As Progress on Gender Equity and Development Lags, Women Remain Invisible
Panel of Experts from Across Asia Recommend Innovations in Data to Drive New Policies
October 27, 2023 (Delhi): Halfway to the 2030 deadline for Sustainable Development Goals 5–achieving gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls–and progress is off track according to the most recent UN report. A key barrier is a lack of data that allow policymakers to deeply understand barriers facing women and design policies to address them; recent analysis show that most gender data included in SDGs have only been collected one time in the past decade.
“We know that to supercharge economies and development, we need to empower women, but for too long the unique needs and opportunities facing women remain invisible to policymakers,” said Dr. Ruxana Jina, Director Data Impact, Vital Strategies. “We can change that with focused and smart data strategies that use a gender lens to look at existing data and collect new data. These data can inform public health policies that meet the real needs of all people. We know that policies that uplift women drive benefits across families, communities and economies – everyone benefits from gender equity.”
Today, Vital Strategies India and the Gender Equity Unit at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health hosted a panel discussion on how gender can be integrated throughout the health policy cycle from planning, implementation, advocacy and resource allocation. The event brought together gender and public health experts, academics, and government representatives from the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Timor-Leste, and India.
Speakers focused on gender mainstreaming, a strategic approach that integrates a gender lens in policymaking and can help governments achieve more equitable outcomes that increase gains toward development goals. The discussion highlighted the complexities and practicalities of gender mainstreaming in health policies, speaker’s experiences and lessons learned and examples of successes for achieving gender equity.
Speakers included Ms. Kanta Singh, Deputy Country Representative UN Women, Dr Michelle Kaufman, Gender Equity Unit, Johns Hopkins University, Dr Vindya Kumarapeli, Director Policy Analysis and Development, Ministry of Health Sri Lanka, Dr Adriel Pizarra, Department of Health, Philippines and Ms. Chloe Harvey, Associate Population Affairs Officer, United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP).
“Much more work needs to be done to accelerate efforts towards realizing gender equitable healthcare through comprehensive health data collection”, said Dr Michelle Kaufman, Gender Equity Unit, JHU. “When you have accurate, complete, transparent, and easy-to-use data, public health systems and leaders can make better decisions that save and improve lives, well-being, and safety. Including additional data connected to these outcomes, such as education, income levels, and social norms, can provide insight into how to move closer to gender equity.”
“Vital Strategies is committed to ending gender discrimination and incorporating gender into every aspect of health policy,” said Lara Tabac, Director Global Grants Program, Vital Strategies. “Access to accurate and consistent data is an important tool to creating gender-inclusive policies. Events such as this recent panel discussion that invite members of civil society and gender experts will pressure governments to improve such accessibility and create more data-driven solutions.”
Dr. Ravi Verma, Regional Director – Asia, International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) “As we embark on the crucial journey of engaging men in the healthcare discourse, we must first address fundamental issues within our health system. There’s a prevalent misconception about the distinctions between sex and gender, between gender and women, top-down knowledge methodology, often used interchangeably. Addressing this at the foundational level is imperative. Our healthcare system tends to be defined solely quantitatively, often lacking context. Within the healthcare system, genders are often homogenized. To tackle larger issues, we must actively engage more men. We must confront these larger questions and promote women’s leadership within the health system. Additionally, we must actively work to change societal perceptions and norms within healthcare communities, aligning our efforts with a more inclusive and equitable vision for the future of healthcare.”
Kanta Singh, Deputy Country Director, UN Women India said, “Working in close partnership with the Ministry of Health, we are committed to building the capacity of officials, designing, resource allocation, and robust planning to address the financial needs of women. Gender-Based Violence is a cornerstone of UN Women’s global efforts. However, the allocated budget for women in India’s healthcare system is very less despite their equal representation in the population. This underscores the need for data-driven policymaking and heightened awareness among women to access the healthcare they require. Reproductive health remains a concern, and together, we must confront these challenges to ensure a healthier, more prosperous future for women in India.”
Ministries of health can serve an important function to counter these factors. Addressing gender disparity through design and implementation of gender responsive policies is a key for countries to achieve the sustainable development goals. This can only be achieved through strengthening access to gender sensitive data, for analysis and policy implementation.