LONDON — Good data is key to understanding — and ultimately dismantling — the complex relationships between hunger, inequality, and disempowerment that women and girls in many parts of the world experience, according to Jacqueline Paul, senior gender adviser at the World Food Programme.
Gender-based food inequity is regularly attributed to women’s lower economic resources and autonomy; the heavier burden of caring responsibilities and other unpaid labor; and increased vulnerability to violence and exploitation. The global development community’s understanding of such correlations has, however, long been hindered by a reliance on flawed data collection methods. Persuading policymakers to act on conclusions that have been based on mostly qualitative or anecdotal data is also difficult, Paul noted.
Groups must overcome their own “organizational cultural blinders” to design and conduct inclusive research, according to several data experts.
“Under the framework of the 2020 Agenda, where we talk about leaving no one behind and reaching the furthest behind first, how do you do that if you don’t know who those individuals are? How can we deal with crises, such as COVID-19, if we don’t have data that can tell us about people’s situations, risks, capacities, networks, needs, and priorities?”
Paul sat down with Devex to discuss the gender equality for food security measure, its findings, its potential use for policymakers, as well as the importance of partnerships.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
How can data help us understand how food insecurity impacts men and women differently? And what are some of the challenges in terms of collecting and analyzing it effectively?
WFP’s motto is “saving lives, changing lives.” You can’t do that if you’re flying blind. We — WFP and the rest of the humanitarian and development community — need better data so that we have better policies and programs that make a difference.
One of the challenges of gathering useful data is getting rid of practices from the past that are no longer compatible with our evolving technology, knowledge, capacities, and awareness of the intersectionality of inequalities.
For example, data-collection methods like head of household surveys, based on outdated notions that a household is homogenous or that there even is a head of household, are redundant and misleading.
In reality, not everyone in the same household consumes the same amount or quality of food, has the same coping strategies, or is empowered equally to make decisions. If we can let go of these patriarchal, archaic notions about the household, we will go a long way in having better data.
What is the GE4FS?
Covering 17 countries so far, the GE4FS combines FAO’s food insecurity experience scale, or FIES, and a gender equality component that assesses the empowerment of over 17,000 women and men based on their answers to questions around decision-making ability, financial self-sufficiency, freedom from violence, reproductive freedom, and unpaid labor.
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