World census needs more info on women

The U.N. says that to improve women's quality of life worldwide, we need better census data.

Published January 20, 2006 2:00PM (EST)

One surprising impediment to assessing women's equality worldwide is incomplete census data, according to a U.N. report released on Wednesday. Civil and international wars have made it difficult for many countries, including Afghanistan, Angola, Lebanon and Sudan, to collect any census data at all. And many developing nations that do collect census data don't keep track of births or deaths by gender -- meaning that it's hard to know how many women are living in China, in India or in 41 of the 55 countries in Africa.

Reliable economic data can be even harder to come by -- according to the U.N. report, titled "The World's Women 2005, Progress in Statistics," less than a quarter of the countries that reported data on their residents' wages broke down that information by gender. Without this information, it's tough to assess trends in women's employment, work schedules and wages.

Not having this information may make it harder for aid groups and for the countries themselves to determine their populations' needs and plan effective social programs.

"The whole goal of the improvement of the quality of life worldwide is dependent on knowing the situation of women, men, the elderly, infants," U.N. chief of demographics and social statistics Mary Chamie told Reuters. "We need it for questions on globalization, for questions on trade, on understanding of economic production, education ... getting vaccinated and for that matter, reproduction."

By Page Rockwell

Page Rockwell is Salon's editorial project manager.

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