Caren Grown headshot.  Photo: USAID

Gender experts have been advocating for sex-disaggregated data and gender sensitive statistics for more than 25 years. The 1995 Beijing Platform for Action called for “reliable gender statistics to inform policies and programs and to assess progress and gaps.” While progress has been made, notable gaps remain, especially in the area of women’s economic empowerment. It is easier to find the price of eggs in a market in Tanzania or Guatemala than to find the extent of women’s ownership of land, housing and other productive assets relative to men, or women’s hourly wages in a retail store, or  whether a female entrepreneur was able to access debt or equity capital to start her business. You get the picture.

I am hopeful things will change with the new Evidence and Data for Gender Equality Initiative (EDGE), being launched today in Busan, Korea, at the Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness.  This initiative, led by the United Nations Statistics Division and UN Women, will improve the availability and use of statistics that capture gender gaps in economic activity.

EDGE capitalizes on a call to action by Secretary Clinton at the May 2011 OECD Ministerial Session on Gender and Development, and builds on recommendations of the UN International Agency and Expert Group on Gender and Statistics to make the data that is collected on women and men in education, entrepreneurship and the labor market more comparable and useful.

EDGE will include two major activities.  First is the development of an online database for a harmonized set of indicators, including education, employment, and entrepreneurship.   Once the database is up and running, we will have a one stop shop for indicators – across developed and developing countries – on labor force participation rates for individuals ages 15-24 years old, and 15 and above by sex.  We’ll be able to determine the percent distribution of the employed population by sector and sex, the youth unemployment rate by sex, and the percent of firms owned by women.

Second, EDGE will support a set of common, pilot activities in a small number of partner countries to develop protocols and data collection methods for sex-disaggregated data on entrepreneurship and assets, two areas with large data gaps. The pilots will eventually result in routine collection by countries of data that we can use to compute firm entry, growth, and survival rates by sex, or the proportion of the population that owns land and houses by sex, and other measures.

With some political will, resources, and the harnessing of good technical minds, in the next five years we can report globally on how well women are faring relative to men in entrepreneurial activity and labor markets –  alongside the price of eggs.