ON ISSUES FROM education and healthcare to discrimination and leadership, the status of women and girls worldwide has improved dramatically over the last two decades. The maternal mortality rate has dropped by half, and the number of boys and girls with access to primary education has nearly balanced out.
But as a report compiled by the Clinton Foundation and Gates Foundation confirms, we’ve still got a long—long—way to go to fully close the gender gap worldwide. The report, released today, is a product of No Ceilings, an initiative the Clinton Foundation launched last year in hopes of taking stock of what’s changed since 1995. Its findings comprise 850,000 data points, spanning a 20-year period, collected over the years by the United Nations, The World Bank, and other research and non-profit organizations. By pulling from so many disparate sources, the report signals an important shift for non-profits, which are finally coming around to an idea that the tech industry has long embraced: to solve any big problems, you need big data.
Data is important because countries that measure their progress tend to make the most progress.
Some of the most stunning findings revealed by that data have to do with women’s access to technology and their opportunity for economic advancement, two often linked issues. For instance, the report found that in the developing world, some 200 million fewer women than men use the internet and 300 million fewer women own a mobile phone. That’s significant, Chelsea Clinton explained in an interview with WIRED, because, “In places where women have more equal access to mobile technology, they’re more able to secure loans, for example. Where that’s not true, women often face more significant barriers.”
In fact, the research shows that among women in the developing world who do use the internet, 30 percent report earning additional income, 45 percent report searching for jobs, and 80 percent report improving their education. “Ensuring access to technology and particularly mobile technology so those women can engage with platforms privately is a big focus of the work ahead,” Clinton said.
All in One Place
Two decades ago, the UN held its Fourth World Conference on Women. Delegates from 189 countries vowed to take steps to ensure the “full and equal participation of women in political, civil, economic, social and cultural life.” The No Ceilings report is an effort to see how well they’ve done.
Until now, the data it’s gathered was siloed in diffuse databases. Now, it’s all housed on NoCeilings.org, where anyone from a curious individual to a government agency can dig into the details on a country-by-country or issue-by-issue level.
“Bringing all this data together in one place enables us to make the most powerful case ultimately for why investing in women and girls isn’t just the morally right thing to do, but the smart thing to do,” Clinton said. “The evidence really shows that where countries have invested in women and girls, societies are safer, and a rising tide really lifts all boats.”
At its most basic, the researchers involved in the No Ceilings project say data is important because countries that measure their progress tend to make the most progress. Synthesizing the data in one place also helps uncover the regions, time periods, and issues for which no data exists at all.
“We really believed to make our case effectively, we needed to first assess where we had made progress for opportunities and rights for women and girls around the world, and where gaps remained, taking 1995 as a baseline,” Clinton said, “and use where we’d made progress to illuminate a path forward to help close the still-existing and really persistent gap.”
More Data Needed
The state of women in the workforce also has remained frustratingly stagnant, according to the report. Not only do women continue to hold a tiny fraction of leadership positions in business and governments worldwide, but the number of women in the labor force is roughly the same as it was in 1995. That’s despite the fact that the opportunities for girls to get an education have grown.
These issues provide a starting point for development organizations and policy makers. Yet Clinton warns that more work must be done in simply collecting some of the data that we still don’t have. That’s the work of another initiative called Data2x, of which the Clinton Foundation is also a part. Data2x’s mission is to work with organizations on the ground to collect gender-related data that is not yet readily available.
“We have to invest more in helping developing countries build their own data and analytics systems,” Clinton says. “Ultimately, we’re all trying to work ourselves out of a job, and that requires ensuring that not only are we able to measure our progress, but that we’re equipping our partner countries with the ability to measure their own.”