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From staying safe to tackling rape – why we need gender data

The fight for gender equality needs all the data it can get its hands on.

“Political Correctness Gone Mad,” was the somewhat predictable cry when it was revealed the UK Office for National Statistics is considering altering the "sex" question on the next UK census - for the first time in its 200 year history. 

It is not often you get Philip Davies MP and Germaine Greer arguing on the same side, but for once feminists found themselves in agreement with the conservatives.

The ONS has since clarified that it is simply researching the potential of "collecting information on gender identity as well as data on sex". 

The story has sparked a debate about the best way to represent transgender citizens, who should of course be included in policymaking. But it also has served as a reminder about the importance of collecting gender-disaggregated data, and the role this plays in uncovering the many issues disproportionately affecting women. 

The failure to collect even basic gender-disaggregated data would have serious consequences for policymaking in the UK and globally. 

Without such data, how can we prove that the burden of caring for elderly relatives falls overwhelmingly on women, who may then suffer economically by giving up full-time work prematurely? Or how could we chart the economic and geographic conditions that leave women more vulnerable to suffer domestic violence? How can we expect to effectively to target resources to those most in need, when we don’t know for whom and where the problems are most pronounced?

Nowhere is the need for gender statistics more important than in the ongoing fight to combat violence against women and girls worldwide. As yet another reminder, the cost of such violence is of epic proportions. Interpersonal violence is the number one cause of female death in the world. Best estimates suggest 30 per cent of all women in relationships globally have been subjected to violence by their partners in their lifetimes - that's 769 million women. This is not to mention research by James Fearon and Anke Hoeffler in a 2014 Copenhagen Consensus paper, which indicated that reported sexual violence against women alone costs the world economy $66.6bn annually. 

We are already playing catch-up as it is. As the UN department of Economic and Social Affairs in 2014 recognised, the traditional "problem" with gender statistics is that they are "often seen as addressing a ‘women’s issue...and become marginalised instead of mainstreamed". Outdated data collection methods also too often obscure daily challenges disproportionately faced by women. 

The UN 2030 Sustainable Development Goals include “achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls”. But data is currently available for less than one quarter of key gender indicators across the SDGs. Only 13 per cent of countries worldwide have a dedicated budget for collecting and analysing gender statistics. 

The good news it that progress is – slowly – starting to be made. The UN has started project EDGE: Evidence and Data for Gender Equality, while last year the Gates Foundation donated $80m specifically to address gender data gaps. 

New, innovative big data mining techniques offer up new possibilities. Data 2X, a UN data unit, recently announced the 10 winners of the Gender Challenge Awards, covering issues from financial exclusion to perceptions of gender-based violence. 

One winner focused on women’s physical security in Delhi – a city perceived as so dangerous for women that my Indian family warned against me ever walking alone in it, night or day. In 2016, women made distress calls to police every nine minutes, and a rape is reported every four hours. 

The new research funded by Data 2X uses crowd-sourced mobile application data to identify how psychological costs of sexual harassment impact women’s educational choice. Led by Girija Borker at Brown University, the results show that women with the same high test scores as men choose lower-ranked universities - not due to academic confidence, but the real fear of public harassment. Until policy is focused on making public spaces safe for women, this will not change. 

Data is also critical to understanding the societal and cultural norms which facilitate violence against women. Take Ethiopia as an example - the largest African recipient of direct bilateral UK aid. Last year Demographic and Health Survey data showed that 20 per cent of Ethiopian women had suffered physical or sexual violence by their husbands in the last 12 months. Data concerning perceptions of domestic violence helps us understand how women themselves can rationalise and "accept" such violence. The No Ceilings project show that in 39 countries globally, more than half of women agreed that "burning food, refusing sex or arguing" were valid reasons for a husband to beat his wife. Understanding this psychological context is essential in developing effective educational policy.

In many circumstances, particularly in the developing world and in post-conflict environments, obtaining this data is incredibly difficult, requiring significant investment and huge cultural sensitivity. The DHS data is only available thanks to painstaking face-to-face data collection efforts - both extremely time and resource intensive. 

