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Sex, age (and more) still matter: Data collection, analysis, and use in humanitarian practice

The humanitarian community has come a long way since the first Sex and Age Matter report was published in 2011. In the new report, Sex, age (and more) still matter, we show how that progress has been uneven. The collection and analysis of sex-, age, and disability disaggregated data do not consistently inform programming and require further commitment and investment.

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About the report

Data has the power to transform how we see the world. Through big data collection and analysis, we are increasingly able to monitor health, poverty, education, gender equality and climate change on a scale never seen.

For organizations such as CARE, data provide a critical window through which we monitor the reach, impact and operational effectiveness of our work and programs. Yet while we have seen rapid advancement in the last 10 years in big data collection and analysis around the world; the humanitarian sector has remained painfully slow in keeping up with this trend.

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Webinar: Sex, age (and more) still matter

More than a decade after the first “Sex and age matter” report, we convened a discussion about how far we have come – and how that progress has been uneven – upon the new report’s release. Participants included Sima Bahous, UN Women Executive Director; Sofia Sprechmann, CARE International Secretary General; Dyan Mazurana, Tufts University research professor; InterAction’s Sarah Fuhrman; CARE USA’s Leora Ward; Outright International’s Amie Bishop; International Rescue Committee’s Kristy Crabtree; and Community Association for Vulnerable Persons’s Veronica Ngum Ndi.

Executive summary and key findings

Progress has been made but more is needed:

1. The gender myth:

Nearly everyone in the humanitarian industry that we interviewed has the strong perception that their agencies are regularly and systematically collecting and using sex-disaggregated data and gender analysis to inform their humanitarian planning and programing. Yet the documentation and evidence to support these claims is very often poor and, in most cases, non-existent. This mistaken perception is very problematic as it gives the impression that “the job is done,” when in fact research from 2020 finds that approximately half of humanitarian needs overviews in the last few years have not used any sex-disaggregated data.

2. A long way to go:

Over the past 10 years the humanitarian sector has made some progress regarding collecting sexdisaggregated data and using gender analysis to make sense of it, but the 2022 Gender Accountably Framework report shows in detail how there is still a great deal that remains to be done. We are getting better with age data and are starting to consider and incorporate disability data collection and analysis. We remain hesitant around how to consider diverse sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and sex characteristics (SOGIESC) in data collection. Overall, we rarely incorporate intersectional analysis of disaggregated data. Even in the best cases of collecting, analyzing, and using sex-disaggregated data, there is extremely little documentation of how this information was used to inform and improve programing. Accountability mechanisms are notably lacking and where they exist lack enforcement.

3. Women remain marginalized in decision making:

Despite constant advocacy by women’s and girls’ rights advocates, and profiling of the situation of women and girls in humanitarian crises, they are not present in humanitarian decision making, their rights and priorities in humanitarian response remain underfunded, and advocates still struggle for humanitarian funding to be allocated for them. Yes, we do collect more sex- and age- disaggregated data (SADD), but we don’t necessarily use it and even when we do outcomes are rarely documented. Yes, we do consult women and girls and different groups, but their input too often does not meaningfully inform decisions, programs, or policies.

4. Accountability should take center stage.

To make the progress needed in collecting and using SADD, disability, and SOGIESC data at all levels of humanitarian response, robust accountability mechanisms must be prioritized and put in place. Existing gender accountability frameworks, such as the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) 2017 Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women and Girls in Humanitarian Action Policy, should be enforced.

5. Impartiality requires disaggregated data:

Impartiality means that humanitarian aid must be provided solely based on need and in proportion to need. With humanitarian funding unable to meet the current needs, investment in disaggregated data analysis and use is critical to implement evidence-based and impartial programming that targets and addresses the needs of the most vulnerable. Without an investment in relevant data disaggregation and in tools like Rapid Gender Analysis, critical at-risk populations are too often made invisible, and their specific humanitarian needs not addressed.

6. Sex and age are no longer sufficient:

The humanitarian industry is still not where it needs to be in terms of collecting and using SADD and gender analysis. A more serious and concerted effort is needed. Investment is needed to expand the availability of tools like Rapid Gender Analysis. In addition, it is time to include disability in data collection and analysis, carry out more granular age disaggregation to capture the older persons and other age groups with specific needs, incorporate diverse SOGIESC populations whenever possible, and utilize intersectional analysis across all sectors given the compounding role of identities, capacities, and vulnerabilities. Sex, age, and disability should be variables to disaggregate data on and variables that require further disaggregation themselves.

7. Gender is not a catch-all for inclusion programming:

Organizational needs have far exceeded the capacity for (over-worked and under-resourced) gender specialists to manage on their own. The humanitarian and development sectors need to invest in, hire, and train more robust and inclusive teams and dedicated leads to manage data collection, analysis, and programming for a variety of intersectional identities. The entire humanitarian, development, and peacebuilding career pipeline, including academia, needs to address the requirement for more inclusive specialties.

8. We need to better coordinate, share, and use existing data:

Despite progress made in the collection of disaggregated data and the existence of multiple guidelines, a significant gap remains in the use of data to improve program implementation. To improve accountability to participants, investments should be made in increased coordination of data collection, greater sharing of existing data through investment in data dashboards, and more emphasis on secondary data analysis. The greatest emphasis in guidelines, mandates, and funding should be on data use. When disaggregated data are collected and used, funding and time need to be set aside for better documentation of how the disaggregated data affected programming and associated impact on the population for sharing of best practices, effective program examples, and lessons learned.

9. Additional requirements on data disaggregation need to be complemented with appropriate funding support:

Increasingly donors are asking for more disaggregated data collection and analysis due to the requirements for reporting progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and shifts towards greater inclusivity. These developments need to be supplemented with appropriate funding for staff, trainings, data management systems and leads, analysis, documentation of data use and impact, and experts with the appropriate knowhow. Supporting data dissemination, data sharing, data dashboards, greater coordination, and key lessons learned is a valuable way for donors and humanitarian organizations to share information across agencies and sectors to develop additional best practices for disaggregated data use and improved collective learning.

10. Data responsibility in humanitarian action requires the safe, ethical, and effective management of personal and non-personal data for operational response.

Data responsibility is a critical issue for the humanitarian system to address and the stakes are high. Ensuring we ‘do no harm’ while maximizing the benefits of data requires collective action that extends across all levels of the humanitarian system. Humanitarians must be careful when handling data to avoid placing already vulnerable individuals and communities at further risk. This is especially important in contexts where the urgency of humanitarian needs drives pressure for fast (and sometimes untested) data solutions, and where the politicization of data can have more extreme consequences for people.

11. More inclusive data collection, analysis and humanitarian programming is needed to meet the humanitarian community’s commitment to the localization agenda.

Humanitarian agencies need to work with national expertise, specialists, and the affected communities, in the initial stages of designing the data collection instruments all the way through reporting back and validating findings, to make sure the appropriate data are being collected in safe and ethical way. This approach is particularly critical for engagement with women and girls, older women and people experiencing disabilities, and/or diverse SOGIESC populations in humanitarian crisis. Working with civil society or local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that know how to best work with these groups in a given context is critical for their meaningful inclusion in benefiting from humanitarian assistance.

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