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Gender Equality and Big Data

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UN Women
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Big data has an essential and vital role to play in achieving the SDGs, including SDG 5 – “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls”. Sources such as social media trails, call data records, radio data, satellite imagery and other “digital exhaust”, both alone and combined with traditional data sources can shed light on the lives of women and girls. However, we should also be cautious of the limitations of big data. There remain concerns with its use,
including that careless interpretation of big data might lead to disproportionate representation of those who are capable of producing these trails (for example, it is possible to fail to include those who do not have access to technology, are not online or prefer not to engage). Data use also requires adequate normative frameworks, stronger implementation mechanisms for protection of privacy, including tools for mitigating risks of harms to not only individuals
but also groups of individuals. Access to big data may also be a challenge, as it may be expensive and requires technical knowledge to retrieve, handle and store. In addition, analytical skills are expensive – in some cases, the data itself might be free, but deriving insights may have high associated costs, especially for budget-constrained organizations. Bearing these concerns in mind, and with appropriate applications of big data to certain populations (for example, using radio data for offline communities), big data analytics hold huge potential for UN Women as a fast-evolving source of knowledge that can provide valuable insights about women and girls and for women and girls. The contribution in particular to helping monitor the SDGs is important, as demonstrated by the compendium of projects in this report.