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Brighter Lights from the Lamppost: Government Mandates for Gendered Data Collection

by on Jul 14, 2016  |  posted in Research and Evidence, Women's Economic Empowerment  |  1 Comment

This blog is part of the “Lamppost Series on Women’s Economic Empowerment


The lamppost blog series has been considering our ability to identify the many factors affecting women’s economic empowerment (WEE), many of which go beyond economics, and into politics, education, and even culture. Yet any meaningful foray within or beyond the lamplight of economics requires a dependable source of light or, in other words, strong, reliable evidence. And evidence requires sex-disaggregated statistics.

Uncovering Gendered Realities

A recent article in the Economist noted that without a feminist perspective, economics is bad economics. In other words, when gendered realities such as unpaid labor, limited access to resources and financial assets are not taken into account, economic analysis is distorted.

But it’s not just economists who need data. When data is not available, gendered program development is based on small scale surveys, case studies, anecdotal evidence, or estimations. Without data, moreover, it is not possible to benchmark change. We are operating in the dark without the light that data provides as a foundation for quantitative and qualitative research to reveal reality and illuminate a way forward

Data also needs to be consistent for long-term impact, not flickering on and off through ad hoc efforts. Several countries have recently found a way to achieve this through a mandate covering all government departments to collect gendered data for government-funded programs and then make it available. Embedding gender data collection throughout governmental departments sends a strong and enduring signal of the importance of taking gender into account. Civil servants become accustomed to collecting and using this data, making it less likely that changes in political leadership would completely remove or block gendered data collection in the future. In addition, it allows for a better understanding of how well women are integrated into existing programs where the bulk of funding is allocated, not just for their participation in women-focused programs.

This way, data helps track women’s economic empowerment as represented by their ability to access and participate in mainstream programming. Furthermore, data from a variety of applications can create a more holistic understanding of WEE and women’s integration. Patterns can be identified, which would not have otherwise been possible given the paucity and disparate nature of previous evidence, and can help spawn innovative and effective approaches to WEE in addition to improving existing programs.

Presenting Real Country Scenarios for Data on Women Entrepreneurs

Country A not only collects annual gendered business census data, but also collects gendered data for all government-funded entrepreneurship development programs (not just programs targeting women). This data provides policy makers the information they need to better understand the characteristics of male and female entrepreneurs as well as how men and women engage in entrepreneurship programs differently.

Country B, since 2013, is collecting gendered data on the participation in all government-funded entrepreneurship development programs. So when I met with the small and medium enterprise development agency, to my surprise, they were able to provide sex-disaggregated data for their programs. Since this country also has a business incubator funding accreditation program, data is available on female and male participation for all such initiatives.

Country C used to collect national level data on women entrepreneurs, however when a conservative government came into power nine years ago, this funding stream was cut and no new data was collected, much to the great frustration of researchers

Guess the Country: Mexico, Canada or Chile?

Country C is Canada. The recent outspoken support for gender equality by Prime Minister Trudeau is refreshing but it comes after a lengthy stretch of conservative party control which severely limited government funding for gendered data collection.

Country A is Chile and Country B is Mexico. This may come as a surprise, yet indicates that gendered data collection can be integrated in countries of different levels of economic development, not just advanced economies.

How does the United States fare in this comparison? Similar to Canada, there is no comprehensive mandate for gendered data collection for all programs that receive government funding. In this sense, there is a lot to learn from examples set by Chile and Mexico, both of which committed to fully integrate sex-disaggregated data collection at the governmental level.

Although attention to gender disparities may fluctuate, institutionalizing collection and dissemination of sex-disaggregated data will help reformers continue to promote change and avoid fluctuations, even in the darkest times. For example, in light of a low number of women enrolling for the Start-up Chile program, the country has launched a new initiative targeting women’s startups with a special focus on technology-based sectors.

Why Quantitative Data is only the First Step

Quantitative data is a foundational step but not the only one to ensure WEE. Further to data collection, qualitative data is crucial in understanding gendered dynamics that influence those numbers. For example, if data shows that only 25 percent of startup program participants are women, a supplemental qualitative inquiry would reveal why fewer women participate, pointing to location and/or hours as possible variables. Concerted measures can then be taken to adapt the context to increase the accessibility for women and monitored through the next round of data collection. Although no country has championed the process of following up quantitative results with qualitative queries, this is the global standard we must be working towards.


Ruta Aidis, PhD. is a Senior Fellow at the School of Policy, Government and International Affairs, George Mason University and CEO and Founder of ACG Inc., a global research and consultancy firm. Dr. Aidis has more than 20 years of experience in teaching, researching, consulting and publishing in the area of comparative entrepreneurship development, gender, institutions and public policy, and is a female entrepreneurship expert and advocate, an engaging speaker and data-driven analyst consulting on numerous entrepreneurship and gender related initiatives worldwide.

Explore other blogs in the series:

Empowering Women: Looking Under the Lamppost by Wade Channell

Empowering Women: Beyond the Lamppost by Adam Bramm

Empowering Women Beyond the Lamppost: Give the Ladies Some Flashlights by Kristin O’Planick

1 Comment

Farah says:
Jul 07, 2016

Thanks for country comparisons and specifics on data being collected. The comparisons made it more relevant and applicable to me. Sad for Canada and not sure when the trend will be over-turned. Lost data is lost data and it may take many years to gather enough gendered data to influence programming.

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