what we know and where we are going from here

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Good gender data is essential for tracking our progress in promoting gender equality. But how do you collect this data reliably?

Over the past decade, various initiatives have been developed to expand gender data collection, both within the World Bank (like LSMS +) and outside the World Bank (like Data2x). Despite these advances, the best ways to measure many dimensions of women’s action remain under-studied. The agency’s existing measures are frequently validated only for a context or population (often a higher income country) and lack best practices for implementing surveys. This makes it difficult to accurately measure the agency in countries where this data is most urgent. In addition, commonly used measures, such as those that can more easily be integrated into large-scale national surveys, do not fully capture the multidimensional nature of women’s work.

To address this, together with colleagues from the new Measures for the Advancement of Gender Equality (MAGNET) initiative, we recently published a series of policy briefs. The papers examine the gaps in women’s measurement of control over assets, their goal setting and decision making, as well as their sense of control and effectiveness, and propose a course of action to address these gaps. The three dimensions of women’s empowerment we focus on are known both for their centrality in the policy debate on gender equality and for the challenges posed by their measurement.

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Asset control

The ability of women to exercise and develop their agency depends on the economic resources that they can use, control and possess. In low-income settings, women have significantly less access than men to physical and productive assets, including land, housing and financial assets. They also have less security of tenure and less power to influence decisions such as the sale or economic use of the assets they own.

In recent years, researchers and policymakers have made remarkable progress in tackling many of the challenges of collecting gender-sensitive asset data, but knowledge gaps persist. For example, women often report owning assets jointly with their spouse or other household members, but we still know little about what “jointly” means in many contexts or to what extent joint rights imply rights. equal. We also don’t know much about how this affects the estimation of gender gaps and inequalities within households on rights to wealth and assets, which is critical, for example, for women. interventions targeting poverty. Further research is also needed to understand how the survey context may introduce measurement bias. A recent article shows that girls are less likely to report sexual activity to interviewers who have more discriminatory gender attitudes. Could interviewer attitudes also influence asset data collection? To fill this knowledge gap, we need field experiences to assess how interviewer characteristics, including gender attitudes, may affect data on women’s property rights and how data collection protocols should take this into account.

Photo: Tintseh / World Bank

Goal setting and decision making

For individuals to have meaningful power of action in their lives, it is important that they reflect and develop well-defined goals, which flow from their own values ​​and preferences. But how best to measure this capacity?

Interpreting an action as an agency exercise requires understanding the motivation behind it. We need new tools to understand when and how women’s actions are guided by their own values ​​or influenced by what others demand or expect of them. How does mental bandwidth depletion – due to higher caregiving loads for women, for example – affect their self-reflection about goals and decisions?

The ability of women to achieve their goals by exercising their decision-making power is also central to their ability to act. It is most often measured by interviewing household members who make decisions on a standard set of areas (eg, large assets purchased, child rearing). However, interpreting being a decision maker as a proxy for empowerment is only valid if the respondent wishes to be involved in such decisions. We need new decision-making questions to determine whether women are consulted and whether they feel their opinions are valued. Women may also face coercion, retaliation and negative reactions, or fear when engaging in decision-making. So we also need to develop new tools to understand what happens to the decision-making process in the event of disagreement. Finally, the combination of speech-to-text technology with text analysis methods offers exciting opportunities to directly assess women’s action in their own words, thereby reducing the need for costly transcription of manual coding of interviews. semi-structured.

Photo: Vincent Tremeau / World Bank

Women’s sense of control and effectiveness

Measuring agency also requires understanding how well individuals think they can achieve their goals on purpose. A common measure in psychology is self-efficacy: the belief in one’s abilities to produce actions and achieve a goal. Self-efficacy can be conceptualized as a specific area or as a general personality trait. In low-income settings, domain-specific scales have focused on entrepreneurship and health, showing promising correlations with women’s developmental outcomes. Although most of the world’s poor make a living from agriculture, to our knowledge, there are no validated self-efficacy scales specific to agriculture in low-income countries. In addition, we need a new livelihood self-efficacy scale, a measure applicable to all economic activities and which can be easily incorporated into household surveys.

Women’s sense of control over their lives is inexorably linked to their control over their time. But we have a lot more to learn about how the interplay between women’s preferences, social pressure, and internalized social norms shapes the way women spend their days. A better understanding of why individuals spend their time the way they do could also help determine whether certain developmental programs have unintended consequences (such as decreased leisure time for women and / or increased stress levels). . In addition, we are always concerned that we do not fully understand the additional burden women carry by worrying about household needs. We need better measures of gendered models of cognitive work – anticipating needs, identifying options to meet those needs, deciding among options, and monitoring results – and its relationship to the agency.

New measures to advance gender equality

Tackling such a large and complex measurement program requires a strong inter-institutional partnership. The Africa Gender Innovation Lab (GIL) and LSMS teams from the World Bank, IFPRI, IRC and researchers from the University of Oxford have come together to form the Measures for Advancing Gender Equality initiative. (MAGNET). Over the coming years, we aim to broaden and deepen the measurement of women’s agency through the development of new measurement tools, rigorous testing of new and existing methods to measure agency in different contexts, and to promote the adoption of these measures on a large scale. We would love to receive your ideas and suggestions, as well as hear from you about potential collaboration on tool development and testing. Please follow the GIL newsletter for upcoming updates on MAGNET’s work, and stay tuned for our website launch!

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