Chapter 3.6: Gender Statistics


While improving and modernizing how statistics are produced leads to gains in efficiency, quality and timeliness, the relevance of statistical organizations is still ultimately a function of their capacity to measure adequately economic and social phenomena for the purpose of informing policy makers and the general public.

To improve the availability of policy-informing statistics, statistical organizations typically must

  • understand users' needs and translate these needs into measurable statistical concepts
  • consult and engage with data providers, policy makers and stakeholders
  • develop the subject-matter knowledge and capacity to produce statistical outputs consistent with users' needs
  • assess the adequacy of data available to study the phenomena, and identify the data gaps
  • establish the right methodology to collect the missing information and put in place the right governance to support this methodology
  • make data and analytical outputs accessible to users.

This chapter uses the example of gender statistics programs to illustrate how national statistical offices (NSOs) can use this approach to better meet policy makers' needs.

Strategies, mechanisms and tools

1. Understanding users' needs and translating them into measurable statistical concepts

When the need for new or improved statistics has been identified, statistical organizations should typically engage users to identify their detailed statistics requirements, propose high-level solution options, and prepare business cases to meet these needs. In this phase, the organization

  • identifies the need for the statistics in question
  • confirms, in more detail, the statistics needs of stakeholders
  • establishes the high-level objectives of the statistical outputs
  • identifies the relevant concepts and variables for which data are required.

The need for gender statistics is driven by major policy issues. In Canada, gender equality is a guaranteed right under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Canadian Human Rights Act. In addition, since 1995, all federal departments and agencies have been required to implement gender-based analysis (GBA), including GBA frameworks, and to include GBA in all Treasury Board submissions and Memoranda to Cabinet. Finally, in 2010, the federal government developed the Departmental Action Plan on Gender-based Analysis, which provides the structure for federal departments and agencies to create a gender-based analysis framework and to apply gender-based practice in their service delivery.

Topics of interest to understand and address gender inequalities include the following:

  • Labour force participation, workplace decision-making, and entrepreneurial opportunities
  • Income, unpaid work, and paid work/family balance
  • Access to assets, education, and health services
  • Gender-based attitudes and violence
  • Social exclusion and treatment of minority groups

There must be differentiation between the concept of gender and the simple measure of phenomena by sex. The starting point in such an analysis is to make the distinction between two terms: "sex" and "gender." "Sex" is a reference to the relatively fixed biological and physiological characteristics that define men and women. "Gender" is a reference to the socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women, respectively.

Sex-disaggregated data are needed to show the differences between women and men in a given society. Data must be disaggregated by sex to allow for analysis of gender issues. However, this alone is not sufficient for gender analysis. In this sense, gender statistics are much more than the simple disaggregation of data by sex: they also require policy-oriented approaches that will help identify the information required to inform and understand the problems.Endnote 1 Gender-based analysis can help tailor policies, programs, initiatives and services for the purpose of responding to the differing realities of women and men, and can help advance the evaluation of existing legislation and initiatives.

Gender statistics is not a discrete or isolated field. This field relates to all fields of statistics, cutting across traditional fields to identify, produce and disseminate statistics that reflect the realities of the lives of women and men. It is crucial to recognize that gender intersects with other identity factors, such as age, education, language, geography, culture and income. For full gender sensitivity, statistics must respect all the key gender issues in the country, and cover issues, such as maternal mortality or prostate disorders, which might affect only one sex.

2. Consulting and engaging data providers, policy makers and stakeholders

Engagement and consultations with data providers, policy makers and other stakeholders will increase the availability, relevance and quality of the information being produced. For example, in the context of gender statistics, data producers should interact more closely with data providers and users to allow improvements in the following areas:

  • Identification of known and possible gender issues in society and the resulting need for greater knowledge and understanding
  • Production of gender statistics with emphasis on determinants of outcomes
  • Marketing and dissemination of gender statistics.
  • Gender and policy analysis
  • Use of gender analysis for policy actions
  • Identification of data gaps and of instruments (concepts, questions, etc.) to help fill those gaps.

The experience of Statistics Canada's first Violence Against Women Survey (VAWS) (see box 3.6.1) also taught the organization that projects in this area require developing or enhancing customized and innovative solutions and that heretofore unmet or new data needs should be supported by experts—to rapidly develop the subject-matter knowledge and adopt the right strategies for responding to critics.

3. Developing the subject-matter knowledge and capacity to produce statistical outputs relevant to users' needs

Strategies to develop and enhance specific subject-matter knowledge and statistical capacity within an NSO include targeted recruitment, informal and formal training, in-depth literature review, consultations with external experts, and participation in working groups.