Researchers also have to ask the right questions. It is not easy. In many cultures there is no easy translation for "rape"; some women are unwilling to use the word voluntarily. More questions, sensitively, have to be asked. 

So there is so much more work to do. As a world leader in development aid, it should be an absolute priority of the British government to fund programmes and organisations that collect sex-disaggregated data - to target development funding exactly where it is needed. Britain should also encourage governments in receipt of its aid to ensure that their own economic development, health, education and social departments use this data to inform policy.

The UK government’s just-published Race Audit (although no new data was commissioned, it was at least collated) is a stark illustration of the hidden racial biases in almost every part of British life, from educational attainment to health outcomes. Now we know the scale of the disparities, we can act. We need the same approach for gender: If the UK Census completely omits a question on gender, our job is already made so much harder.

While not enough on its own, data can make the difference between creating effective and futile policy whether in relation to the unequal burden of unpaid care work in Britain or which conditions facilitate sexual assault in rural India. Without it, too many of the hidden, unequal economic costs and physical dangers faced disproportionally by women will remain just that - hidden 

Emily Benn was the Labour candidate for Croydon South in the 2015 general election

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Arsène Wenger: The Innovator in Old Age

As the Arsenal manager announces his departure from the club after more than two decades, the New Statesman editor, Jason Cowley, appreciates English football’s first true cosmpolitan. 

How to account for the essence of a football club? The players and managers come and go, of course, and so do the owners. The fans lose interest or grow old and die. Clubs relocate to new grounds. Arsenal did so in the summer of 2006 when they moved from the intimate jewel of a stadium that was Highbury to embrace the soulless corporate gigantism of the Emirates. Clubs can even relocate to a new town or to a different part of a city, as indeed Arsenal also did when they moved from south of the Thames to north London in 1913 (a land-grab that has never been forgiven by their fiercest rivals, Tottenham). Yet something endures through all the change, something akin to the Aristotelian notion of substance.

Before Arsène Wenger arrived in London in late September 1996, Arsenal were one of England’s most traditional clubs: stately, conservative, even staid. Three generations of the Hill-Wood family had occupied the role of chairman. In 1983, an ambitious young London businessman and ardent fan named David Dein invested £290,000 in the club. “It’s dead money,” said Peter Hill-Wood, an Old Etonian who had succeeded his father a year earlier. In 2007, Dein sold his stake in the club to Red & White Holdings, co-owned by the Uzbek-born billionaire Alisher Usmanov, for £75m. Not so dead after all.

In the pre-Wenger years, unfairly or otherwise, the Gunners were known as “lucky Arsenal”, a pejorative nickname that went back to the 1930s. For better or worse, they were associated with a functional style of play. Under George Graham, manager from 1986 to 1995, they were exponents of a muscular, sometimes brutalist, long-ball game and often won important matches 1-0. Through long decades of middling success, Arsenal were respected but never loved, except by their fans, who could be passionless when compared to, say, those of Liverpool or Newcastle, or even the cockneys of West Ham.

Yet Wenger, who was born in October 1949, changed everything at Arsenal. This tall, thin, cerebral, polyglot son of an Alsatian bistro owner, who had an economics degree and was never much of a player in the French leagues, was English football’s first true cosmopolitan.

He was naturally received with suspicion by the British and Irish players he inherited (who called him Le Professeur), the fans (most of whom had never heard of him) and by journalists (who were used to clubbable British managers they could banter with over a drink). Wenger was different. He was reserved and self-contained. He refused to give personal interviews, though he was candid and courteous in press conferences during which he often revealed his sly sense of humour.

He joined from the Japanese J League side, Nagoya Grampus Eight, where he went to coach after seven seasons at Monaco, and was determined to globalise the Gunners. This he did swiftly, recruiting players from all over the world but most notably, in his early years, from France and francophone Africa. I was once told a story of how, not long after joining the club, Wenger instructed his chief scout, Steve Rowley, to watch a particular player. “You’ll need to travel,” Wenger said. “Up north?” “No – to Brazil,” came the reply. A new era had begun.

