Gender, Data and High-Risk Environments

Publication Date: 
5 Dec 2017

News Type:

By Dr. Gabrielle Bardall, IFES Senior Gender Specialist

Collecting reliable data on state and political processes in insecure environments is a necessary first step to understanding and ultimately reducing violence. Gender shapes the data we collect, the ways it is collected and ultimately, the findings we produce and the solutions we pursue.

There are multiple challenges to collecting data on political and electoral processes in conflict-affected states and similar high-risk environments. For example, electoral management bodies, security providers and community peace activists often want to document the existence of electoral violence around elections, in order to identify hotspots and deploy preventive measures. However, seemingly simple choices in the ways investigators define basic terms, code violent incidents into databases, establish methodology for verifying incidents or handle the data of complex violent events can completely transform findings. Add gender to this mix, and the outcomes become even more challenging to control for.

Gender impacts every step of the process of defining, collecting, verifying and reporting political process data in high-risk environments. Verification sources vary significantly according to the sex of actors involved in election violence, for example. One study found that violent incidents affecting men are up to 13 times more frequently reported in media, nine times more in hospital reports and nearly doubly as often in police reports, compared to incidents involving women, which were much more often documented through community sources and observers (Bardall 2011).

Gender also impacts the humans that collect data – even with strict methodological controls, the values, attitudes and social perspectives of data gatherers can reflect into the data being collected and transform it. The sex of a data gatherer can impact their ability to access information in some contexts, whether due to security limitations or cultural norms on disclosing sensitive information to the opposite sex. Ensuring the personal security of data gatherers can have an impact on their ability and willingness to collect quality data, and affect outcomes.

Likewise, data methods define the relative weight and importance given to gendered forms of violence. For example, is an act of rape weighted equally in a database as an armed attack? A homicide? Are data researchers trained to document political violence that takes place online or in domestic spaces, as well as in more traditional locales? Finally, and most importantly, gender colors the very definitions of violence and political life. Understanding the gendered nature of violence has pushed definitions outward from physical assault to encompass intimidation and sexual violence, as well as economic violence and, some argue, for still broader conceptualizations such as symbolic forms of violence (Krook 2017).

Gender is also a factor to consider in the ways we disaggregate data that is already being collected. Disaggregating data by sex can help in planning and policy development, assist in post-electoral analysis, establish baselines and help monitor progress. Various forms of electoral data are useful to disaggregate by sex, including voter registration data, turnout and candidate information. Internal information about gender inclusiveness within the electoral management body can help identify better ways of serving public clientele. Finally, sex-disaggregation of electoral disputes complaints and litigation can also improve understanding of equality in access to justice.

Earlier this November, IFES Senior Gender Specialist and CIPS Research Fellow Dr. Gabrielle Bardall spoke about some of these challenges at the “Gender Equality in Public Institutions: Monitoring Global Progress” workshop hosted by the University of Pittsburgh’s Global Studies Center and the United Nations Development Programme’s Governance and Peacebuilding Cluster.

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