Because gender statistics is a cross-cutting theme, experience has shown that it is important to focus on awareness, sensitivity and training. Gender-based analysis training throughout the organization can be more effective than establishing bureaucratic checkpoints or vetting offices.

Awareness and sensitivity campaigns need to put emphasis on departmental and individual responsibilities and accountabilities with respect to gender. Such campaigns foster understanding of, and support for, gender-based analysis, and are therefore very valuable.

Training areas could be related to specific functions (i.e., for policy development, research, evaluation, communications, consultations, program delivery); other training deemed important through a needs assessment could also be provided. Networking and sharing knowledge can also be seen as important informal training opportunities. At the international level, for example, Statistics Canada participates in international working groups and conferences, including the Interagency Expert Group on Gender Statistics, to share information and network.

In Canada, the federal government has developed an online gender-based analysis and training tool available to all federal public servants, as well as those outside the federal service.Endnote 2 As part of the training tools provided by the government, the Gender-based Analysis Plus (GBA+) is an analytical tool that the federal government uses to advance gender equality in Canada. The "plus" in the name highlights that gender-based analysis goes beyond gender, and includes the examination of a range of other intersecting identity factors (such as age, education, Aboriginal person, member of a visible minority, language, geography, culture and income). This tool is used to assess the potential effects of policies, programs or initiatives on diverse groups of women and men, girls and boys, taking into account gender and other identity factors. GBA+ helps recognize and respond to the different situations and needs of the Canadian population.

4. Assessing the adequacy of data available to study the phenomena and identify the data gaps

Once users' needs are defined and statistical organizations understand what should be measured, the next step is to check the extent to which current data sources can meet these needs and, if necessary, to prepare the business case (i.e., to produce the statistics) for approvals. This requires not only an assessment of the data included in several sources, but also the condition under which they were produced, to ensure that they comply with minimum standards of quality.

Data in support of gender-based analysis come from several sources, including, but not limited to, census, administrative data and surveys. Different types of data have different strengths and weaknesses. The main challenge of using administrative data for gender-based analysis relates to the reliability of existing databases—data are often pulled from existing administrative databases, which may or may not capture information on sex.  If they do, the data are not contextualized in a manner that permits analysis of outcome determinants from a gender perspective. For example, in Canada, for justice statistics, the sex of the offender is collected while the sex of the victim is not. This information gap limits the gender-based analysis on victimization.

On the other hand, survey or population-based data often exclude certain population groups in Canada as a result of

  • language barriers experienced by immigrants, especially new immigrants, when surveys are conducted in English or French; and;
  • the exclusion of institutionalized populations – homeless persons, persons in shelters, persons in prisons, and persons in long-term care facilities.

Integrating different data sources through record linkage can strengthen gender-based analysis and address information gaps; however, doing so requires some advanced technical capacity and reliable matching variables.

Addressing the data gaps through the introduction of a new survey or the redesign of an existing one does not come without a cost. However, in some cases, this is the only option for analyzing phenomena that are otherwise not measured, as the experience of Statistics Canada's VAWS showed (see box 3.1).

5. Establishing the right methodology to collect the missing information and the right governance to support this methodology

When NSOs are trying to measure new social or economic phenomena, a literature review of the available statistical frameworks recognized internationally should be one of the first steps to consider, in order to determine the right methodology to conceptualize, collect and analyze the information. These frameworks not only usually provide a certain assurance of international comparability but also can greatly contribute to improving the quality of the data being produced (see Chapter 1.3: Following international standards).

The process of producing gender statistics is similar to that for other fields of statistics. This process typically involves a number of key steps included in the Generic Statistical Business Process Model that integrate a gender perspective.Endnote 3 The following steps are specific activities that help improve the overall availability and quality of gender statistics:

  • Selection of topics that need to be investigated, and identification of the data needed to understand gender differentials and women's and men's roles and contributions in various spheres of life;
  • Evaluation of existing concepts, definitions, and methods for producing unbiased gender-relevant information;
  • Methodology and production techniques that take into account stereotypes and social and cultural factors that might produce gender-based biases;
  • Choice of appropriate unit of enumeration about which to collect information and appropriate survey design, such as the definition of a sampling plan and sample size. That is best achieved by first having a clear idea of the types of analysis that the data must support. In that sense, establishing in advance a broad analytical framework that will combine sex-disaggregated with qualitative policy-relevant questions is recommended;
  • Development of the appropriate data collection instruments, approaches and mechanisms, given the sensitivity of the subject matter (e.g., sensitivity training, sex of interviewers), that will also ensure a standard approach in data collection and avoid sources of gender bias;
  • Processing of data using practices that will deliver reliable results; and
  • Regular analysis and presentation of sex-disaggregated statistics in easy-to-use formats; dissemination of gender-sensitive statistical products to a wide range of users, including policy makers and planners; development of analyses and presentation of data that can reach policy makers and the largest audience possible.

