Women’s labour and the gendered politics of data-driven development

Authors: Tara Cookson*, University of British Columbia
Topics: Development, Gender
Keywords: gender equality; data; sustainable development; measurement; labour
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:45 PM
Room: Maryland A, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


At the 2018 United Nations World Data Forum, data was described as “the new oil,” a resource to extract for wealth production in the current Fourth Industrial Revolution. Within this context, authoritative international development institutions suggest that progress Sustainable Development Goal 5 (Gender Equality) and on (capitalist) economic development more broadly depends upon closing the “gender data gap,” by which they mean that we know less about women’s lives than men’s, through collection of sex-disaggregated data. Feminist studies has roundly critiqued development’s corporate “measurement obsession” for depoliticizing inequality and reducing complex problems to a mere issue of counting (Buss 2015; Merry 2018). This debate has critical spatial dimensions, among these that availability of the “right” kind of data will drive development financing flows. Moreover, “data-driven development” is not only shaped by data availability, but also the (gendered) ascription of value: what is worth measuring? Whose experiences constitute “data”? Building on ethnographic research that revealed how a narrow focus on a handful of quantitative metrics obscured women’s unpaid labour in the World Bank’s “model” development program (Cookson 2016; 2018), this paper explores the politics of measuring development “progress” at the global scale. Drawing on document analysis and ethnography at the UN World Data Forum, the paper asks, what kinds of (gender) data are ascribed value in the fourth industrial revolution? Is women’s labour ‘outside the wage’ visible in the new data extraction technologies? What are the gendered politics of data-driven development?

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