OPINION: Politics of data and everything in between

Let’s talk data. I have found out that when most of us hear the word ‘data’ our thoughts automatically go to numbers and how boring it is to sit through a conversation on that subject.

Even as the COVID-19 disease snakes its way through the globe, it is the numbers that are telling us how serious each region is and therefore dictate the level of engagement that must be taken.

But this is not about coronavirus, it’s about appreciating the significance that data plays in addressing issues of development.

Disaggregating Data

For development partners to get policy makers to make decisions that positively impact the citizenry, there must hard evidence in way of data collection.

But for that data to further have a tangible impact, it must move from being neutral to being disaggregated.

Emily Maranga of Groots Kenya explains that neutral data is where there is no mention of female or male and this has negative consequences.

When data is neutral, the public never gets the depth of gender inequalities that go on in their society.

Additionally, line ministries cannot effectively mainstream gender in development, monitor and report it.

Further, the media ends up doing stereotypical gender based reporting because of lack of disaggregation of the data they receive.

Other than that, while measuring gender equality data in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) they must be disaggregated.

The 17 SDGs seek to tackle challenges that affect women and men differently.

The Devil Is In The Details

The saying, ‘the devil is in the details’ is quite appropriate. The details here being data. That data is becoming king in the world of public and private sectors is no secret.

Memory Kachambwa the Executive Director of African Women’s Development and Communications Network (FEMNET) aptly put it saying, “whatever is not counted is not accounted for.”

Further noting that, “data is profoundly political and that all resource allocation and distribution is pegged on it.”

Without data, issues relating to women with disabilities and other minorities are easily overlooked.

Politics in Data

Data is quite political. When politics plays into data collection it manifests in different ways. It can translate into certain areas receiving more resources as compared to the rest.

The rationale being that the areas accounted for more people compared to the others.

An example is where we already have a number of county executives who have filed court cases disputing the results of the 2019 Kenya Population and Housing Census.

You will notice that none of the communities who have huge numbers make any complains.

That same politics is noticed in the implementation of the 2/3 Gender Principle which has so far continued to elude implementation here in Kenya except at the Cabinet level.

When women’s voices go missing from the decision making tables, their needs are not viewed with a gender lens and they end up getting a raw deal.

SDGs Gendered and Measured

According to Equal Measures 2030 Global Report titled Harnessing the power of data for gender equality: Introducing the 2019 EM2030 SDG Gender Index, no country globally has adhered to gender equality but Sub-Saharan Africa region ranks the lowest in that category.

This Index being the most comprehensive finds that, with just 11 years to go until 2030, nearly 40% of the world’s girls and women – 1.4 billion – live in countries failing on gender equality.

Further, the EM2030 report adds that even the highest-scoring countries have more to do, particularly on complex issues such as climate change, gender budgeting and public services, equal representation in powerful positions, gender pay gaps, and gender-based violence.

Hellen Apila, the Regional Coordinator, AFRICA-Equal Measures 2030 (EM2030), further states that Sub-Saharan Africa is also weakest in 3 of the 17 SDGs.

These goals include SDG number 7 that deals with Energy, number 3 that tackles health and number 6 that covers water and sanitation.

The exercise of combating of Coronavirus is a clear test of how the Sub-Saharan region is tackling Goals number 3 and 6.

Finally, it cannot be overemphasized that when data of women is not well captured, their needs and solutions are not represented or acknowledged by decision makers or reflected in policy.

This also goes for any other group that is deemed to be in the minority.

Measures should therefore be taken by governments, private and public sectors to include well researched desegregated data that addresses issues of women and girls in a wholesome manner.

It therefore goes without saying as Memory Kachambwa put it, “if data is properly collected and used well, it makes those that are invisible become visible.”

Maria Wanza is a communications consultant and an actress who writes about gender equality and women empowerment

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