How Big Data Helps Promote Gender Equality
Thu, October 21, 2021

How Big Data Helps Promote Gender Equality

Bill Magnuson of business news magazine Forbes found that the world generates about 3.5 quintillion bytes of data, about the size of four Eiffel towers stacked on one another / Photo by: everythingpossible via 123RF

 

Bill Magnuson of business news magazine Forbes found that the world generates about 3.5 quintillion bytes of data, about the size of four Eiffel towers stacked on one another, as cited by Annie Agarwal of Impakter, a global platform of news, interviews, articles, and environmentally-friendly products. In the last two years, the world generated 90% of data, which is owed to the accelerated growth of IoT.  

To Agarwal, data never sleeps or stops as it is an infinite source that helps boost economic growth if it is harnessed timely or appropriately. Better collection, transparency, and collection of data can lead to a better qualitative approach for socio-economic policies and programs. Global network company Omidyar Network and research center Governance Lab (NYU) said that can improve governments, empower citizens, create opportunities, and address big problems with citizens and policymakers. 

Competition Among Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 

Women and girls face greater gender disparities than their male counterparts. Gender equality is listed as SDG 5 and laid out as an essential goal for 2030. However, it is forecasted to be achieved “in about 100 years on average,” per the findings of Saadia Zahidi of World Economic Forum, a non-profit organization. Gender equality is also known to take a backseat whenever the world tackles other pressing issues such as climate change, poverty and hunger, education, peace and justice, etc. 

Gender Data Moves Forward

Amy Lieberman of social enterprise and media platform Devex states that gender-sensitive big data is about to integrate with traditional datasets that could help monitor progress on the SDGs, according to new research released by Data2X, a technical and advocacy platform. However, this new measure comes with new challenges when it comes to participation and governance. 

The collection of inclusive data has progressed since the SDGs were created in 2013, which became more nuanced as it has started to address gender pay gaps, explained Eleanor Carey, Data2X’s senior technical manager. The three concerns raised during Data2X’s event were governance, access, and privacy.

Carey told Devex on the sidelines of the event, “A few years ago, the conversation was: What data is there? Nobody really knew what data is available and what it could be used for.” Presently, the conversation has shifted into knowing “what is available and how to access it,” she added.

Available government data is often outdated and not disaggregated by sex and other identifying factors. Sadly, big data also fails to capture accurate demographics, for instance, it is estimated that there are 200 million fewer women than men are online. Data2X’s report offers takeaways from various studies “funded by the data partnership.” Overall findings from the research showed that big data provides unique insight into women and girls, which can be integrated with traditional datasets like household surveys. 

The collection of inclusive data has progressed since the SDGs were created in 2013, which became more nuanced as it has started to address gender pay gaps / Photo by: Aleksandr Davydov via 123RF

 

However, there is a need to “identify and correct bias” in large datasets. Data2X noted there is also a need to safeguard the privacy of women and girls. Girija Borker of World Bank and Brown University concluded that women in Delhi choose poorer-quality colleges in the city despite them performing better than men on high school exams. Women additionally “spend more time on public transportation and accept longer commutes to travel safe routes” on Delhi. Borker used a combination of student surveys and Google Maps data, while crowdsourcing from information from mobile apps to generate the researcher’s results. 

Stockholm-based Flowminder Foundation utilized government health survey data, geospatial information from open-source platforms, and mobile SIM cards to create sex-disaggregated maps “on women’s engagement in agriculture livelihoods across the country.” One issue faced by Flowinder Foundation in identifying phone usage and discerning gender-specific trends is that families are known to routinely share SIM cards. 

Big Data Will Not  Address Every Problem 

Senior fellow at Data2X Mayra Buvinic argued that governance is “one key factor” in moving the trajectory of data collection and analysis forward. She said during the event, “We have a lot of data gaps, but increasingly we have a lot of data. ‘Are there effective policies?’ is another question.” Open data sources are one answer on how to leverage data to encourage policy change, as stated by Sunito Kishor, director of the Demographic and Health Surveys Program. 

Kishor posed, “There is a lot of data that is actionable. How do we teach and encourage people to use the data that is out there?” Accountability needs to be pushed since data “is not going to do it on its own.” There are privacy and security issues when it comes to open data, as noted by multiple speakers, including Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor of media and arts Alex Pentland. 

Every issue is interconnected. Hence, there is a need to highlight the critical role of women and gender-sensitive data in addressing global issues / Photo by: wrightstudio via 123RF

 

It doesn’t mean that big data will address every problem. We have to think smartly about how it can be brought to scale or where big data is not that helpful, Carey argued. On the other hand, Agarwal encouraged people to ask better, insightful questions to better collect and use information. For her, “it is important to understand that big data does not simply solve any problem” unless we start asking questions. 

Every issue is interconnected. Hence, there is a need to highlight the critical role of women and gender-sensitive data in addressing global issues. Big data should be utilized to address gender disparities. It will not help solve the world’s problems unless governments and policymakers take the initiative to promote gender equality.