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UNECE issues guidance to improve the communication of gender statistics

New guidance published by UNECE’s Conference of European Statisticians offers support to national statistical offices to better communicate their statistics about gender equality. The guidance, developed by a task force of experts from across the region, focuses on six themes: the gender pay gap; gender-based violence; the language of gender; maintaining impartiality; interacting with users; and addressing data gaps.

Statistics are valuable to users only if they are easy to find, relevant, and understandable. Focusing on effective communication of statistics is an increasingly central endeavour for all statistical offices and for statistics on all topics.

But when it comes to statistics about gender there are some unique challenges to successful communication. Gender data often come from many different sources – for example, surveys about how people use their time, surveys of households, and data from administrative records about businesses, schools or the justice system. Resulting limits in consistency across these diverse sources have to be communicated along with the statistics themselves.

Many topics covered by gender statistics are politically sensitive. National statistical offices must take extra care when communicating gender statistics to balance the need to remain impartial with the obligation to produce relevant data to inform policymaking and fulfil users’ needs. These two obligations are both enshrined in the Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics.

Each of the new guidance notes describes the communication challenges associated with the topic, offers recommendations for addressing these challenges, and provides real-world examples of good practices.

Communication of statistics about the gender pay gap, for example, is made difficult due to the absence of an internationally recognized standard for its measurement. We often hear that women earn 80 cents for every dollar that men earn. But what does this really tell us? Variability in the calculation of the gender pay gap within and across countries causes confusion among policymakers and the general public. Are both full-time and part-time workers considered? Which earnings are included? Monthly or annual? Gross or net? Regular pay and overtime? To help data users interpret and understand gender pay gap statistics, the guidance recommends that data producers clearly specify the population of workers from which the pay gap is calculated and how their earnings are measured. For example, a user-friendly web page makes it easy to understand that in Australia in 2020, women’s full-time average weekly earnings were 1,558 AUD compared to men’s full-time average weekly earnings of 1,812 AUD.

Challenging for other reasons, the collection, discussion and dissemination of data on gender-based violence is hotly debated. Telling these stories requires extra thoughtfulness to create understanding and deliver key messages without further endangering people who have experienced violence or exposing them to damaging comment. The guidance encourages data producers to address the issue directly and to avoid sensationalizing data on violence.  Since appropriate images for this subject are hard to find, the guidance highlights the use of graphs, maps, and small tables among good practice examples. In Mexico, recent data indicate that 66 percent of women aged 15 and older have experienced violence, and that on average 10 women died from homicide every day during 2018. The Mexican statistical office (INEGI) publishes such data annually on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women in a series of easy-to-understand tables and graphics to increase awareness of the issue.  

Alongside recommendations on communicating about specific issues, the guidance provides advice on cross-cutting considerations for communicating gender statistics. A wide diversity of potential users with very different areas of expertise and varied levels of statistical literacy is a unique challenge as compared with the users of, for instance, economic statistics. Bridging the producer-user divide requires translation from technical language to language that is more suitable for each intended audience. A creative video produced by Statistics Finland provides an example of a communication tool that is accessible not only to experts but to the general public as well.

As the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to slow progress towards gender equality, effective communication of gender statistics is more important than ever. This practical resource supports data producers in communicating challenging gender issues for a more informed public and more gender-responsive public policies.

The Guidance on Communicating Gender Statistics was endorsed by the 68th plenary session of the Conference of European Statisticians in June 2020 and is available for download here.

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