Unveiling the gaps: measuring women’s economic contribution

A commentary by Brenda Rolemberg de Lima, Florencia Caro Sachetti, Fadoua Rhazoui, Maya Almog (YGCs, 2019)

Women contribute to the economy and to society; however, their contributions are not fully recognized. One reason is due to a lack of accurate measuring. Without appropriate data, women’s contributions become invisible, making it difficult for policy to address gender gaps and promote women’s rights. This was the topic of the T20 Task Force panel, “Promoting Women’s Economic Empowerment: Strengthening Measurement to Deepen Impact.”

Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina, is a successful example of how to measure women’s economic empowerment. In 2018, the city’s government created the System of Gender Indicators, which collects 65 different variables related to the physical, economic and women’s autonomous decision-making. The database shows women’s situations across time and allows for analysis of demographic characteristics and intersecting inequalities. This informs policies and raises awareness on gender gaps.

Women in the workforce

The increase in female labor force participation over the last fifty years is one of the most notable social and economic phenomena of the last century. The increased employment of women can be measured with traditional indicators, such as GDP. Yet, women are largely responsible for home care and other unpaid, domestic work. These are activities that are paramount to the functioning of society and subsidize the economy but are invisible in national measurements. Many countries even lack information about the number of hours that men and women spend doing these types of chores, hindering a more even distribution of labor between men and women and across societies.

Picture: StockSnap, Pixabay

Three critical issues regarding the measurement of women’s contribution to the economy must be considered. First, it is imperative to start allocating resources to collect, process and analyse data regarding gender that has largely been overlooked.

Across the globe countries are not investing enough money in quality data generation and the development of new indicators, said Margo Thomas, founder and president of the Women’s Economic Imperative, at the Global Solutions Summit.

Second, today’s data collection is usually “gender blind.” For example, in some countries household surveys focus on the family, not considering intra-household dynamics or a woman’s position in the family. To mainstream gender in data, household surveys should include questions about the gender of the person being surveyed and/or individual questionnaires.

In addition, it is important to consider the qualitative aspect of the measurements. In this sense, paradigm change requires adjusting the way in which data is collected and not focusing solely on GDP and other commonly used measurements. In other words, the methodology of measuring needs to comprise current demands as well as correct eventual omissions in previous data collections. Mayra Buvinic, senior fellow of the United Nations Foundation, stated the need to develop a measurement with both objective and subjective components.

Policymakers should address this situation by learning from best practices and by making gender visible in the data. As Gala Diaz Langou, Director of CIPPEC’s Social Protection Program, said at the end of her speech: “We cannot change what we cannot see, and we cannot see what we don’t measure”.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Global Solutions Initiative.

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