As the global community comes together for the Generation Equality Forum, and in the context of building forward better, we face a key opportunity in global history to highlight and address gender inequalities and inequities.

Across every sector, from health to the economy, security to social protection, the impacts of COVID-19 are exacerbated for women and girls.

Understanding the extent of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is the first step toward reversing course. Investing in sex disaggregated data can enable us to measure, preempt, and respond. UN Women’s Counted and Visible Toolkit provides practical tools for countries to better utilize existing data from household surveys to generate disaggregated gender statistics through cooperation among data producers, data users and civil society. Institutions must make better use of people-centered, disaggregated data and digital innovation to understand disparities more accurately across population groups.

UN Women and UNDP’s COVID-19 Global Gender Response Tracker, which analyses government measures in response to COVID-19 with a gender lens, shows that countries’ response to the pandemic has largely overlooked the needs of women and girls. Of the 219 governments’ COVID-19 responses analyzed, the tracker identifies only 42% of the 3,100 policy measures undertaken as gender-sensitive. Furthermore, the majority of these focus on addressing violence against women and girls, while the global response to women’s economic security and direct support for unpaid care remains largely insufficient.

One of the key recommendations based on these findings, is that governments support women’s active participation in leadership and decision-making processes in their COVID-19 response. While women have been at forefront of fighting the pandemic—as educators, health workers and unpaid care providers— they remain underrepresented when it comes to decision-making, leaving governments ill-equipped to respond to the pandemic’s gendered consequences. UNDP’s Gender Equality in Public Administration report, to be launched at HLPF 2021, aims to serve as a catalyst to accelerate women’s equal participation and leadership in public administration.

The below 5 examples showcase innovative ways in which data is driving action and progress on gender-responsive governance:

  1. Pakistan has used Geographic Information System (GIS) information from existing survey to capture spatially segregated socio-economic disadvantage of women and girls. The Pakistan study has developed an evidence-base on how overlapping forms of discrimination, such as those based on gender, ethnicity, geography, and wealth, produce inequalities in SDG-related outcomes between different groups of women and girls in Pakistan.

  2. To generate urgently-needed data to inform and monitor progress towards gender equality in Somalia, the Ministry of Women and Human Rights Development of Somalia developed a survey designed by Somali women for Somali women. The survey uses an app developed by a women-led ICT firm, facilitated by 50 women in the field, and has collected the experiences of 10,000 women. The survey’s findings fill a critical data gap in an extremely data challenged operating environment.

  3. The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics launched the Women’s Empowerment Index (WEI), the first comprehensive and systematic measure for women’s and girls’ empowerment in Kenya. WEI measures progress in multiple domains of women's empowerment including access to resources, information and knowledge; opinions and attitudes; agency and ability to act; achievement of desired change and gender parity. WEI also aims to measure and monitor progress against national, regional and international commitments for gender equality.

  4. The Mongolia National Statistics Office and UN Women jointly analyzed the indicators ‘proportion of people who did not complete more than six years of education’ and ‘Proportion of women who married as children’ using existing survey data. An intersectional analysis was undertaken that found that the likelihood of being education-poor increases if women and girls identify with ethnic minorities, religious minorities and live in a poor household.

  5. The World Bank’s East Asia and Pacific Gender Innovation Lab has developed an innovative methodology that captures the socio-economic impact of COVID-19 on women while mitigating potential risks to their safety. In Lao PDR, Indonesia and the Philippines, phone surveys have been conducted that address questions around sensitive topics, such as gender-based violence, by using vignettes, proxies, list randomization among other methods. In addition, a protocol ensures that respondents are alone when starting the interview, and establishes code phrases to skip questions or terminate the interview. The data collected provides valuable insights into the ways in which COVID-19 has affected women in the region.

Although gender inequality challenges are daunting, the pandemic can be a powerful catalyst to build societies that are more just and more equal. If “leave no one behind” is to be more than a catchy slogan, special attention must be paid to the most marginalized women and girls. Policymakers must seize this opportunity to make ambitious commitments for transformative recovery efforts that do better for women and girls. This begins with investing in the evidence base needed to continually assess gender equality gaps, and putting women at the forefront of efforts to close them.