Data has been the bacon of economic development since the IFC plopped Doing Business, that irresistible basket of business-climate scores and rankings, on everyone’s desks in 2002. “What gets measured gets done,” said the bearers of the fresh data feast. More than a decade later, the mantra has stuck. Progress rarely happens if no one knows where they stand in the first place.
In fact, the new new bacon of economic development work is sex-disaggregated data. If an analysis of economies, business environments, or trade takes place without incorporating evidence about how things work differently (or, in rarer instances, similarly) for men and women, then we are getting just half the story. In a world where no economy does not register at least some gap between opportunities afforded men versus women, any rationale for action that leaves that part out is a BLT without the bacon.
In all of its projects, Nathan Associates’ International Development Economics practice integrates its commitment to gender equality and women’s economic empowerment. We routinely seek sex-disaggregated data to establish a baseline of understanding. Data are increasingly available to answer the broadest questions – for example, “What is the rate of women’s participation in an economy’s labor market? How does it compare to that of men?” (hint: it’s almost always less). But reliable and regularly maintained data needed to scratch the surface and understand how women contribute to economies – as farmers, workers, managers, entrepreneurs, professionals, and, critically, unpaid providers of household care – are rare.
In 2014, Nathan Associate’s US-ATAARI project supported APEC’s Policy Partnership on Women and Economy in creating a Dashboard for data illustrating how women in each of APEC’s 21 member economies access capital and markets, build capacity to work and run enterprises, participate as public and private-sector leaders, and benefit from technology and innovation. The tool endorsed by APEC’s leaders offers more than 75 indicators drawn chiefly from statistics maintained by international sources, such as the United Nations, the World Bank, the International Labor Organization, the World Economic Forum, and the World Health Organization. The purpose of the Dashboard is to develop evidence-based policy recommendations and focus capacity building. The first fully populated iteration of the Dashboard is scheduled to be released in May 2015.
APEC’s Dashboard is a milestone in measuring economic conditions for women, but it will draw even more attention to what we don’t know. For example, in paid employment, how do women’s wages compare to those of men? How many new enterprises are launched by women, and in which sectors? What percentage of bank loans go to women? How much do women participate in cross-border trade? To what extent do women and men share in unpaid housework and child care?
Today, there are vastly more unsubstantiated assumptions than credible statistics. More bacon, please.
Louise Williams is a Principal Associate at Nathan Associates. She studies women's economic empowerment and has designed and led reviews of conditions for women’s economic participation in Papua New Guinea, Chile, and the APEC economies and ASEAN member states. Earlier in her career, Louise was a lawyer in private practice and with the U.S. Department of Commerce.