Progressing women’s economic empowerment: enhancing user-producer engagement for policy responsive data and effective data-driven policies

5 September 2018

Equipped with robust monitoring and indicator frameworks, national development policies can accelerate achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Given this potential, much is at stake to develop evidence-based and effective national policies that ultimately impact the most vulnerable and marginalised groups. SDG Target 5.C promotes adopting and strengthening “sound policies and enforceable legislation for the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls at all levels,” making clear that policies do not remain among only high legislative bodies, but ultimately reach all women and girls.

Sound and effective national development policies, plans and strategies, whether on gender equality and women’s empowerment, or any other area of development, depend not only on robust research, reliable data and institutional capacity, but also on structured engagement between relevant stakeholders at the national level to identify priority population groups, issues and needs.

Take women’s economic empowerment as an example. The scope of policy issues and factors that constitute women’s economic empowerment can range from education, unpaid work, access to decent work, social protection, access to assets and resources, to leadership and participation. These issues are further reinforced by wider structural conditions such as social norms, legal and regulatory environment, labour market characteristics and fiscal policy (See ODI, 2016). Women’s economic empowerment, therefore, goes beyond SGD 5 (gender equality) and cuts across such SDGs as goal 1 (no poverty), goal 4 (quality education), goal 8 (decent work) and goal 10 (reduced inequalities).

This makes it evident that no single actor or intervention at the national level can address the entire range of issues that constitute women’s economic empowerment, making structured engagement between relevant national stakeholders or even perhaps a “whole-of-government” approach all the more critical for related national policy formulation, implementation and monitoring. At the same time, national development policy formulation and monitoring processes as we know, rely heavily on being informed by official statistics and evidence.

However, in the real world, information gaps exist. On the one hand, national development policies are often not effective as they are not specific enough about population groups and issues for target interventions, due to insufficient data and evidence to support the policy formulation process in the first place. On the other hand, existing national development policies often lack supporting monitoring /indicator frameworks specifying disaggregated data needs, which in turn affects the quality and adequacy of data produced for policy monitoring. This results in a vicious cycle of inadequate demand for data and insufficient comprehensive and high-quality statistics.

One way to address this vicious cycle at the national level is to promote engagement of data producers with users’ groups to:

  • Identify the coverage of priority population groups, issues and needs as stated in existing national development policies or plans;
  • Use this coverage assessment to identify data and information needs, including disaggregation requirements; and
  • Thereby develop/strengthen the monitoring/indicator framework for the related national development policy or plan, which would ultimately crystallize the policy issues and serve as an information and accountability tool
  • Such a systematic process can establish demand for data, ensure that data produced at the national level is policy responsive and can improve data availability by addressing specific data gaps and reducing data waste.

    ESCAP’s Gender Policy-Data Integration Initiative aims to address these complex, intertwined issues by supporting countries in applying a generic policy-data integration tool called EPIC (Every Policy Is Connected). The tool serves to support structured and purpose-driven engagement between national statistical offices, national mechanisms for the advancement of women, national planning agencies and relevant line ministries to conduct detailed content analysis of policies or plans relevant for women’s economic empowerment. The data and information needs identified through the process feed into the development of a comprehensive national indicator set to monitor priority women’s economic empowerment issues. In an ideal setting, such an indicator set will take into account priority issues and target groups as contained in a range of relevant national policies and plans, including comprehensive national development plans and strategies, gender equality plans and sector-specific plans (e.g. on education, employment, trade etc.), given the breadth of issues that entails women’s economic empowerment.

    In addition to data improvements, the policy-data integration process facilitates identification of policy gaps (both issues and target groups), which could be addressed in future policy or plan development/refinement.

    Preliminary testing of the tool has been completed on women’s economic empowerment policies by Armenia, Philippines, Sri Lanka and Thailand through an Inception Workshop, and a comprehensive application of the tool is currently underway in the Philippines on the Magna Carta of Women. Thus, ESCAP continues to support the mutual reinforcement of policy responsive gender-sensitive data and effective data-driven development policies on gender equality and women’s empowerment by promoting engagement of data producers with policy counterparts.