Whose needs did we meet? Disaggregating humanitarian data
Whose needs are being met in humanitarian action? Should be simple to answer, but in reality we just don’t know. Why don’t we know? The short answer: humanitarian actors are primarily output-focused people. How many latrines were built? Shelters constructed? Patients seen at a health clinic? These are our main success indicators. While we collectively move to try and measure the impact of our humanitarian action, we must also answer the question: whose needs did we meet? This requires the collection, analysis and use of sex and age disaggregated data (SADD) so we can say whose needs were met, and who fell through the cracks.
I am constantly mystified by an absolute unwillingness to collect SADD. “It’s too hard,” people say. It makes me upset but also angry because without the collection of SADD we cannot know the impact of our efforts in meeting the needs of the people affected by crises. A recent study – Sex and age matter by the Feinstein International Center and Tufts University – supported by OCHA and CARE, gives several powerful examples of how gathering this data early can make a real difference (Mazurana et al, 2011).
The collection and analysis of SADD is key to gender analyses and gender-sensitive humanitarian programming and, therefore, to measuring the effectiveness of humanitarian response. A lack of SADD makes it more difficult to understand people’s differentiated needs and hampers the ability of aid workers to monitor the impact of assistance. If, for example, a health centre simply reports seeing 10,000 clients a month, humanitarian responders cannot tell whether there are more women than men accessing its services, or whether there are issues to be resolved around men’s or women’s access to health care. Similarly, if a school simply says it has 20,000 students, it will be unclear whether there are more boys than girls attending that school, or if more girls than boys are dropping out and at what stage. That makes it much more difficult to address emerging gaps and to tailor services to address them.
Without SADD, humanitarian organisations will be unclear about the effectiveness and, accordingly, the appropriateness of their assistance. In DRC, in 2011, for example, data on malnourished children was initially not broken down by girls and boys. A Gender Adviser urged a closer look. The new analysis showed that more boys than girls were malnourished, but more girls than boys were coming to supplemental feeding centres. Aid agencies working in the nutrition sector were surprised at this finding and plan to revise their plans accordingly. To design gender-sensitive projects and to deliver humanitarian relief effectively, aid workers need to understand how needs differ by sex and age and more emphasis will be required to build skills and hold actors accountable on not only generating such data but using it to inform programming approaches and measuring their failures and successes.
Examples abound on the lack of data disaggregated by sex and age. I recently read the latest ALNAP State of the Humanitarian System Report and was drawn to page 48. Initially excited to see data from aid recipients regarding their opinions on the services provided and the degree to which they were consulted. The results are bleak – in many cases more than 60% of people affected by the crisis were not consulted. But the data is not disaggregated be sex so we have no idea if both men and women were asked these questions.
My gut tells me that if this data were disaggregated that we would see a very different picture. Women are usually not included in assessments of needs and therefore their opinions are not registered. It would be great to hear from people on the ground about their challenges in collecting and using sex and age disaggregated data and examples of when they did use it - how that changed the way they delivered services.
It is our responsibility to meet everyone’s needs. The only way to be sure is to collect, analyse and use sex and age disaggregated data – if not we are left in the dark about the effectiveness and impact of our efforts.
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