The governance structure overseeing the development, production and dissemination of new or improved statistical outputs or programs must also be conducive to favorable change. For example, given the cross-cutting nature of gender statistics, there are different options for an NSO to consider when establishing its governance structure.

The creation of a gender focal point or centre of expertise within an organization is ideal to champion the integration of gender statistics in every subject-matter division. This gender focal point may be located within a specific organizational unit (e.g., a division), or this may involve reporting directly to the Chief Statistician. The organizational positioning within the NSO, however, is less important than the real ability to influence the entire organization.

Statistics Canada aims to incorporate consideration of gender issues into the operations of each subject-matter division by developing gender-sensitivity awareness and expertise. In the overall organization, there is no formal unit specifically dedicated to gender statistics, but there is a focal point included under the Social and Aboriginal Statistics Division. This focal point is responsible for producing gender-based analytical reports and for compiling the Women in Canada compendium publication, a collection of gender-based analysis articles published every five years. This collection requires subject-matter contributions from all across the organization to highlight the improvements in the area of, and the challenges to, gender equality.Endnote 4

6. Make data and analytical outputs accessible to users

As shown in section 4 of this chapter, there are various ways to make statistical outputs available to users (e.g., official dissemination, use of various communication channels, and use of microdata access facilities). NSOs must ensure that users are acquainted with the type of information available to them and know how to access this information. The participation of NSOs in various networks, including networks of experts, academics and policy makers, can help further disseminate what is available, and can contribute to NSOs taking full advantage of the data holdings.

Statistics Canada's gender statistics program, for example, includes a broad range of sex-disaggregated tabulations, regular gender-based reports and analytical papers, and a vast collection of microdata files available to the public. Over time, the organization has participated in various task forces and working groups to share knowledge, experience and information. From time to time, Statistics Canada's work with some of these groups has led to a publication; e.g., Finding data on women: a Guide to major sources at Statistics Canada.Endnote 5 This document, produced by Statistics Canada for Status of Women Canada, gives policy analysts, women's groups, organizations, researchers and other data users a comprehensive overview of the scope and diversity of data available on Canadian women and men, as well as an indication of the ways in which these data can be used. It has certainly contributed to increasing the use of Statistics Canada's data in gender-based policy research.

Key success factors

Key success factors to improving statistical programs, in general, are usually program-specific. First, to enhance gender-statistics programs, it is important to use the appropriate tools and mechanisms throughout the entire statistical process and to consider the gender perspective for each aspect of the statistical process. Second, continuous engagement with stakeholders and potential critics, throughout this process, is crucial to ensuring the utility and relevance of the data being produced and the subsequent buy-in. Third, awareness and training of employees with respect to the gender perspective is key to ensuring strategic implementation.

Finally, at Statistics Canada, the most efficient way is to address gender statistics from a systemic and integrated perspective. A gender focal point, wherever located in the structure, ensures organization-wide consideration of gender issues, and could include the following elements:

  • acquisition or development of gender-focused expertise and capacity
  • ongoing training and strong lines of communication
  • engagement, on specific gender issues, with policy makers, academic researchers, data-providers, and other stakeholders.

Challenges and looking ahead

In their quest to continuously improve their statistical programs, NSOs faced various challenges (limited resources and statistical capacities, political buy-in, competing priorities, etc.). For gender statistics in particular, it can be difficult to ensure the following:

  • Attract, retain and maintain expertise in the domain;
  • Secure funds for ongoing gender statistics training and gender-sensitive programming; training should be considered agency-wide
    • Design gender-sensitive surveys and programs;
    • Commit to gender equity from decision-makers;
    • Receive support from government, civil society and donors.

NSOs must develop strategies to overcome these challenges. For gender statistics, the time for advocacy might be at the time of the release of the new sustainable development goals (SDG), in particular the SDG#5, which is to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.Endnote 6

Box 3.6.1: Conducting the first survey on violence against women – The Canadian experience, 1993

Violence against women is a persistent and ongoing problem in Canada and around the world. It affects women's social and economic equality, physical and mental health, well-being, and economic security. Unfortunately, although acts of violence are subject to legal prosecutions, they are often under-reported and, therefore, cannot be properly measured and analyzed by means of police and justice administrative records.

As decision-makers require a clear understanding of the nature and severity of social problems to develop effective responses, Health Canada gave Statistics Canada the mandate to conduct its first Violence Against Women Survey (VAWS), in 1993.

