Statistics are at the heart of achieving SDGs, says gender equality advocate

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In an interview with EURACTIV France, Fatiha Hassouni, head of the gender equality unit of the intergovernmental organisation Union for the Mediterranean, spoke about statistics being a crucial tool for assessing sustainable development goals (SDGs), especially with regards to gender equality.

Fatiha Hassouni is the head of the gender equality unit of the Union for the Mediterranean (UMP). Since September 2014, she has been responsible for developing a regional gender equality programme. She spoke to EURACTIV France’s Cécile Barbière.

What role do statistics play in public policy making?

When developing public policy, the first step is to set targets. For example, with regard to employment policies, it will be decided that a measure should benefit two million long-term unemployed people between the ages of 30 and 50.

To achieve these targets, information collection systems (opinion surveys, professional information surveys, etc.) need to be in place to assess the actual impact of policies.

The problem is that official statistics are not collected in a systematic manner. Political and statistical experts should work together but, unfortunately, this is not the case.

What are the challenges in terms of statistics on the issue of gender equality?  

It is more difficult to have statistics on women. For example, the agricultural sector employs many women in the South. However, they are part of the informal employment sector, which does not necessarily respect labour laws.

So there are many legal violations in this sector. But this finding is not based on sector-related studies. Everyone knows this reality but it is not supported by official statistics, which means that this issue is not taken into account in public policies in the agricultural sector.

Public policies assume that their effect will be the same on the entire population, that they are “neutral”. As a result, nothing is being done to take into account the needs of women as part of these same policies.

However, this is not true because the impact on women and men is never the same. This is why information collection and statistics are fundamental, as they allow policymakers to redirect their action in the event that it is discriminatory.

This applies to all categories of vulnerable people. Statistics are necessary to ensure that public policy is not discriminatory.

To achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, are there sufficient statistics?

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) must be the international reference for all public policy. Our work at the regional level at the Union for the Mediterranean needs to contribute to this international commitment.

We are a regional body that brings together 43 countries, including the 28 EU member states.

In a ministerial declaration signed in Cairo in 2017, we defined four main objectives in terms of gender equality in the context of the SDGs: improving women’s economic participation through entrepreneurship and access to employment; strengthening access to decision-making positions in the political and economic field, combating all forms of violence against women, and finally eliminating gender stereotypes.

This ministerial meeting is a starting point that will provide an overview of the state of gender equality in the Mediterranean region and measure progress towards international targets.

What is the current state of play?

There is a lack of statistics coming from public entities. Collecting statistics is expensive, time-consuming and complex. This is a problem everywhere, even in Europe, where some countries are doing better than others.

To move forward on this issue, we propose to develop a monitoring mechanism with indicators to assess the commitments made under the SDGs.

We are currently looking at what the needs are and how we can fill the gaps, particularly with the MedStat programme, which is a cooperation programme funded by the EU to support southern and eastern countries in the collection of statistics. The programme supports countries in developing their own statistical tools, which is crucial for them to ensure they make progress on the SDGs.

Statistics is above all a political commitment! It is a necessary but costly investment and it is difficult to convince politicians to include it in the state’s budget. No politician is going to prioritise statistics!

And in addition to the budget issue, collecting statistical information also takes time.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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