Dr. Ranjana Kumari, Director, Center for Social Research | India

Dr. Ranjana Kumari is the Director of Centre for Social Research as well as Chairperson of Women Power Connect. Dr. Kumari has dedicated her life to empowering women across the South Asia region, and is also a prolific writer of many well‐known publications. She has served as the Coordinator of the South Asia Network Against Trafficking (SANAT) in Persons and is a member of the Central Advisory Board on “Pre Conception and Pre Natal Diagnostic Tests Act, 2001”, as well as the Central Advisory Committee for Prevention of Trafficking in Women and Children. Dr. Ranjana Kumari combines the two roles of a women activist and scholar with great felicity and panache. Having dedicated her life to significant social causes, Dr. Ranjana Kumari continues to impact the lives of many with her dedication and zeal. She has her MA, M.Phil and Ph.D in Political Science from JawaharLal Nehru University.


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Event Title: SDGs Conference 2023 Date: Sept 20, 2023


Sounding an alarm for urgent action on increasing internationally comparable, gender-disaggregated, available data collection

20 September 2023 marks a very critical day for Indian women. I would like this achievement to your attention because it is earned after a fight and struggle. Women’s lives are full of struggle, but this one was for getting women political power. Unless women hold 50% of decision-making positions at various levels, I do not think we would be in these circumstances.

Today, while I am participating at the SDGs Conference, at the Parliament of India, a bill that has been fought for the last 27 years has been passed following Prime Minister Modi’s proposal and 554 Members of the House have accepted it. As a result, we have 33% of seats reserved in India’s parliament for women, which is going to make an impactful difference. This is a point where I would like to bring in the importance of gender-desegregated data and its impact. However, the sad news is that we have not been able to achieve even one-fifth of what we set out to achieve seven years back.

The pandemic was a big disruption for the setback in the implementation of the SDGs, but  I do not think we can blame everything that went wrong because of the pandemic. At its halfway point, the SDGs are failing because most of the countries did not muster the political will and put their resources in the place that they should have put to achieving the Global Goals. We must look at what happens when we do have the correct, accurate, scientifically generated information and data. It is not only that 70% of the countries do not know what the status of women’s gainful employment is but also, 40% of countries are not aware of land rights or land ownership of women.

I can continue commenting on how many countries reported when SDGs data was collated together. How many areas of progress have been too slow at the current rate? What will happen to women if the data comes to us? If we analyze that data, then we are looking at an estimated 300 years to end child marriage. It will take 286 years to close the gap in legal protection and remove discriminatory laws. However, this is achievable. Every country can set up a committee, or an expert board to review the laws from the gender lens and a gender perspective.

There are various laws that we inherited as we have spent 200 years as a British Colony. We continued to implement those for the past 75 years since independence. We need amendments for women to be represented equally in positions of power and leadership. India has made some steps towards achieving this; however, it took 47 years to attain equal representation in parliament. What is missing here is the political will of the nations to make progress and to get women equal opportunities. When we have the data we can tailor the strategies and be able to change that situation if we have that information available. 

In India, We had to build a whole data set from independence till now addressing the question of where women are in terms of power and decision-making. When we presented the data that we started on the eve of independence, 75 years back, only 3% were women in comparison to today`s participation rate of 14%. Where are we in terms of women getting represented, how do you call it a democracy if women are not even sitting equally to make all types of decisions? Are women only there to vote and to bring others to power? Is the role of women household work only or is it more than that? If it is more than that, then look at this data and notice what is going wrong. 

In post-pandemic so many girls have dropped out of school, especially from the lower income group communities. They started working with their mothers. So many girl children are never sent back to school because they are pushed into earning that income as it is needed for the survival of the family. They did not have enough resources to survive. In so many countries across the globe, the girl children are still in that position. On top of this situation, there is a concern for those children in terms of physical safety and sexual security. Eventually, the majority have been pushed into child marriage and thus the data is escalating about child marriage. The dropout rate has gone up, now we need to know the exact percent. 

When we started working in gender-critical districts in our country at the Center for Social Research, nobody agreed with us and denied the fact that girls have dropped out. When we looked at school rosters we asked where the girls were. Almost 20% of girls have never gone back to school and it is a very high number for a country that has decided to give the right to education as a constitutional guarantee. When you have the data, you have informed policies. On the other side, you have informed advocacy and it is extremely important for all of us who are working on different kinds of human rights themes. 

Accurate data collection is required because we have to all go back after reviewing the current concerning status of the SDGs that we have not been able to achieve more than 15%, to start working. So, we in fact need more gender-disaggregated data. Data has immense power. If the community is aware of what is happening, then there is not only sensitization and advocacy that happens, but also policymakers are enabled to design accurate policies. They are able to design correct interventions and, of course, impact assessment is extremely important. 

There is one UN initiative that oversees gender budgeting in all of our countries. India adopted this and when we do gender budgeting, then every penny spent will have to be seen from the perspective of who it is benefiting. What is the problem standing in front of us as are we not able to collect gender-disaggregated data? The first important issue is that we do not have the kind of understanding, index, or scale on which we are able to collect that data. So, many of our data collection machinery is not equipped with this working methodology. 

When we started talking about women-headed households, everybody in the government questioned the meaning of women-headed households. Our data does not show any women head households. It is only men as they are the farmers. Women are not the farmers and surprisingly 70% of agriculture is handled by women only. Whether men are working or are out of their homes and working in different cities because of migration and migrant labor, women are left behind with children to make all the decisions, from agriculture to health and education. It took years for us to convince our census data collection which happens once in 10 years and because of COVID disruption, we have not been able to do that. The data that we were supposed to compose in 2021 was accepted to be collected in an area where our numerators go and ask who is the head of the house. However, in India, women are used to saying that either their husband or any elder male member is the head of the household. They tell us that their spouse is not there, he is in Bombay or Kanpur, wherever in the country but he is the head of the household. Women do not even think if they are the main providers or they do not consider themselves as the head of the household. 

I think if women-headed households were included in our census as one of the categories for data enumeration it would be driven by the cultural social understanding of how we collect our data. Now, the other fact that is very important is resources to get extensive data collection. We are making a lot of conjectures and observational calculations. I feel that it is important to understand the kind of data collection and so many aspects of it where we need to invest in improving the data infrastructure.

My call to action is to invest in a well-functioning data infrastructure because, without that, it is only a blind game. That is why only 15% in seven years are still not even one-fifth the way. Standardization is important because data needs to be comparable. A lot of data was sent when we were collating reports in the country. They are not comparable. There must be the same standards when you are looking at the data and it has to be global, so we can get a universal picture of what is happening. Most of the low-income countries are suffering because of these issues and there is not much progress because of resource crunch, debt crisis, war, and economies have gone down after the pandemic. Additionally, we have to take responsibility for capacity building, data collection, and numerators. There is no way that we can get the right data unless they understand how to obtain it. There is a lot of good research that has been generated but there is a majority of people who are ignorant about those facts and those kinds of studies and research. 

To conclude, the urgency of increasing internationally comparable gender-disaggregated data collection cannot be overstated. It is a call to action that demands the attention of governments, organizations, and academics worldwide. By working together to close the data gap, we can take meaningful steps towards a more equitable and just world. It is time to sound the alarm and take action. Now with the availability of artificial intelligence and the technology that we have in hand, there should not be any excuse. The gender-disaggregated data will tell you that we are sitting on climate negotiations and women are missing, one or two in the corner of the table. Men create war and women suffer but we don’t have any way to play a role in stopping that war we want to. 

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