The gender and open data intersection

Ana Brandusescu & Yentyl Williams

Open data is data that is made available for anyone to access, use and share. With more access to open data, people can help shape a more sustainable future with evidence-based solutions, contributing at the same time to a more transparent decision-making. But to reach the full potential of open data, it must be available to and used by all. Read more about web foundation’s investigation into whether open data is working for women in Africa. 

Having access to open data means that actors in the agricultural sector can start making more evidence-informed decisions and develop gender sensitive approaches to make the sector run more efficiently, thereby contributing more to the food security challenge. Open data has the potential to change politics, economies and societies for the better, however evidence shows that many open data initiatives supported by governments, civil society and funders have largely overlooked how open data can be used to meet the needs of women specifically. To realise the full potential of open data, data must be accessible to and used by all. In Africa, however, there is a significant gender gap in data equity.

In May 2018, Ana Brandusescu of the Web Foundation delivered a webinar for the GODAN Working Group on Capacity Development where she discussed the “gender and open data intersection”. This was a precursor to the launch of a co-written report with Nnenna Nwakanma, Interim Policy Director, Web Foundation, in collaboration with Africa gender, digital rights and open data experts – AfroLeadershipBudgITOpen Data Durban and Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET) – entitled, Is open data working for women in Africa. The Report – which maps the current state of open data for women across Africa, with insights from country-specific research in Nigeria, Cameroon, Uganda and South Africa with additional data from a survey of experts in 12 countries across the continent – delves into detail and identifies the four main challenges, which entrench this siloed approach.

First, the report identified a ‘closed’ data culture in Africa. It explains, “Most countries lack an open culture and have legislation and processes that are not gender-responsive. Institutional resistance to disclosing data means few countries have open data policies and initiatives at the national level. In addition, gender equality legislation and policies are incomplete and failing to reduce gender inequalities. And overall, Africa lacks the cross-organisational collaboration needed to strengthen the open data movement.”

Second, accessibility of data is raised as a challenge: “Cultural and social realities create additional challenges for women to engage with data and participate in the technology sector. One gigabyte of mobile data in Africa costs, on average, 10% of average monthly income. This high cost keeps women, who generally earn less than men, offline. Moreover, time poverty, the gender pay gap and unpaid labour create economic obstacles for women to engage with digital technology.”

Third, the lack of data impedes the very object of the investigation on women and data. As the authors identify, “Nearly all datasets in sub-Saharan Africa (373 out of 375) are closed, and sex-disaggregated data, when available online, is often not published as open data. There are few open data policies to support opening up of key datasets and even when they do exist, they largely remain in draft form. With little investment in open data initiatives, good data management practices or for implementing Right to Information (RTI) reforms, improvement is unlikely.”

Fourth, research in this field is insufficient. Ana and her co-authors note, “There is lack of funding, little collaboration and few open data champions. Women’s groups, digital rights groups and gender experts rarely collaborate on open data and gender issues. To overcome this barrier, multi-stakeholder collaborations are essential to develop effective solutions.”

In both the report and webinar, adopting a collaborative approach stands out as a solution. For the World Wide Web, the definition lies in “Building a culture in which open data works for all, especially for women (…), [where] civil society actors from across the technology and gender spaces must unite and work with government and the private sector to make this culture a reality”.

The Report underscores the reality that even in 2018, “women are less likely to be online than men; less likely to be consulted on the design of data policies and initiatives; under-represented among the ranks of data scientists; and often uncounted in official statistics.” Nevertheless, a pro-active approach to the topic can ensure a new collaborative approach: one in which the gender and open data intersection can be used to open up a conversation on the current state of government data, and how it can be improved. Ultimately, women should use open data to empower themselves. Open data must be used to support women and their needs as well as address the role governments play to support these efforts with data and create better citizen-state engagement.

Copyright © 2016, CTA. Technical Centre for Rural and Agricultural Cooperation

CTA is a joint international institution of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States and the European Union (EU). CTA operates under the framework of the Cotonou Agreement and is funded by the EU.