Population Issues- 1999

Breaking the Data Barrier:
A Priority for Research

Reproductive Rights, Reproductive Health and Family Planning

Empowering Women

Population and Sustainable Development

Population Trends:
The Numbers and Beyond

Demographic Trends by Region

Migration and Urbanization

Knowledge that Empowers

Breaking the Data Barrier:
A Priority for Research

Challenges for the 21st Century

The New Generations, the Family and Society

A data barrier hampers the efforts of population and development planners in many countries. Most developing countries still lack reliable statistics on births and deaths. Consequently, many countries find it difficult to design and implement appropriate population and development policies. The data barrier looks even more daunting when one considers the difficulty of also integrating environmental concerns into national planning -- something that most developed countries also find difficult to do.

Another major problem with regard to data is the lack of statistics broken down by gender, ethnicity, economic status and other variables. Even basic social and economic statistics are not always broken down by gender, and data on the health of populations often neglect women’s reproductive health. Data on labour force participation consistently under-report the work of women, since women’s work in developing countries is more likely to be in the informal and agricultural sectors as well as in the home. Accurate statistics on migration, particularly at the regional and international levels, are also inadequate. All such data gaps impede efforts to design programmes and channel resources to those most in need.

Accurate population information and statistics are indispensable to study how demographic trends are affected by, and have an impact on, social, economic and environmental factors. The collection and appropriate analysis of data on these complex interactions are critical if policy makers are to formulate population and other development programmes that respond to the needs of their intended beneficiaries.

United Nations agencies and programmes have made a significant contribution to the closing of this data gap, as have national aid organizations such as the US Agency for International Development. Since the 1970s, when the United Nations-sponsored Africa Census Programme helped fund first-time censuses in 21 newly independent countries, the UN system and UNFPA have helped countries in all regions of the world undertake data-gathering exercises ranging from the conduct of national censuses, to compiling and updating databases on gender, population and development.

Taking into account the new emphasis on the collection of data on reproductive health issues, UNFPA sponsored an Expert Group Meeting on Innovative Techniques for Population Censuses and Large-Scale Demographic Surveys in 1996. The meeting, which was held in The Hague, the Netherlands, stressed the importance of a national integrated information system as well as the need to include the gender perspective in the design of data collection instruments.

The Fund's commitment to the development and use of new methodologies in data collection, processing and dissemination is underscored by UNFPA's participation in the initiatives of the Common Data System (CDS) Task Force, the United Nations Economic and Social Information System (UNEIS) and the minimum national social data set (MSDS), which is pioneering the use of a standardized database of socio-economic indicators. UNFPA has also assisted the efforts of the United Nations Statistics Division and the United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women in compiling and updating databases on gender, population and development (WISTAT). The Demographic and Health Survey Project, begun in 1984, has further expanded both the extent and quality of data on women’s reproductive health behaviour -- and desires -- most notably in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Surveys in 62 countries have been completed.

But the collection of internationally comparable data is only the beginning of the process. Data must be adequately analysed, widely disseminated and formally integrated in development planning -- all of which requires complex skills and, consequently, technical training. In this regard, the ICPD Programme of Action urges nations and the international community to support training programmes in statistics, demography and population and development studies.

The Programme of Action also identifies specific areas in need of further research, such as reproductive health and the sociocultural context for sexual and reproductive behaviour. New family planning methods are still needed, including more methods for men, and barrier and other methods (such as microbicides) to help prevent the spread of STDs, including HIV/AIDS. Designing programmes to end violence and other abuses against women, and to eradicate harmful practices such as female genital mutilation, requires research on gender roles and relationships and belief systems. In addition, the Programme of Action stresses the need for gender-disaggregated data in order to provide a more accurate picture of women’s economic contributions to society, including their unpaid labour in the family and in the informal sector.

Women Count -- But Are Not Counted

Much of the work that women do is "invisible" in national accounting and censuses, despite its obvious productive and social worth. One reason for this undercounting is that women’s activities tend to be concentrated in small-scale agriculture, the informal sector and the home -- areas for which data are still notoriously deficient.
In addition, women’s work is often unpaid -- including that devoted to carrying water, collecting fuel, processing and cooking food and caring for children.

The low value attached to women’s work requires a fundamental remedy: an accurate accounting of its contribution to development and overall social welfare. To do this requires much better gender-specific data, particularly for the informal and agricultural sectors.

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