Challenges in conducting a VAWS for the first time and strategies employed to overcome them

Conducting a VAWS for the first time brought a series of challenges. At that time, subject-matter experts did not have comprehensive information on the types of crimes to which women were particularly vulnerable. To collect this information, the experts had to choose from various definitions of the concept of violence and establish, in advance, an analytical framework that would produce policy-relevant "information," not just numbers. To achieve this, Statistics Canada established early on a transparent consultations process with stakeholders, gender academic experts, and potential critics to ensure the utility and relevance of the data. In particular, these consultations highlighted the importance of using recognized definitions for measuring the violence phenomena, such as the ones included in the Criminal Code of Canada.

In addition, given the nature of the survey, special considerations had to be taken into account (1) to gain respondents' trust in order to avoid response bias, (2) to ensure the protection of respondents' safety, and (3) to deal with potential respondents' emotional trauma. In this regard, Statistics Canada adopted collection approaches and mechanisms that were appropriate to the sensitivity of the subject matter. For example, the survey took place by phone, and only female interviewers conducted the interviews. Interviewers were sensitized to understanding and recognizing the signs of emotional distress or risk to respondents' safety. They were provided with various tools to probe respondents on the potential security risks of conducting an interview over the phone, (their conversation might be overheard), and on the need to find an alternative way of collecting personal information. Interviewers were also provided with a list of shelters and services for abused women to assist respondents who asked for help. Interviewers also received support from a psychologist during the data collection period to cope with some difficult situations.

Another challenge when dealing with a sensitive subject is to anticipate the reactions to, and criticism of, the survey results. To avoid being accused of sensationalism or exaggeration, the prevalence of a phenomenon must be supported by a strong communication strategy. Statistics Canada learned from this survey that establishing a steering committee early on in the process—to advise the organization on ways to respond to the critics in innovative statistical fields—was very valuable, since it could be too much for survey managers to handle.

VAWS results and lessons learned

In total, 12,300 women were interviewed during the VAWS. Survey results showed that

  • 50% of Canadian women had experienced at one incidence of physical or sexual violence since the age of 16
  • 29% of women had been in a relationship where they had experienced violence from their intimate partner
  • 3% of women were victims of spousal violence annually.

More importantly, one of the main findings of the survey was that 25% of the respondents, who declared that they had been a victim of violence, used the survey to report this for the first time, an outcome that highlighted the prevalence of unreported violence when using administrative records only.

These results considerably enhanced public awareness of this social problem. Detailed data on prevalence, correlation with risk markers, impacts, reporting to police, and use of social services were produced and shared with practitioners, service providers, researchers, and lawmakers.

The VAWS experience however highlighted the need for the following:

  • Permanent expertise in and advocacy for gender equity within the NSO; that is, NSOs must find ways to attract, recruit and retain expertise.
  • Gender statistics training and gender-sensitive programming, incorporating gender analysis and gender-sensitive survey and program design.
  • A more complete picture of the difference between the violence experienced by men and women, as well as by subpopulation groups such as youth, Aboriginal people, members of a visible minority, and people with disabilities.

To address the latter, a module on victimization was added to the Statistics Canada's general social survey, which is carried out every five years, and targets both women and men over 15 years of age. This more inclusive approach allows analysts to better understand the difference between the nature and the impact of violence experienced by women and by men, as well as population subgroups.Endnote 7


Endnote 1

United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, 2010.

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Endnote 2

For more information about the federal gender-based analysis framework, visit the Status of Women Canada website.

Return to endnote 2 referrer

Endnote 3

United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, 2010.

Return to endnote 3 referrer

Endnote 4

Statistics Canada, 2012.

Return to endnote 4 referrer

Endnote 5

Statistics Canada, 2007.

Return to endnote 5 referrer

Endnote 6

United Nations, 2015.

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Endnote 7

Statistics Canada, 2013.

Return to endnote 7 referrer


Statistics Canada (2007). Finding Data on Women: A Guide to Major Sources at Statistics Canada. Consulted on the 11th of March 2016 and retrieved from

Statistics Canada (2012). Women in Canada: A Gender-based Statistical Report. Consulted on the 11th of March 2016 and retrieved from

Statistics Canada (2013). Juristat – Measuring violence against women: Statistical trends. Consulted on the 11th of March 2016 and retrieved from

United Nations (2015). Transforming Our World – The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Consulted on the 11th of March 2016 and retrieved from

United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) (2010). Developing Gender Statistics: A practical tool. Reference manual prepared by the UNECE Task Force on Gender Statistics Training. Geneva. Consulted on the 11th of March 2016 and retrieved from

World Health Organization (2015). Gender, equity and human rights. Consulted on the 11th of March 2016 and retrieved from

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