Power of Data for Inspired Leadership

World Population Day 2024 presents an opportunity for Pakistan to reflect on who and what remains uncounted and why.

Recently, I met with all four honorable Chief Ministers in Pakistan to discuss the population agenda and family planning matters. We engaged in candid and direct conversations about the urgent need for a championing leadership to make a breakthrough toward positive change. Two shared takeaways emerged during the discussions; on the one hand, there is a recognized urgency to align population growth with available resources, and willingness to take the lead. However, on the other hand, the capability of the public machinery to enact the vision of CMs is hindered by various bureaucratic complications and a lack of sound scientific foundation for assessment exacerbated by a lack of access to timely disaggregated necessary statistical data.

To bridge this gap between visionary leadership at the senior level and practical implementation, especially at the sub-national levels, the availability of reliable, complete, and comprehensive data is essential. Effective leadership in addressing population issues hinges on a foundation of accurate, disaggregated, and timely information. Without such data, the ambitious visions of leadership are hindered by insufficient or inaccurate information and lack of evidence-based knowledge which undermines informed decision-making and strategic planning. Data is the unsung hero propelling progress. While the senior leadership across the country broadly agrees on the ‘what’ part of the problems and challenges around population, women, and youth agenda, there is a significant divergence in the interpretation of the root causes and the ‘how’ part of possible solutions. This divergence stems from the inadequacy of timely and disaggregated data which hampers the analysis that builds common ground for diagnosis and potential future scenarios.

This situation in Pakistan resonates with the global theme of this year’s World Population Day (WPD) on July 11 - to embrace the power of inclusive data towards a resilient and equitable future for all. Data is a duty for the government to collect, analyze, and disseminate, a right for people to access, a prerequisite for sound planning, an instrumental tool for monitoring, and a catalyst for meaningful debate on critical socioeconomic and political issues. In her statement marking the WPD, the Executive Director of UNFPA said that for humanity to progress, people must be counted, wherever they are and whoever they are – in all their diversity. To end inequality, to find and grow peace and prosperity, and to weave more threads of hope, the world needs to do more for inclusion. Those who go uncounted are made invisible and, as a result, left unserved. This is particularly true for many elderly women and young girls in Pakistan, especially in remote areas. Invisibility extends beyond people, to the issues that profoundly impact the lives they lead. For instance, the absence of a gender-responsive data system results in decision-making that is gender-blind, and consequently, the interventions are less effective, and the intended outcomes cannot be reached.

Ensuring gender-sensitive data is crucial for progress. While the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) inspired significant progress in women’s access to reproductive care, reductions in maternal deaths, and strides towards gender equality, there remains a substantial journey ahead. A recent OECD report reveals that less than 44% of working-age women participate in the paid workforce across Asia and the Pacific. Women dedicate at least 4 times more time than men to unpaid care and domestic work and are more likely to be employed in informal or vulnerable jobs that offer fewer rights and lower wages. Additionally, violence against women and girls remains a troubling reality in the region experiencing the highest number of femicides by intimate partners or family members. Conflict, natural disasters, economic instability, and the emerging impacts of climate change further exacerbate these setbacks in achieving gender equality.

World Population Day 2024 presents an opportunity for Pakistan to reflect on who and what remains uncounted and why. It is a moment to assess issues and disaggregation levels still missing from official statistics – and to consider the costs – both to individuals and society, to leave no one behind. Let us offer Pakistan - its provinces, communities, policymakers, and data producers - the opportunity to introspect whether they ask the right questions, is the data collection is safe for all people, and who is still uncounted and unaccounted for. This examination may shape the conversation around what the data systems in Pakistan should look like, and how the national statistical system should function for a brighter future for all Pakistanis.

Data collection and analysis tools in Pakistan, especially in the provinces, are in urgent need of improvement to help achieve the vision of the Chief Ministers (CMs) and senior leadership. Leadership involved in data management and dissemination is often hesitant to bold shifts due to concerns around exposing information gaps and potential risks, including the misrepresentation or misuse of data, however, the cost of keeping data inaccessible is much higher. Prioritizing investments in population data systems, ensuring data collection is safe, and guaranteeing the quality and accessibility for use, are essential for informing and driving the desired positive change. New and innovative data tools can illuminate previously invisible issues and paint the full picture of people’s experiences and needs.

UNFPA analysis highlights a compelling return on investment in data systems suggesting that every dollar invested yields $32 in economic benefits. To fully harness the transformative potential of population data, the United Nations suggests a significant increase in domestic funding for data and statistics- by 50 percent by 2030. The UN also urges the donors to raise the share of official development assistance for data to at least 0.7 percent by 2030. Pakistan stands to gain by prioritizing the improvements in the data systems and quality. It is crucial to ensure that the statistical experts ask the right questions and that the data is gender-responsive, timely, and accessible to all. Statistical systems should serve as the frontline reconnaissance soldier who explores the challenges and opportunities; not the historian who documents what already took place. It is a moment for leadership towards reforms for a better future.

Dr. Luay Shabaneh
The writer is a UNFPA representative.

The writer is the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Represent-ative in Pakistan.

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