We are on the verge of a data revolution in Africa. Archaic systems for recording and analysing the major events in a person’s life are being rethought and revamped in a big way – and it’s going to have a huge impact on gender equality.
Think about it like this: governments across the continent, and indeed the world, are trying to record the most real-time, accurate data on the key major life events in a population, like births, marriages, adoptions, deaths and illnesses.
This represents a potential major breakthrough because it means governments will be able to offer services where they are most needed, reaching even the most vulnerable communities. It also gives governments an opportunity to get to the root causes of gender inequality.
Girls and women ignored
If we’re going to eradicate poverty and make good on the promises of the Sustainable Development Goals, we need to have the best possible facts and figures available. For too long now the kind of data collected in most countries has largely ignored that women and girls are among the most marginalised and susceptible to poverty.
We have “big picture” stats – 62 million girls out of school, 1 in 3 in the developing world married before they are 18 – but we lack reliable, disagregated data that gets to the core of the experiences of women and girls in the developing world.
Millions of children invisible
How can a government know if its policies and services address gender disparities? The first step is to overhaul the outdated civil registration systems more than 100 developing countries have in place, which have left 85 million African children unregistered and effectively invisible in the eyes of the state. This will allow governments to see where schools are needed, where they should build roads, where there are health issues that should be addressed.
Technology will help governments get these civil registration and vital statistics (CRVS) systems in check. That’s why the theme of this year’s African Symposium on Statistical Development (ASSD), being held this 23-25 November in Gabon, is all about promoting the use of information and communications technology solutions.
If you’re unregistered, it’s far less likely you’ll be able to obtain a legal identity and it’s this lack of identity that disproportionately affects girls and women
Many countries rely on chaotic paper-based records. Just getting a child’s birth registered can be a monumental struggle if you happen to live in a rural village, a long way from a registration centre. Even when you get to the centre you could face a fee you can’t afford or bureaucratic processes that make you wonder why you’re bothering. Many children therefore go unregistered and are at risk of missing out on basic services like education and healthcare.
Now, back to gender: If you’re unregistered, it’s far less likely you’ll be able to obtain a legal identity and it’s this lack of identity that disproportionately affects girls and women in developing countries. It further compounds the daily struggles and challenges they face to get an education and provide for themselves and their families.
Breaking barriers with digital solutions
We can break down many of the barriers to registration with digitised systems. Digital solutions mean governments can extend registration coverage to remote areas through mobile technology, reducing bureaucracy and manual process, and providing secure storage of a person’s records.
Digitising a system is no small task. We know that while governments must be the ones driving the change, they need support from the development sector. That’s where organisations like Plan International come in.
A CRVS Digitisation Guidebook* is being launched at ASSD this week. This tool, developed jointly by Plan International and Jembi Health Systems, responds to the need expressed by countries in Africa to develop more effective CRVS systems while maximising the impact of ICT investments. It was developed in collaboration with country experts across Africa and remains a living resource that will continue to evolve and expand over time.
We next need to get the guidebook out there and used before we can enrich it with examples from other countries and then, eventually, extend it to other continents. Asia, for example, accounts for more than half of all unregistered children while South Asia has the highest prevalence of child marriage. The guidebook complements existing literature and tools developed by our friends at the United Nations, the World Bank and others.
So we’re off to a good start and there is political will for this data revolution, but we have to ensure we don’t lose sight of how all of this can be used to make gender equality a reality. The data that governments collect and the indicators they use to monitor success must take girls and women into account and must involve everyone. Only then will we be able to really say we are bridging the gender gap.
Plan International is a co-organiser of the 11th African Symposium on Statistical Development*, which is being held from 23-25 November in Gabon.
Find out more about Plan International's work on birth registration
* Plan International is not responsible for the content on external websites