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Gender Data Bias and its Wider Implications

Gender Data Bias and its Wider Implications

For decades, the fight for parity between the genders has been a losing battle. International organisations such as the United Nations have consistently sought to promote more sustainable goals which allow women to progress equally.

Gender data forms one of the areas in which greater progress needs to be made. Currently, there is a wide gap in the statistical collection of female data which leads to gaps across sectors such as health, education and many more. The implications of this imbalance are therefore widespread and must be addressed.

What is Gender Data?

Gender data describes data in which sex is the most defining factor. The collection of this data has been important in reflecting the diversity of women and men across all areas of their lives.

To better understand the lived experiences and realities of women and girls, a clear point must be made to ensure that the data of women is prioritised in data collection. Collecting gender specific data lessens the risk that gender bias may be included in the data. As there are certain social and cultural factors which can facilitate such bias, it is important that these factors can be separated from the issue of gender when it comes to data collection. It is hoped that this will alleviate gender data scarcity and the gaps created from this.

The Imbalance of Gender Data

Many studies have been conducted on the reasoning behind this parity in gender data, specifically as it impacts the lives of women and girls. Data collection is a widespread practice, and it seems an artificial divide has been created where certain issues have been pegged as “women’s issues” and little or no further attention is paid to them.

Technology has made life much easier and the collection and gathering of data should no longer be seen as difficult. When it is acknowledged that insufficient data is known about half of the population, this leads to further imbalances. For example, the effects of mainstream medication on females have not been clearly identified because the experiences of women specifically are not embedded into trials in the first place. The data just does not exist and there is thus a lack of accountability when it comes to ensuring tailored practices towards women- not just in the health industry, but everywhere.

A secondary issue in this respect is the fact that even when data is being collected specifically from women, the questions leading to this gathering are often bias. Data is very easily shaped by this bias at the outset and therefore we must tackle this at the root. In certain developing countries, women are judged based on their reproductive health as opposed to their education or career goals because women exist in a defined role as mothers and wives. Importantly, since organisations such as the United Nations have attempted to ensure gender parity is reached by 2030, the little knowledge we may have on women’s progression across economic activity can cause a hindrance in attaining these larger milestones.

The Implications of this Imbalance

Data collection is vital in leading policy decisions. Many anti-abortion campaigns in the US have used location data to track how many women attend anti-abortion clinics and, in some states, this information has been used in court to later, attempt to prosecute these women where abortion is illegal.

Having a skewed perception or a lack of visibility on this data, therefore skews the conversation which takes place on these important issues. With the rise in anti-abortion rhetoric across political campaigns, it has become essential to tackle this head-on where the rights of women are at stake. Without this data, we cannot make informed decisions on whether policies are improving the lives of women.

It stands to be worrying that across the health sector, there remain to be huge data gaps. Although science and technology has allowed for much development, the insufficient collection of data in certain respects has caused a further hindrance to progression meaning women and girls are at risk of not being able to fully understand their health position.

Attempting to obtain reliable data on sexual and reproductive health and rights is difficult considering often these are enshrined in cultural taboos. Whilst there is certainly evidence on family planning and the rate of adolescent birth, there is little data on whether women are making informed decisions on their sexual and reproductive choices. Additionally, there is a large gap with respect to how prevalent menstrual hygiene management practices are taught and available to women and girls. Furthermore, with many countries still toying with the religious and ethnical arguments regarding abortions, women are being subject to illegal and unsafe abortions and not enough data is being captured on the negative health repercussions of this.

It has been strongly suggested by prominent figures such as Bill and Melinda Gates that within the collection of women’s data specifically, many women have never been asked questions about their lives before. The fact that there is such a disparity between collecting data for women and men sends a strong message to half the population that they do not matter as much. A strong priority should therefore be placed on this issue, or we risk worsening the lives of women by making incorrect policy decisions through misinformation or the lack thereof.

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