The Gender Data Gap

One of the books on my summer reading list was “The Moment of Lift” by Melinda Gates, the co-founder of the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation and overall awesome human being, in which she describes how empowering women and girls can help lift entire villages out of poverty. Each chapter focuses on one area in which women are disadvantaged, explains the dimensions of the inequality and the work the foundation has done to overcome these barriers alongside personal anecdotes and thoughts. It’s a great book because it shines a light on many successful and thoughtful programs all over the world that have achieved progress in traditional societies but at the same time, it shows where problems prevail. In the end, the reader feels angry and sad about the persistent prejudices faced by women and girls around the world, but you know not everything is lost because there are things we can do to improve this situation for future generations.  
One important theme throughout the book and something Melinda Gates also mentioned in this years’ Annual Letter (surprise number 4) is the gender data gap. Recently, you might have heard more about this phenomenon with the success of “Invisible Women” a book by Caroline Criado Perez in which she demonstrates how the world has been created for men given that there is by far not enough data on women. She shows how favoring the status quo based on the “male” data has disadvantaged women in our society, whether it’s that smartphones always feel too large for our hands, or long queues in front of the women’s bathroom. While these structures limit the success of women in societies that have otherwise already improved (but not achieved) equality in many areas, the gender data gap can slow down progress in development work. Treating data as gender neutral can assist the prevalence of inequalities based on gender. For example, how can we evaluate the success of a program on increasing enrolment in primary education if we don’t even ask for the different effects on boys and girls? On the surface, a program might look successful because enrolment increased, but what if the majority of the beneficiaries of this program were boys? Don’t get me wrong, education is important for every child, but it is important to understand why parents might decide to send their sons to school over their daughters. Persisting gender stereotypes keep girls out of school and in the household where their opportunities for a future outside the home are limited.
Melinda Gates’ book shows how the lack of data impedes women on girls on the individual level but at the same time how this has meaningful consequences for development work and the effectiveness of programs. Especially in agriculture, researchers have traditionally spoken to men about their needs and preferences for support but these same researches were oblivious to the fact that the majority of people working in the fields were women and hence more knowledgeable about what works what does not.
Attaining progress is complicated especially in intricate and complex areas such as gender inequality but first, we need to know what the problem looks like. Improving the gender data gap will help identify areas that need more work and determine which programs are effective at reducing inequality.

Data2X, for example, is working on this.

Also, check out a post by the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation about this topic here.

"Fake News" and thinking critically on social media

If you have been active on social media in recent months, you may have noticed a surge in shareable charity posts. I certainly have. Indeed I have considered sharing some of these myself. Social media platforms provide unprecedented opportunities to raise awareness, funds and cultivate discussions around important causes. In spite of these benefits, in an era increasingly tinted with fears of misinformation and 'fake news', a greater degree of critical thinking needs to be engaged with.

A quick instagram search reveals a multitude of these accounts now exist, each one more dubiously accredited than the last. The most I was able to find for these two examples was a gofundme link. No other contact details were provided and a comprehensive accounting for how these organisations were going to be able to carry out these promises was noticeably absent. One such account even decided to put a link to which at the time of writing had not been set up as a domain. Another included 'DM ME FOR FREE PROMOS' in their bio, somewhat undermining their pretence at supporting the cause for tree planting in the UK. More well-intentioned accounts placed story Q and A sessions on their accounts, many admitting they hadn't really thought the account would take off and trying to work out retroactively how to follow through on their charitable commitments with their own funds and a gofundme link noticeably less successful than the reach of the original shared posts.
In the grand scheme of false claims these charitable story shares are not the end of days; very few accounts were asking for any sort of donation, merely a click of a button to spread the word. The more concerning takeaway from the success of these accounts is exactly this ease of engagement. Ultimately, if the account is fake and you share the post you haven't lost anything and maybe you even spread some awareness. The problem lies therein; genuine charitable projects and endeavours become lost- there is no need for donation if your share has achieved the same end for free. This means that even if such accounts are not trying to scam you, gain a follow and sell on the account, funds and attention are being diverted from the organisations that do have the power and experience to carry out promises of in this example, humanitarian aid and environmental conservation.
Social media is powerful but we need to be responsible in the way we utilise this good. As articulated by one article , "it is important that we stay calm, read our facts, verify the information we receive and then make an educated attempt at sharing what we have learned. This will help curb fake information and false hope from spreading."
  1. If it sounds too good to be true, take an extra five minutes to read into it some more.
  2. Look for links to contact information and legitimate websites. If you have any concerns or doubts, reach out and ask.
  3. If you remain unsure but feel passionately about the cause, find a more assured and reputable group to donate to or share on your story.
Using social media to promote information and causes in need of support is a powerful form of activism; don't let empathy and the desire to help be manipulated by dubious sources. Hold charities accountable.