Wenger was an innovator and disrupter long before such concepts became fashionable. A pioneer in using data analysis to monitor and improve performance, he ended the culture of heavy drinking at Arsenal and introduced dietary controls and a strict fitness regime. He was idealistic but also pragmatic. Retaining Graham’s all-English back five, as well as the hard-running Ray Parlour in midfield, Wenger over several seasons added French flair to the team – Nicolas Anelka (who was bought for £500,000 and sold at a £22m profit after only two seasons), Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira, Robert Pirès. It would be a period of glorious transformation – Arsenal won the Premier League and FA Cup “double” in his first full season and went through the entire 2003-2004 League season unbeaten, the season of the so-called Invincibles.

The second decade of Wenger’s long tenure at Arsenal, during which the club stopped winning titles after moving to the bespoke 60,000-capacity Emirates Stadium, was much more troubled. Beginning with the arrival of the Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich in 2003, the international plutocracy began to take over the Premier League, and clubs such as Chelsea and Manchester City, much richer than Arsenal, spent their way to the top table of the European game. What were once competitive advantages for Wenger – knowledge of other leagues and markets, a worldwide scouting network, sports science – became routine, replicated even, in the lower leagues.

Wenger has spoken of his fear of death and of his desire to lose himself in work, always work. “The only possible moment of happiness is the present,” he told L’Équipe in a 2016 interview. “The past gives you regrets. And the future uncertainties. Man understood this very fast and created religion.” In the same interview – perhaps his most fascinating – Wenger described himself as a facilitator who enables “others to express what they have within them”. He yearns for his teams to play beautifully. “My never-ending struggle in this business is to release what is beautiful in man.”

Arsène Wenger is in the last year of his contract and fans are divided over whether he should stay on. To manage a super-club such as Arsenal for 20 years is remarkable and, even if he chooses to say farewell at the end of the season, it is most unlikely that any one manager will ever again stay so long or achieve so much at such a club – indeed, at any club. We should savour his cool intelligence and subtle humour while we can. Wenger changed football in England. More than a facilitator, he was a pathfinder: he created space for all those foreign coaches who followed him and adopted his methods as the Premier League became the richest and most watched in the world: one of the purest expressions of let it rip, winner-takes-all free-market globalisation, a symbol of deracinated cosmopolitanism, the global game’s truly global league. 



Arsène Wenger has announced he is stepping down, less than a year after signing a new two-year contract in the summer of 2017. A run to the Europa League finals turned out not to be enough to put off the announcement to the end of the season.

Late-period Wenger was defined by struggle and unrest. And the mood at the Emirates stadium on match day was often sour: fans in open revolt against Wenger, against the club’s absentee American owner Stan Kroenke, against the chief executive Ivan Gazidis, and sometimes even against one another, with clashes between pro and anti-Wenger factions. As Arsenal’s form became ever more erratic, Wenger spoke often of how much he suffered. “There is no possibility not to suffer,” he said in March 2018. “You have to suffer.”

Arsenal once had special values, we were told, and decision-making was informed by the accumulated wisdom of past generations. But the club seems to have lost any coherent sense of purpose or strategic long-term plan, beyond striving to enhance the profitability of the “franchise”.

The younger Wenger excelled at discovering and nurturing outstanding young players, especially in his early seasons in north London. But that was a long time ago. Under his leadership, Arsenal became predictable in their vulnerability and inflexibility, doomed to keep repeating the same mistakes, especially defensive mistakes. They invariably faltered when confronted by the strongest opponents, the Manchester clubs, say, or one of the European super-clubs such as Bayern Munich or Barcelona.

Wenger’s late struggles were a symbol of all that had gone wrong at the club. The vitriol and abuse directed at this proud man was, however, often painful to behold.

How had it come to this? There seems to be something rotten in the culture of Arsenal football club. And Wenger suffered from wilful blindness. He could not see, or stubbornly refused to see, what others could: that he had become a man out of a time who had been surpassed by a new generation of innovators such as Pep Guardiola and Tottenham’s Mauricio Pochettino. “In Arsene we trust”? Not anymore. He had stayed too long. Sometimes the thing you love most ends up killing you.


Jason Cowley is editor of the New Statesman. He has been the editor of Granta, a senior editor at the Observer and a staff writer at the Times.