Gender equality and big data: Making gender data visible

The report from UN Women, with support from UN Global Pulse, outlines the value of big data for monitoring the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in relation to women.

It presents the benefits of big data (for example, real-time data), risks (for example, elite capture and privacy), and policy implications (for example, how it can be incorporated in project cycles from planning to evaluation). It ends with a compendium of gender-related big data projects and their relevance to the SDGs.

The information provided was supplied by Alice Macfarlan (BetterEvaluation). 

Authors and their affiliation

Claudia Abreu Lopes and Savita Bailur

The report was developed by UN Women Innovation Facility with support from UN Global Pulse

Key features

This report provides background context on how big data can be used to facilitate and assess progress towards the SDGs, and focuses in particular on SDG 5 – “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls”.

It examines successes and challenges in the use of big data to improve the lives of women and girls, and identifies concrete data innovation projects from across the development sector that have considered the gender dimension.

The report draws on a literature review focused on big data and gender, interviews with staff at UN Women and UN Global Pulse, interviews with individuals and organizations working in the field of big data (LIRNEAsia, IDRC, World Wide Web Foundation, and the University of Southern California), and answers to a short questionnaire posed to six UN Women country offices.

How have you used or intend on using this resource?

I found this resource useful in gaining a deeper understanding of the gender-related issues of using big data in practice, such the risk of skewed samples due to gaps in women's access to ICTs and other technologies that generate data, and the need to understand how social norms and political realities may affect how women interect online in order to effectively interpret results. There's also a useful discussion about risks to the data subject, at both the individual and group level, that can arise from using big data.

Why would you recommend it to other people?

A few months on from the implementation of the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the security and use of data is rightly getting a lot of attention. I think this paper complements these important discussions about data security and privacy by focusing on both the benefits and uses of data in meeting the SDGs, as well as the risks of not using, protecting or interpreting data correctly.


Lopes, C. A. and Bailur, S. (2018). Gender equality and big data: Making gender data visible. UN Women Innovation Facility. Retrieved from