Strengthening administrative data systems to close gender data gaps

Gender data, and the gender statistics derived from them, are essential for assessing how effectively we are achieving equitable outcomes for boys and girls. Not only do they help us track progress, but they also identify gaps – telling us where more work and focus are needed.  Yet, gaps in gender data, vis-à-vis availability, granularity, timeliness and adherence to international standards, compromise the ability of countries to design gender-responsive policies. At the same time, there is growing recognition that disaggregating data by sex alone is not sufficient for identifying which women and children are most vulnerable to being “left behind” due to the intersecting inequalities they face base on gender and other axes of discrimination.


With a primary focus on the core data and systems relevant to UNICEF’s mandate to “leave no child behind,” UNICEF is developing practical guidance for national statistical offices and line ministries that aims to identify the specific opportunities, challenges and value of using administrative data more effectively to improve gender-equitable development outcomes. While focused primarily on developing countries, the intent is to understand these elements across contexts and levels of system maturity; and will complement UNICEF’s work program on developing an understanding of administrative data maturity.

Our approach

UNICEF recently developed a gender data strategic framework, Every Child Counts: Using Gender Data to Drive Results for Children, which identifies the need to assess the extent to which administrative systems can both yield relevant gender data for children and satisfy growing demand for data simultaneously disaggregated by sex and other key characteristics given the increased demands placed on statistical systems to produce gender data. UNICEF is leading this work as chair of the Advisory Group on Strengthening Administrative Systems to Close Gender Data Gaps under the Inter-Agency and Expert Group on Gender Statistics (IAEG-GS).

The guidance being developed for countries is informed by: 1) the technical expertise of the IAEG-GS Advisory Group; 2) a desk review of previous work examining the suitability of sourcing gender statistics from administrative systems; 3) a short survey of all countries represented in the Advisory Group on challenges and best practices in using admin data systems for gender statistics; and 4) two country case studies reflecting varying levels of administrative data maturity, to further unpack practical issues of generating, publishing and using gender-related data from existing information systems with a range of sectoral specialists in both line ministries and statistical agencies.

Emerging themes

Although this work is still in progress, a number of key themes on barriers to sourcing gender statistics from administrative data systems are beginning to emerge, including the following:

  • There is a mis-match between SDG gender indicators and the administrative data available to monitor them.
  • Gender data needs are poorly defined or not well understood – especially within the line ministries that are the primary sources of the data.
  • Encouraging effective use of sex-disaggregated administrative data is easier when gender data needs are clearly prioritized.
  • The continued use of paper-based data collection tools in less mature administrative data systems poses a considerable barrier to sourcing gender statistics from admin data.
  • If gender-sensitive information beyond sex is needed, it is challenging to amend or include new questions in admin forms.
  • Unless specifically serving gender diverse populations, admin systems lack the ability to capture non-binary genders or trans persons.

The guidance document is currently being developed and will be posted here when available. Please check back at a later date.

Annotated resource guide

This resource guide is based on findings from a literature review conducted from July to September 2019, focusing on publicly-available peer-reviewed and grey literature addressing how administrative data systems can or have been maximized as a source of sex-disaggregated and gender-specific indicators – with a specific focus on systems most relevant to children.

Access the annotated resource guide


Case study: Ghana

This case study on administrative data systems and gender statistics is based on interviews held with staff from the Ghana Statistical Service, Ministry of Education, and Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection during December 2019. While Ghana has well-established statistical and administrative data systems, it continues to face challenges associated with primarily paper-based and decentralised systems for data capture and transmission. Ghana has a dedicated gender ministry and national policy guiding gender-related development initiatives and collects gender-relevant data across a wide range of data sources. However, the dissemination and broader use of gender statistics generated through administrative data systems remains a challenge.

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Case study: Canada

This case study on administrative data systems and gender statistics is based on interviews held with technical staff from Statistics Canada during December 2019 and January 2020. Canada has highly sophisticated statistical and administrative data systems; however, it continues to face challenges associated with decentralised systems of governance and data management. The Government of Canada has demonstrated its commitment to advancing gender equality through significant investments in key programmes, policies and initiatives. While substantial gains have been made, the Government has reflected that more work is still needed, particularly in the fields of education and skills development, economic participation, leadership, elimination of gender based violence, reduction of poverty and improved health outcomes, as well as contributing to gender equality globally.

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