Making women visible with civil registration and vital statistics systems
IDRC and the Centre of Excellence for Civil Registration and Vital Statistics (CRVS) systems have set out to inspire a global commitment to ensure that all women and girls, particularly the most vulnerable, can register their life events and be counted.
CRVS systems play an important role in every individual’s life and in supporting inclusive, sustainable development. These systems record statistics about life events, such as births, marriages, and divorces; provide citizens with important documents such as a birth or marriage certificate; and ensure every individual is given their right to a legal identity.
Beyond their importance to individuals, CRVS systems play a key role in assisting countries to measure and meet their Sustainable Development Goals: 67 SDG indicators can be measured most effectively by using data derived from well-functioning CRVS systems. Gender considerations, however, are often overlooked, and women remain invisible as a result.
First international meeting on CRVS and gender
On February 26, 2018, the Centre of Excellence for CRVS Systems and its partners hosted a high-level panel and technical consultation sessions at IDRC called “Making the Invisible Visible: CRVS as a basis to meeting the 2030 Gender Agenda.” Close to 100 civil registrars, statisticians, researchers, and gender experts from universities, civil society organizations, and UN agencies discussed the status of the field, evaluated opportunities and challenges, and identified areas of research and priority action items to strengthen CRVS systems.
The meeting was the first of its kind to focus solely on the gender dimensions of CRVS systems and the barriers women and girls face when registering vital life events. CRVS systems are particularly beneficial to women and girls for several reasons. First, vital statistics provide sex-disaggregated demographic data on key issues such as population distribution and maternal mortality. This data enables planners to use evidence when designing policies to protect the health and rights of women and girls. By providing proof of legal identity and social relationships, civil registration also makes it easier to access crucial services such as health, education, political representation, and to lay claim to inheritance or property rights.
Challenges to harnessing CRVS systems as a tool for women’s empowerment
It was clear from the discussions that women still face many financial, cultural, and legal barriers to realizing the benefits of CRVS systems. These barriers include the cost of registration, requiring a father to be present for a child’s registration, and failure of the systems to capture or account for customary marriages.
Several panelists said the world needed to better understand how to overcome these barriers within each country’s unique political and cultural contexts. Unfortunately, there is a dearth of strong case studies that explore the success or failures of interventions. Knowledge gaps also exist regarding the constraints (barriers such as cost, physical access, and complex procedures) and the underlying factors that influence vital event registration for women and girls (including a person’s economic status, education, location, ethnicity, and religion).
Experts at the meeting also discussed the lack of available data at both national and subnational levels. Major data gaps exist on marriage and death registration by sex as well as disaggregation of registration rates within countries. It is difficult to measure how many women and children are missing from CRVS systems. Research from Data2X, the gender data technical and advocacy platform, highlights the need for more data on CRVS access. Suggestions to improve data collection include programs to verify birth registration, as well as additional surveys on birth, death, and cause of death, marriage, and divorce registration. Paired with demographic information, this data could help policymakers understand the connections between different forms of registration and how they help to improve people’s lives.
Making the case for counting women and girls
The Centre of Excellence for CRVS Systems and IDRC are committed to raising awareness of the value of CRVS systems and their importance for the global gender agenda. Only then can governments mobilize the necessary resources and overcome the challenges identified at the meeting.
Many competing interests vie for public attention and funding, for example, the use of big data and advanced analytics, the need for household surveys, the onset of digital ID, and biometric tools for registration. With such a crowded landscape, it remains a challenge to ensure that CRVS systems are prioritized as a foundational and integral statistical system that is fundamental to the monitoring of the SDGs as well as a nation’s own development planning.
To successfully prioritize and implement CRVS in the data for sustainable development agenda, it is essential to better articulate the economic, political, and social value of strengthening these systems while ensuring that the gender dimensions are not overlooked.