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Data disaggregation

human-rights-based approach to data requires a move from traditional data collection and analysis, which concentrate on national averages and risk masking underlying disparities, focusing instead on the most disadvantaged or marginalized and on inequalities among the population. The Beijing Platform for Action states that statistics related to individuals should be “collected, compiled, analysed and presented by sex and age and reflect problems, issues and questions related to women and men in society”. The essential role of relevant, reliable and timely gender statistics—cutting across traditional fields of statistics, including education, health and employment as well as emerging ones, such as climate change—to ensure development and leave no one behind is also recognized in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Among others, statistics on international migration have long suffered from availability and harmonisation issues [https://unstats.un.org/unsd/publication/SeriesM/SeriesM_58rev1E.pdf]. In December 2016, IOM’s Global Migration Data Analysis Centre convened experts from UN DESA, various UN agencies, OECD, EU, member states and other statistical bodies to highlight steps for improving migration data, including the disaggregation of key SDG goals by migratory status. The conference recommendations include increasing governments’ capacities to collect and analyse data; making better use of existing data, including through censuses and household surveys; and founding an ‘International Forum on Migration Statistics’.

There is also a notable lack of statistics on disabilities. In response, in 2015 the UN Statistics Division and the Washington Group on Disability Statistics [http://www.washingtongroup-disability.com/] started a project aimed at developing international guidelines for the measurement of disability and enhancing the capacity of national statistical systems to collect and generate relevant, quality disability statistics based on those guidelines. This project will be completed in March 2019. More recently, the EU and OHCHR have launched the “Bridging the Gap” project, which aims at developing indicators for the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

In response to the 2030 Agenda call for the data revolution for sustainable development, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has advocated for a human rights-based approach to data collection and disaggregation (HRBAD). This approach is intended to improve the quality, relevance and use of data and statistics in a manner that is consistent with international human rights and principles. Read OHCHR's publication here .

The main elements of the HRBA to data are the following: 

  1. Participation: All data collection exercises should include means for free, active and meaningful participation of relevant stakeholders, in particular the most marginalized population groups.
  2. Data disaggregation and collection by population group: An HRBAD requires a move from traditional data collection and analysis, which concentrate on national averages and risk masking underlying disparities. An HRBAD focuses instead on the most disadvantaged or marginalized and on inequalities among the population.
  3. Self-identification: Data collection and categorization of populations in statistics are critical operations in relation to the identity of an individual or population groups. The respect and protection of personal identity is central to human dignity and human rights.
  4. Transparency: Also referred to as the right to information, it is a fundamental attribute of the freedom of expression. The freedom to seek, receive and impart information is specified in international human rights treaties5.
  5. Privacy: Access to information must be balanced with the rights to privacy and data protection. With the increasing use of big data and the demand for data disaggregation to measure the 2030 Agenda, there is a critical need to ensure the protection of these rights.
  6. Accountability: As state institutions, national statistical offices are themselves human rights duty-bearers. They have obligations to respect, protect and fulfil human rights in their daily exercise of statistical activities.