Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation pledges $80 million to promote gender equality

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Melinda Gates, speaking at the London Summit on Family Planning. Credit: Russell Watkins/ Department for International Development

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has announced that it will commit $80 million over the next three years to close gender data gaps and help accelerate progress for women and girls around the world.

The initiative will promote gender equality and support the implementation of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Alongside the Gates Foundation’s commitment, partners across governments, non-profits and philanthropic organisations have also agreed upon a new statement of principles regarding gender data and its importance for accelerating development outcomes.

“By adopting the SDGs the world agreed to achieve gender equality by 2030. But we cannot close the gender gap without first closing the data gap,” Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, told the Women Deliver conference in Copenhagen.

“We live in an information age … but we don’t have all the data we need to know how to fulfil the great promise [of the SDGs]. You have to collect data if you are to know how to act on data.”

“We simply don’t know enough about the barriers holding women and girls back, nor do we have sufficient information to track progress against the promises made to women and girls.

We are committed to changing that by investing in better data, policies and accountability,” she added.

The Gates Foundation’s new $80 million commitment will support efforts that fill critical gender data gaps, including knowing how much time women and girls spend on unpaid work around the world, and what implications this has on their life chances and choices, such as completing education, getting jobs or starting businesses.

The funds will also help Improve the accuracy and reliability of data collection, which can reveal at a large scale who owns assets like land, property or credit.

Most of the money will be channelled through UN Women, which will work with governments and civil society to gather the missing information.

Gates said her focus would be on improving household surveys. A report last year by the Overseas Development Institute found that as many as 350 million people may not be included in these surveys. Women are likely to be disproportionately affected.

Information collected in household surveys usually centres on men’s financial contribution, with little or no mention about the contribution women make in paid and unpaid work.

On day two of the Women Deliver conference, the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) published a discussion paper, Delivering the power of parity: Toward a more gender-equal society, which calculated that achieving the economic potential of women and making progress towards the SDGs will require $1.5tn to $2tn in incremental annual spending on essential services in 2025. But the potential economic gains could be six to eight times the outlay.

Research published by McKinsey last year found that if every country addressed gender inequalities at the same rate as its fastest-improving regional peer, the world could add $12tn to the global economy.

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