Melinda Gates: Bridging the Gender Gap- How big data can improve the lives of a billion women and girls.

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Excerpt from Melinda Gates’ article on Foreign Policy

“In the field of development, there are too many reports to count, but last month’s U.N. report on the Post-2015 Development Agenda stands out because it contains a big idea that could change the future for billions of people. It says that investments in the world’s poorest people won’t generate the biggest possible return until we learn how to make sure women and girls benefit from them equally.

Investing in women and girls should justify itself. They make up half the population (and the majority of the poor), yet they’ve been neglected by the development community. Moreover, advocates and experts have known for years that when women and girls have the power to make basic household decisions, they prioritize education, food, and health care — the stuff of broad-based economic and social development. In short, when we invest in women and girls, we are investing in the people who invest in everybody else.

Since women are far more likely to be in charge of feeding their families, the fact that they grow less food has disastrous consequences for children across the continent — and for development at large. If we disaggregate the data, however, we will know immediately whether particular groups are being left out. And then in-country programs can be redesigned to address the problem.

We know from experience that a rising tide in development does not necessarily lift all boats. By the same token, progress toward the MDGs does not necessarily include all people. It’s possible to reduce poverty for certain types of people but not for other types. Disaggregation will go a long way toward repairing this shortcoming in the next set of global goals.

The U.N. panel points out one giant barrier to reaping the rewards of disaggregation: As it stands right now, the world doesn’t have the ability to gather the necessary data or analyze it properly. Some countries simply don’t collect enough data, or it’s not accurate. Other countries with better data don’t track it in ways that make country to country comparisons possible, which makes the data difficult to use. The report calls for a “data revolution” that takes advantage of the new digital tools at our disposal. It will take significant investment over the next two years to ensure that governments in developing countries have the capability to gather and analyze data when the new generation of MDGs comes into effect in 2015.

I know that disaggregating data sounds mundane. Stats aren’t sexy, even if you try to dress them up with a slogan like “big data revolution.” However, as much as development depends on very human motivations like a mother’s desire to give her child a better life, it also relies on the sound technical basis of smart incentive structures, efficient logistics, and other details. The MDGs are the perfect example of this yin and yang. They are based on ambitious principles about the quality of life that the poorest deserve, but they work because of management truisms like “what gets measured gets done.”

As we’ve seen, the mere fact that women and girls can drive development isn’t enough. What is needed is a system designed to put them in the driver’s seat. And one linchpin of that system is data we can use to monitor, evaluate, and constantly improve development programs.

There are still two years before the next-generation MDGs are signed, sealed, and delivered. I hope that when they are, the theory underlying the U.N. panel’s report — that women are not just a development constituency but a powerful source of development — is still at the heart of the agenda. In the meantime, it is up to us to invest in the systems that can turn this theory into a reality. If we have both the will and the way to count women and girls, then we can count on them to help communities and societies around the world flourish.”

Read the full article here.

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