Do we really have a good picture of women’s well-being?

BLI InitiativeToday’s post is from the OECD Statistics Directorate

Lack of data limits the ability to measure women’s conditions in an accurate and comprehensive way, and to make informed decisions about how women and girls fare. The post-2015 development agenda will translate into an increased demand for gender statistics that are regularly produced and provide solid and objective evidence. However, there are many data gaps in national and international monitoring of gender inequality, particularly in less-traditional areas of official statistics. Countries face many challenges in mainstreaming the gender dimension into data production, analysis and dissemination.

To address this, the OECD is working with the United Nations and the World Bank through the Evidence and Data for Gender Equality (EDGE) Initiative to build national capacity to produce and disseminate gender statistics and create standards for data collection. We are also contributing to improving access to gender statistics through our Gender Data Portal, which gathers information on various topics of relevance to the post-2015 development agenda, including education, employment, entrepreneurship, unpaid work.

In terms of the metrics themselves, gender parity is not sufficient for measuring gender equality. Indicators that measure the quality of change are also necessary. For example, women may have similar rates of paid employment as men but this does not mean that they are paid the same or that they have the same opportunities for career advancement. Across OECD countries, women working full-time earn on average 16% less than men, although there is substantial variation amongst countries. Moreover, wage penalties increase as women get older and have children. Among women of child-bearing age who work full-time, those with children earn 22% less than men and 7% less than childless women. Conventional statistics do not measure the security of jobs either, which is particularly important since women’s paid employment is often more vulnerable than men’s, especially in developing countries. The OECD’s work on job quality may shed new light on the working conditions that women face around the world.

Women do not stop working when they leave their offices. At home, women still bear the brunt of unpaid work, such as child-rearing and household tasks. Across the OECD, women spend twice as much time as men on household chores and parenting. In other words, if women and men were to share unpaid tasks equally, women would gain 5 hours of free time per week. There are large variations from country to country: an average Italian woman spends 22 hours (or almost 3 full-time workdays) more than her partner on unpaid work per week, while this gap averages 5 hours in the Nordic countries.

When both paid and unpaid work are combined, the gender gap in working hours narrows, but it’s still the women who put in the longest hours. However, this kind of work is too often under-recorded or undervalued. Time-use data and statistics on time spent on domestic chores and caring are available only in around a third of countries of the world. An even smaller number of countries “value” this unpaid work through satellite accounts for household production. The OECD is contributing to fill this gap through its Time-Use Database, which gathers detailed information on how total time per day is spent in different activities in OECD countries and selected emerging economies.

Time spent in unpaid work and leisure

Minutes per day

Unpaid work and leisure
Click to see full size

Another important issue is the fact that data is simply not being collected for certain areas. Not because it is not possible, but because it has not been thought of or because power imbalances between men and women in institutions shape data collection priorities.

A good example is gender-based violence. The absence of an indicator on violence against women (VAW) in the MDG framework due to lack of data was a ‘missed opportunity’. Only half the countries in the world currently produce official statistics on violence against women. And yet both the extent of such violence and costs of this form of discrimination call for action. Worldwide, 35% of all women report having experienced physical and/or sexual violence from their intimate partner or others in their lifetime. In the OECD area, one in four women reports having been a victim of such forms of violence at least once in her life. We expect great improvements in the cross-country comparability of data on VAW after the recent release of the Guidelines on Collecting Data on VAW by the UN Statistics Division. But we should also explore other data sources, such as records from shelters, hotlines, hospitals, the press or Internet searches. The OECD is currently undertaking research on the determinants of violence against women and on the costs of such violence to women.

Finally, a significant challenge relates to the need to measure gender equality and women’s rights for different demographic and social groups. Lifecycle analyses suggest that women and girls face constraints that can be age-specific or may be specific to different socio-economic groups. Disaggregated statistics along these lines should be promoted to assess how gender interacts with other ‘disadvantages’ or characteristics.

Useful links

OECD data on gender equality

Work-life balance in the OECD Better Life Index


Closing the Gender Gap: Act Now

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3 comments to “Do we really have a good picture of women’s well-being?”

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  1. Srinivasa Murty - 09/03/2015 Reply

    1. Disproportionate allocation of unpaid work to women is certainly the main cause of inequality. The career prospects of women are limited due to the large proportion of unpaid work imposed by the family on women.
    2. The higher earning person in a couple transfers unpaid work to the spouse. Even though it is the simplest choice, it deprives the lesser earning spouse of an opportunity to perform better.
    3. Even though injustice is clearly visible, it is not easy to design a policy intervention, since it concerns the freedom of individuals and the way they make choices.
    4. The Government and industry should know that the performance of their male employees consists of a significant proportion contributed by avoidance of their due share of unpaid work at home. Probably an annual feedback from spouses regarding discharge of sharing unpaid work should be mandated by the employer. Such data should be used for educating the employees.
    5. The responsibility of giving birth to children is exclusively imposed on women by Nature. However, a counterpart of this responsibility can be created legally, in the form of ensuring health and nutrition during pregnancy. Such a counterpart of the responsibility should be considered with its medico-legal implications.
    6. Employees should be educated about utilizing the paternal leave period when they are granted such leave. An intervention mandating the submission of a legal affidavit regarding the utilization of paternity leave might be effective.

  2. Katharine Harkins - 29/10/2015 Reply

    Except for the exhortations of these four women: Caroline Harper, ODI; Keiko Nowacka, OECD; Hanna Alder, ODI; Gaëlle Ferrant, OECD, there is shockingly little information on economic mobility and contraceptive access or prevalence in OECD literature. This is the lynch pin around which other opportunities hinge. Delaying childbearing allows a woman or girl to stay in school and is a gatekeeper to accessing higher education. Delaying or limiting childbearing allows a woman to gather resources that will ensure the health and well-being of any children do have.

    • Patrick Love - 29/10/2015 Reply

      Have a look at our web pages and you’ll find plenty of information. We have a special site on Gender equality and development that includes a section on economic empowerment.
      We call on governments and other development actors to “Improve reproductive health, including access to family planning” on the page called Unfinished business – Women and Girls Front and Centre Beyond 2015. The section “Keep girls in school” argues that “Secondary and higher levels of education have the greatest payoff for women’s empowerment. With an additional year of schooling, women have better economic prospects, more decision-making autonomy, fewer and healthier children, and better chances of sending their own children to school. If adolescent girls are kept in school to complete a quality secondary education, they will be better equipped to reach their full potential and make informed choices about their lives.”
      I hope this convinces you that we haven’t ignored your concerns and that they are in fact central to our policy advice on development.

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