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New national gender data publication makes waves in Colombia
UN Women Colombia/Juan Camilo Arias
UN Women Colombia/Juan Camilo Arias

Launched by Colombia’s Vice-President in late 2020, with strong reception from media and decision-makers, Women and Men: Gender gaps in Colombia, has quickly become a flagship publication. Co-produced by UN Women Colombia’s Women Count project, the National Administrative Department of Statistics (DANE) and the Presidential Council for Women’s Equity (CPEM), it includes a strategic selection of indicators and analysis on the current situation of Colombian women and men.


Women and Men: Gender gaps in Colombia

“We wanted to consolidate different dimensions of analysis in a single document under a gender perspective with an intersectional approach, covering afro and indigenous women, single mothers, the regions, etc.,” explains Women Count Colombia Programme Coordinator Rolando Crespo.

The publication reveals that female labour force participation reached 53.1% in 2019, well below the rate for men (73.9%). But with COVID-19, women’s participation fell to 43.9%. Although men’s participation also fell (to 66.2%), it was by fewer percentage points (7.2, versus 9 for women). Meanwhile, Colombian women are still shouldering the lion’s share of unpaid care and domestic work (8 out of 10 hours).

It also presents gender statistics disaggregated by age, location, ethnic self-identification, income and educational level, among others – to the extent that available data allow, as a first step towards a national analysis of intersecting inequalities.

Some of the more surprising gaps were that the life expectancy for a woman born in the Amazonian department of Vaupés is 15 years lower than a woman born in the city of Bogotá. Women’s economic participation rates vary, from 31.1% on average in Choco to 62.7% in Bogotá. And child marriage rates are higher among certain ethnic groups – 11% for indigenous girls, 11% for Roma girls and 8% for black or mixed afrodescendent girls (versus a national average of 6.6%).

“We included issues related to disability and ethnic self-identification, insofar as we were able to generate this disaggregation,” says Karen García Rojas, advisor and coordinator of DANE’s Differential and Intersectional Focus Group (GEDI). “It includes affirmative language and a recognition of human rights, which is essential for a transformative perspective towards equality. … it is a framing tool and an excellent starting point for more intensive use.”

García Rojas explains that the production team took advantage of a tool for free access to the 2018 Census data and points out that the support, learning and continuous feedback from UN Women were essential.

Strategic communication

As a clear show of high-level political support, Colombian Vice-President Martha Lucía Ramírez opened the launch event in November 2020 and promoted the publication’s use to guide local and national policy and decision-making. It garnered strong media coverage (47 articles so far) as a result of a concerted communications strategy that involved the national newspaper El Espectador. Crespo says the data continue to be published by media and academia.

A month after its release, the publication had collectively achieved 87,300 queries or downloads on UN Women and partners’ websites. In addition, DANE committed to produce it every two years, citing its significant contribution to revealing gender gaps and informing new national policies through statistical evidence with an intersectional approach.

Influencing policies

“The publication’s recommendations on how to accelerate the closing of gender gaps served as feedback to other government entities, which are now repeating them and requesting more intersectional analyses,” says Crespo.

He adds that the 2020 publication is one of the main data sources for Colombia’s new National Gender Policy, which is currently still being drafted and may not be finalized until 2022.

The findings have also informed reporting on progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. The 2021 Voluntary National Review, an intergovernmental reporting mechanism, increased its mentions of gender data to 68, up from 10 in 2018.

Regional gender observatories in the departments of Antioquia, Nariño, Cauca and Meta have since launched their own localized versions of the publication to inform policymaking in their regions, with support from the Women Count programme. These publications are also planned to be produced every two years.

“Through our advocacy strategy, we saw a demand for a departmental focus and analysis,” explains Crespo. He adds that Medellín (capital of Antioquia) and San Juan de Pasto (capital of Nariño) successfully used their localized data to position themselves for selection as pilot cities for the first departmental care systems being developed under the framework of Colombia’s new National Care Policy. He says these data have also helped women’s organizations in their efforts to influence policy.

García Rojas adds that some data have been integrated into course texts, and the publication’s production helped DANE identify key data gaps. She highlights land ownership by sex, an indicator they requested from various entities that couldn’t produce it because they didn’t use the ‘sex’ variable. Then the GEDI began to analyse administrative data, cross-referencing it with the cadastre, and in July 2022, they will be able to present the first data on property disaggregated by sex, which was missing in the book.

She says they have also been able to disaggregate data on poverty by sex and other characteristics for the first time, which have helped shape subsidy policies during the pandemic, and drive legislative initiatives.

According to Crespo, the publication’s use is encouraging: “More territorial and gender entities are asking for these analyses and they are already asking when the next update is coming. We’re hoping to see this interest permeate institutions so that they continue to produce data and detonate public policies.”

This publication’s success is lauded in UN Women’s new Counted and Visible Toolkit, on the production of statistics with an intersectional gender approach.

Written By:
Jen Ross
Jen Ross

Jen Ross is a Chilean-Canadian journalist with more than 20 years of experience, including 10 on staff with the UN (ECLAC, OHCHR and UN Women). She is now based in Aruba, where she has written her first works of fiction, lectures at the University of Aruba, and consults as a writer, editor and translator for UN Women and other clients.

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