The Transformative Power of Data

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For the majority of teens living in high-income countries ‘data’ is generally associated with mobile phone plans. However, for many more young girls and women living in lower resourced countries around the world, data could literally mean the difference between life and death. More specifically, data about girls’ lives can assist in alleviating the social, economic and health inequalities experienced by girls as a result of persistent gender discrimination.  It’s important to remember, too, that many girls are also discriminated against due to their race, ethnicity, ability, sexuality and migration status.

The theme of this year’s International Day of the Girl Child (11th October to be exact) was a ‘global girl data movement’, which is a call for action for increased investment in collecting and analysing girl-focused, girl-relevant and sex-disaggregated data. It’s not mere rhetoric when the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) urges us to harness the power of and invest in data, because the current evidence on gender disparities demands that we take action. For instance, globally less than 40 per cent of pregnant adolescent girls (younger than 20) have their first antenatal care visit within the first trimester as recommended.

As we discovered in our analyses of the sexual and reproductive health of immigrant and refugee women in Australia, the evidence base is lacking in many key areas such as abortion, contraceptive use and unplanned pregnancy. In many cases, no data is routinely collected, while in some cases when specific data is collected (such as classifications used to measure ethnicity), the data is often ambiguous and potentially misleading.

Statistics don’t merely exist in a vacuum but arise from a host of social, cultural and economic variables. As a first step, approaches to data collection needs to recognise these variables along with the intersectional discrimination and disadvantage experienced by women and girls. Secondly, it’s critical that we begin collecting, measuring and monitoring data across core areas relating to gender equality: education, employment, leadership, health and wellbeing, and including health promotion and the prevention of violence, and not just in relation to acute care and response.

A recent report has highlighted many of the gender inequality issues affecting young women and girls in Australia, but we still need to understand better the ways these issues affect women and girls in all their diversity. Including robust data collection strategies as part of policy and program interventions can transform the lives of girls through to adulthood and a healthy long age. Data as a form of knowledge is power, and it also holds us accountable. We need to equip policy-makers and other key decision-makers with gendered data so that they can make informed, evidence-based actions for future generations of women.