By Jody Heymann, Founding Director, and Aleta Sprague, Senior Legal Analyst, WORLD Policy Analysis Center
Despite great steps forward, around the world, millions of children continue to die of preventable diseases. Poor nutrition and repeated early infections threaten the health of many more. Girls, students from poor families, and children with disabilities remain more likely to be excluded from education, while the economic inequality women face is so great it will take centuries to eliminate at the current rate of progress.
As the world moves forward on the Sustainable Development agenda, how do we figure out how to accelerate progress — and what’s the role for data?
Evidence on what works at scale is just one piece of the puzzle, but it’s an important piece. Take just one example. Paid maternity and parental leave have been shown to improve women’s income and labor force attachment and infant health outcomes in high-income countries. But will paid leave work in low-income countries that may have fewer resources for administering it and far more people in the informal economy?
By linking longitudinal data on low-income countries’ maternal leave policies with outcome data on changes in children’s health, we can rigorously evaluate the impacts of policy reforms across countries. In a study of 20 low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), together with our colleagues at MACHEquity, we found that each additional month of paid leave reduced infant mortality by 13%. In more recent studies with colleagues, we have shown how an extra month of maternal leave coverage can increase average breastfeeding duration by 2.2 months, and how increasing the minimum wage by just 10% can significantly reduce child malnutrition.
The second step is monitoring: once we know what works, we need to monitor whether countries are putting this evidence into action. For example, while all but 8 countries worldwide provided paid maternal leave in 2015, only 54% guaranteed at least 14 weeks of leave, the minimum standard established by the ILO. Just 27% provided leave for six months, the WHO recommendation for exclusive breastfeeding.
The same approach can be used for countless other issues central to the SDGs. For example, this week, the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women is taking a look at where the world stands on gender equality, central to SDG 5. Linking global policy, implementation, and outcome data can help address persisting challenges like child marriage and gender disparities in work and education.
In a new policy brief, we make the case for why linking longitudinal policy, implementation, and outcome data can strengthen our collective efforts to fulfill the SDGs, and SDG 5 in particular. Historically, efforts to measure countries’ progress toward meeting their global gender equality commitments have focused almost exclusively on changes in outcomes. These are the types of changes we ultimately care about: whether more girls are getting an education, more women are accessing comprehensive healthcare, or fewer people are living in poverty. However, outcome data alone only tell us the size of the problem, not how to fix it.
Together, longitudinal policy, implementation, and outcome data can accelerate progress toward realizing the SDGs by illustrating gaps in the law, enabling us to monitor the adoption of policies that advance human rights, and improving our understandings of how specific policy choices affect outcomes. To learn more, check out our full brief on how linking policy, implementation, and outcome data can improve the status of women and girls globally. For more global policy data, interactive maps, and details on our methodology, please visit https://www.worldpolicycenter.org/.