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Gender and Social Inclusion

Girl Data & An Inconvenient Truth

This blog was cross-posted from Medium.

Empowering girls before, during, and after crisis. That’s this year’s theme for International Day of the Girl. At the Women’s Refugee Commission (WRC), it’s far more than a theme; it’s what we dedicate ourselves to achieving, every day. Part of that commitment means identifying where we — the international community — are failing and where we need to get it right.

The fact is, we are failing adolescent girls in data collection. Too often, the school of thought is that more data collection and analysis will result in meaningful action for girls. Last year’s Day of the Girl theme, for example, saw “what gets counted, gets done” sprinkled across several UN websites. Sounds good. However, an inconvenient truth is that more data collection and analysis will result in ― more data collection, and maybe more analysis. And, the idea that what gets counted, gets done, is misleading. What gets counted, gets counted.

Taking action based on available, quality information remains a perennial challenge. A great deal is known about the barriers girls face and about what it takes to empower them. Yet, we still struggle in translating this knowledge into informed programming and policymaking.

The international community must continue to emphasize girl-focused, girl-relevant, and sex-disaggregated data, and to tackle knowledge gaps, especially among younger adolescent girls and boys. However, we must also focus on bridging the canyon-sized crevasse between the currently-available (albeit sometimes buried) data and the informed actions that are necessary to achieve change for, and with, girls. As many advocates for girls’ rights know, in the communities where we work and where girls live, assessment fatigue is real. The sentiment is that communities are over-analyzed and over-assessed, and to what end often remains unclear.

If we don’t bridge the gap, then we do a disservice to girls. At WRC, we’re collaborating with several partners — including the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, UNICEF, Oak Foundation, Mercy Corps, Population Council, and the Danish Refugee Council — to do just that.

WRC believes it’s critical to advocate for the collection and use of context-specific information to inform girl-relevant programming and policy. We’re doubling-down on an effort to generate complementary, practitioner-friendly tools that can help staff translate this information into actions. We want to highlight actionable insights and detail next steps.

We’re creating resources to help actors both identify girls and monitor their access to key services, as well as to track changes in girls’ knowledge, skills, and capacities. Our aim is to identify, engage, and support displaced adolescent girls, including the most vulnerable and isolated.

As WRC joins in calling attention to girls today, we ourselves are striving to bridge the gaps between data collection, analysis, and action as an advocacy organization. In the age of big data, it’s compelling to directly link more information to more results for girls. However, we must ask ourselves, “Who’s really going to benefit from the deluge of information?” The answer depends on our collective ability to translate (already-collected and new) information into action. WRC can do better. We all can do better.

Let’s start by reflecting upon our efforts to analyze and use the data we already collect and, moving forward, recall that the goal is tailored, inclusive, and effective programs crafted in collaboration with the girls themselves. If we don’t acknowledge and act upon the inconvenient truth, then we fail in our commitment to support and partner with the girls whose diverse experiences and transformative potential we call attention to today. It’s time to get it right.

Gender and Social Inclusion