"Without a comprehensive population database it is virtually impossible to systematically develop, and effectively implement, programmes to reduce poverty in all its multifaceted dimensions."
— Counting the people
Specific data and indicators are crucial for formulating national and subnational policies and measuring progress toward achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. Well designed and well executed sample surveys can often produce relevant and useful data more economically than total enumerations. These are often used to fill in gaps, corroborate other findings or clarify trends. A key source of information relevant to UNFPAs work are the Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS). In some countries, UNFPA partially or entirely supports the cost of these surveys. Other sources of data, in addition to the population census, include birth and death registries, surveys and modeling.
Nevertheless, data gaps impede efforts to formulate evidence-based policies and programmes and disrupt channeling resources to those most in need. Major gaps exist in areas such as:
A gender perspective should be adopted in all processes of policy formulation and implementation and in the delivery of services, especially in sexual and reproductive health, including family planning. This includes the development and availability of sex-disaggregated data and appropriate indicators for monitoring progress at the national level.
—Para 46, Key Actions for the Further Implementation of the Programme of Action of the ICPD
Many countries lack statistics with sufficient details on sex, economic status and other variables. Even basic social and economic statistics are not always distributed by sex, and data on the health of populations often neglect womens reproductive health.
Gender-sensitive indicators make gender biases more visible and help measure gender-related changes in society over time. They can therefore make an important contribution to policy. When data is disaggregated by sex, it can provide a more accurate picture of womens economic contributions to society, and make visible their unpaid labour in the family and in the informal sector. In many places, the very concept of work does not include undocumented work of women, such as small-scale farming, work in the informal sector, and water and firewood collection. Thus, significant economic contributions of women are unreported and invisible.
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 womens activities tend to be concentrated in small-scale agriculture, the informal sector and the home – areas for which data are still deficient. In addition, womens 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 womens 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.
Census data is critical to discovering how many girls are 'missing', compared to how many are expected, given natural sex ratios. A number of countries, including India and Nepal, have emphasized involving as many women as possible as census enumerators, out of a recognition that women in the households may be able to establish greater rapport and speak more freely to other women.
A 2004 regional knowledge-sharing workshop in Kathmandu brought together UNFPA representatives with policymakers and statisticians from Bangladesh, India, Iran, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka to compare notes on 'Engendering Population Census in South and West Asia'.
At the start of the preparation of the Common Country Assessments in Kazakhstan the UN Country Team provided technical assistance to the Kazakhstan Agency for Statistics to help compile a publication on 'Women and Men of Kazakhstan'. This investment in national capacity building in data collection and compilation enabled Kazakhstan to identify for the first time social and economic areas where there are wide disparities between men and women.
UNFPA supports the Pan Arab Project for Family Health (PAPFAM) surveys to make available a comprehensive and dynamic database for evidence-based policymaking in the region.
Every five years, the United Nations Statistics Division issues a report that reviews the status of women through the lens of statistical data and analysis.
The World's Women is a statistical source-book that provides a comprehensive analysis of how women fare in different parts of the world. It highlights, through statistical analysis, women's situation as compared to men's worldwide in a broad range of fields – including families, health, education, work, human rights and politics. The Worlds Women 2005: Progress in Statistics, due for release in September 2005, focuses on official statistics relevant to monitoring progress toward achievement of gender equality.
Page last updated: 15 December 2005