The Gender Big Data Gap

16 November 2017


“To achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls” is the fifth of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set out in the United Nation’s plan, Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

In our previous blogs we’ve discussed how big data can be used to monitor and evaluate international development. Big data can give us great insights into aid effectiveness and development projects, but it also comes with its own challenges.

SDG 5 illustrates clearly where some of those challenges lie, most specifically in gaps in data and information. A significant proportion of the indicators for gender equality across the SDGs lack data, and the fact that women and girls aren’t widely represented in national and international data systems remains a problem. If we are to monitor progress in SDG 5, we need statistics that reflect the lived realities of women and men, boys and girls. What we need is a gender-responsive data revolution.

The Post-2015 Development Agenda, the UN-led process of defining the future global development framework, explicitly called for such a data revolution. In January this year, at the UN World Data Forum, a Global Action Plan for Sustainable Development Data called for governments, policy makers and the international community in general to take action in six areas, including: coordination and leadership; innovation and modernisation of national statistical systems; dissemination of data on sustainable development; building partnerships; and mobilising resources.

It’s important that the UN, governments, private sector, policy leaders and the international community work together to enhance gender equality by:


Addressing the gaps in “traditional” data for gender equality, including areas where women’s activities, needs, interests, as well as the threats they face, are largely invisible. This would give us a richer and more nuanced understanding of issues such as maternal health and gender-based violence.

Picture1 Monitoring gender indicators in real-time, as well as the general progress (or, women’s perceptions of progress) around gender equality.

Understanding the social and political norms and realities around gender equality and women’s empowerment, in order to interpret the data effectively. For example, what women are comfortable saying online, may or may not reflect their real world reality.


Addressing the gaps in women’s access to information and communication technology and the tools and activities that are generating big data, as well as their underrepresentation in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths). Equal representation and access is required in all areas to ensure that gender issues are continuously identified and addressed, an issue that PwC is seeking to address.


Big data has its limitations. But it also has clear benefits for international development: it provides a window on mobility, social interaction, social sentiments and attitudes, economic activity, as well as early warning of problems and reflections of societal well-being. Ultimately, the data revolution can lead to enhanced understanding, advocacy and claim-making, better informed planning and decision-making, and more agile programme implementation and monitoring.

Big data gives us the opportunity to improve development programme planning and implementation through real-time monitoring.  But these benefits depend on an effective approach to data acquisition and analysis to complement traditional data.

This is joint blog between PwC and UN Women and is the third in the series to the run up of the PwC International Development Conference on 22 November 2017.


Harjinder Kaur, PwC

Navin Haram, UN Women

Fiona Bayat-Renoux, UN Women