the banks to adopt an international reporting standard, there would be data that is comparable globally, yielding a useful indicator to measure women’s economic progress at the country level. This is a huge value-add. Making that information comprehensive, in terms of number of banks involved, and easily available to all would be extremely useful. It is a huge task, what you are trying to do, and the biggest challenge will be to get more banks to participate.
—As told to the Global Banking Alliance For Women