When Avril became pregnant, she was just 16 years old. Escaping extreme poverty, she had left home in rural Nicaragua and made her way to the capital, Managua, to earn money to support her family and make a better life.
She found a job as a nanny, but within a few months she was cajoled into a sexual relationship by a much older, married man. Pregnant, frightened and alone, she headed back to her family home, where she is now raising her daughter, unable to study and with few prospects.
Avril’s story is not so different to that of many other girls in her community. Nicaragua has the highest rate of teen pregnancy in Latin America, but the rate in the region where Avril lives is highest of all: 1 in every 3 teenage girls between 15 and 19 years are already a mother or pregnant with their first child. Few are able to access official support, and most are neglected by the systems that should help them.
Neither the reason Avril is out of school nor her mistreatment are captured by official figures. The reality of many girls’ lives is unknown to officialdom. Nicaragua, like many governments, only collects data for girls and women aged from 15-49. Around the world, 2 million babies are born to girls under that age each year. That we know so little about them makes it impossible to design and deliver support, much less track progress against internationally agreed targets.
It is widely accepted that the UN Sustainable Development Goals, agreed last year, can only be achieved if we improve the position of girls and women. Yet we lack even the most basic information to track progress on many of these global goals. In most countries, data is not regularly being collected for more than half of the official indicators.
Global data gap
As few as 40 countries have reliable numbers on violence against women; other important issues, such as sexual harassment, are even less widely tracked. In many countries, data on poverty is not broken down by gender and fewer than half of all developing countries have disaggregated information on work and joblessness. And for most countries in the world, it is impossible to measure differences between male and female participation in decision-making bodies or civil society organisations.
It is up to each of us to play our part in ensuring that every girl counts, and can be counted
That the global goals commit the world to ending gender inequality is a huge step in the right direction. But the hard truth is that we currently have no reliable and consistent way to measure whether inequality is decreasing.
Unless we have the data to track progress, to identify needs, and to gauge what does and doesn’t work, it will be impossible to hold governments to account, design solutions and target resources to transform the lives of girls and women. While girls remain invisible to policy makers, it is hard to see how the promise to leave no one behind can be honoured.
Gender equality tracker
That’s why Plan International is working with partners in civil society and the private sector on an initiative to improve the quality and availability of data about girls and women. The partnership aims to produce an independent ‘tracker’ that will provide information for everyone working to achieve gender equality, showing where progress is being made and highlighting where more needs to be done. Our Counting the Invisible report highlights the vision and aims of this partnership.
The challenge for this project is vast. There is a massive data gap at even the most basic levels. Unless data can be broken down beyond age and sex, to take into account factors such as ethnicity, religion and ability, it will be impossible to expose differences and inequalities between and within groups.
This calls for nothing less than a data revolution, built on the collaboration of all people, in all countries. Those who produce data must publish it in a widely accessible form. Those who have data must use it to highlight the position of girls. And those who do not have it must demand it, and use it to press their governments on the commitments they have made.
It is up to each of us to play our part in ensuring that every girl counts, and can be counted.
Find out more about the Counting the Invisible report