ISSN 2330-717X

Why We Need Better Gender Data In The Middle East – OpEd


By Princess Lamia bint Majed*

Data is crucial to realizing many of the global and regional gender equality targets and visions expressed by policy makers, governments and organizations. In the Middle East specifically, we have suffered setbacks in collecting data and our ability to use it to reveal the unique experiences of women and girls in the region and the barriers to gender equality. We need this data in order to prove what works to improve the lives of women and girls and, more importantly, measure how we as a region are performing on our gender equality targets.

Although gender data doesn’t feel like a new term, it has become a key focus after the adoption of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Gender data allows us to highlight the importance of transparency and accountability within those specific targets and the departments that are in charge of executing programs and initiatives geared toward achieving them.

The main issue we face regarding gender data is that there is not enough of it, and the little that is available does not accurately reflect the reality of many people. Research undertaken by the likes of UN Women and the World Bank have shown that there have been discrepancies in the research methodology, which has led to inaccurate and incomplete data on many women and girls around the world. For us in the Middle East, we are facing bigger issues. Our first major issue is also the lack of available gender data. Secondly, despite the recent milestones and changes in the region, there is a significant gap between the progress we are experiencing and the region’s continued low position in international rankings due to the lack of regional research.

Owing to the cost of conducting large-scale, academically rigorous data studies, collecting and analyzing accurate, relevant gender data remains a challenge for many countries, and in the Middle East region particularly. A lack of country-specific data is often smoothed out by the inclusion of comparative data from “similar” countries, which may be close geographically but are actually very different in many ways.

In Saudi Arabia, women’s participation in the development of the Kingdom is a key aspect of Vision 2030. Female participation and empowerment in society is also a key pillar of our work at Alwaleed Philanthropies. With this in mind, we wanted to work with partners on analyzing and tackling the issue as well as celebrating the gender equality developments we have seen in the Kingdom recently. To address the barriers women face and empower them to achieve their aspirations, we urgently need better gender-related data. The contribution of Saudi women to this study forms a road map to empower women and increase their effectiveness in development.

For nearly four decades, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, founder of Alwaleed Philanthropies, has been one of the most prominent advocates of women’s issues and empowerment in the region and the world. Partnership and cooperation are consistently required to achieve the goals of his ambitious project.

This support reflects a very important fact, reminding us that men play a pivotal role in our women’s journey by helping us to make the desired cultural change and achieve greater success. Only through cooperation between women and men can we achieve the ambitious goals of Vision 2030.

The “Participation of Saudi Women in Development” study has been established in partnership with the National Observatory for Women (NOW) at King Saud University and the General Statistics Authority, with support from UN Women in the Middle East, in order to cultivate and analyze data on women in Saudi Arabia. This is the first nationwide gender study ever conducted in Saudi Arabia and provides high quality data and analysis that will significantly improve the empowerment of women in the Kingdom.

Data for the study is a combination of existing information and information generated specifically for this project. The methodology and research instruments were developed by researchers at NOW, with the data collection conducted by the General Statistics Authority. The methodology is in line with the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 and the e-government initiative to enable better data sharing and deliver more robust and representative data. The data, which was gathered from 15,000 Saudi Arabian households, covers all aspects of economic contribution, health care, education, family roles and society as a whole.

The study assesses women’s participation and development across 56 variables under five pillars: Economic, health, education, legislation, and social. It provides a value between 0 and 1, with a score closer to 1 indicating a smaller gender gap.

The findings provide an overall score of .62 and show narrow gender gaps in health (.98) and education (.92), indicating the systems and programs in these areas allow equal opportunities for women to participate in the Kingdom’s development. Lower numbers in social engagement (.65), economic participation (.42) and legislation and regulation (.13) highlight the need for stronger measures to empower women in these areas.

In addition to supporting the study in Saudi Arabia in future years, Alwaleed Philanthropies is aiming to establish partnerships that will bring this unique methodology to more Gulf countries in future years, helping speed up the pace of progress for women across the region.

Princess Lamia bint Majed is secretary-general and a member of the board of trustees of Alwaleed Philanthropies.

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Arab News

Arab News is Saudi Arabia's first English-language newspaper. It was founded in 1975 by Hisham and Mohammed Ali Hafiz. Today, it is one of 29 publications produced by Saudi Research & Publishing Company (SRPC), a subsidiary of Saudi Research & Marketing Group (SRMG).

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