I have attached some charities below that are engaged in the causes I have referenced if these are causes you have an interest in:

SUDAN this website provides some information on the current crisis and ideas for how to show solidarity with those in need.


Finally, if any of the information I have provided is outdated or there are better links for charitable direction with regards to the above causes, please let me know and I will update/ edit this post.

Freako - NO - mics (the w stands for women)

Freakonomics was the first book that really got me enthusiastic about economics, it is clever and entertaining, and it lets the reader peek into the world of economics, a world which is so much more than just “the economy”. After seriously questioning myself and my passion for economics while studying for my exams (given that I was not learning anything new) I decided to pick up the “Frequel” (not my words) of the Freakonomics franchise, “Superfreakonomics” to reignite the fire. The introduction made me laugh and I was excited to dive into more of those connections which seem random on the surface such as the relationship between Al Gore and Mount Pinatubo or prostitutes and department store Santas. The first chapter delved into the connection between the latter. I wondered how great of an idea it was to have two white men writing about (female) prostitution, but I tried to keep an open mind so I carried on. It felt cringy when they discussed women’s bodies in terms of goods that can be traded and sold but this was a book about economics after all so I was prepared.

What I was not prepared for was the subsequent superficial and lazy explanation of the gender pay gap in a book that prides itself on doing rigorous research and uncovering “the hidden side of everything”. The same chapter that (barely) links prostitutes to department store Santas also discusses the gender pay gap. The authors try to investigate why female business MBAs with the same qualifications as their male counterparts still earn less on average. The explanation suggested was so elegant, so simple that I was instantly convinced:

End of blog post.

Actually, no. Let me explain. There is evidence that some of the gender pay gap is explained by women taking longer time away from work (and work less if they have children) as opposed to men, so that men spend more time on their career than women. But also, men love money, the two Steves assert, and demonstrate this with a simple example that showed men responding to financial incentives stronger than women. To summarize up to here, women with business MBAs work less, love children and respond less strongly to financial incentives. But – rest assured – their degree is not worthless. No, it’s not because they make important contributions to the business world or provide a different viewpoint to a male-dominated field, instead, maybe women go through all the trouble of higher education in the first place so they can find a man who can earn even higher wages than them and provide for their family (the same reason why I put myself through exams, internships, extracurriculars and so on).  

This is an introductory book to economics and I understand that the authors cannot discuss every topic in as much depth as they’d want to (or should) but given the dire situation of women in economics (and business) maybe they could’ve dug a little further than just the studies that confirm gender stereotypes.  Because, while the boyz have finally found their “unifying theme” in the introduction – people respond to incentives – sadly the incentives laid out for women by society aren’t discussed in this context.
What about parental leave for example? They don’t mention that most women in the U.S. get maternity leave, whereas paidpaternity leave is rare. The message here is clear: women should stay home with the children, men should get on with their careers and earn money. In countries such as Iceland where parental leave is split more evenly between the parents,  fathers take more days of paternity leave. Iceland also happens to be the number 1 in terms of gender equality according to the 2012 Global Gender Gap Report (I wonder why). These policies are only one example that shows how women are typically pushed out of the workforce and into child-caring responsibilities, and how a change in policy can improve this gender gap. 

Repeating the same old stereotypes and ostensibly backing them up with studies by only showing this one perspective just reinforces the patterns of discrimination that women are still facing today. Smart economics (and smart books about economics) should think more about the incentives policies signal to young families and whether they truly ensure equality rather than sticking to the status quo.