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Sexual Violence: the UN gets serious about data collection

About the author
Kristen Cordell is a former Analyst for the RAND Corporation in Washington DC, where she specialized in Gender and Nation Building. She currently works as a consultant on Sexual Violence and Security Sector Reform for MONUC in Kinshasa.

One of my main frustrations with the UN system has been the lack of reliable data collection and analysis on gender. Research and analysis is key to promoting women’s rights- they are the foundation of quality advocacy and efforts- providing justification for funding, measuring impact and directing programming.

There are a couple primary challenges to strong data and analysis at the UN. First of all, the number of coordinating agencies means that any data collection and assessment processes prompt turf wars and information ownership issues. Such divisions exist within (for example between the mission level offices and those at headquarters) as well as between agencies (in the example of UN-INSTRAW, UNIFEM, and DAW.)

These are big challenges- but a number of small steps are being taken towards improvement- a few of which are being highlighted by the CSW. Regarding data collection, the DAW held a real time launch of UN Database on Sexual Violence, the culmination of a two-year project to systematically collect ad report member state information on Sexual violence. The database is made up of information on member state programming on sexual violence- including prevention, protection and response. It’s a strong venture, but will be completely dependent on the willingness of member states to report credible and useful information. Another advancement worth mentioning is UNIFEM’s report on the Progress of the World’s Women, which in 2008/2009 considered the subject: “Who Answers to Women: Gender and Accountability.” The report launched at CSW and is a highly empirical, precise document.

Improving and institutionalizing data collection and analysis should continue to be the goal of the UN Gender collective; it advances not only the UN’s mission but the larger mission of making the case for women’s equality around the world. To achieve this goal the UN should engage in more proactive partnerships to advance their research capacities. An excellent example of this occurred in the partnership with the Inter Parliamentary Union, which this week pioneered very forward thinking research on women and political participation. My second is for the NGO, academic and donor communities to continue to demand better data and analysis from the UN. If achieved, these goals will prioritize the issue of research during a crucial time in the reshaping of the UN’s gender apparatus.

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