WomanStats: What We’re Doing and Where We’re Going

For the first blog of the year, I thought it would be apropos to do a brief overview of what we’ve done so far and what our near and long-term goals are. We’ve come a long way.

  • WomanStats now possesses more data than the six next largest gender-issue databases combined, including those run by the UN and the World Bank.
  • We’ve published articles in International Security, International Studies Quarterly, Peace and Conflict, Journal of Peace Research, Political Psychology, Cumberland Law Review, World Political Review and had aForeign Policy article written using our research. We have a forthcoming book—Sex and World Peace: Roots and Wings of National and International Relations—to be published soon from Columbia University Press. We’ve also presented at the Association for Politics and Life Sciences, the Brookings Institute, and the International Studies Association Conference (which had a full panel on our database), and have written several encyclopedia entries.
  • Our data has now been requested by the UN, the Defense Department, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the World Bank. More specifically, our data and research were also used by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in crafting the International Violence Against Women’s Act.

Specifically, in the year 2010 our website became more user friendly (now with live bibliographic links and the ability to add new variables on the view screen), we developed several new scales (including murder, suicide, government participation, rape, educational discrepancy, and property rights), added several new variables (including patrilocalit, prevalence of consanguineous marriage, and the average age of the onset of menarche), added Matt Stearmer and Andrea Den Boer to the WomanStats Board, and got an office! Dr. McDermott rejoined the board, and recently gave expert testimony on polygyny laws in Canada.

On the grant-front, we were awarded the Emmeline B. Wells scholarship from BYU, and are currently re-hauling our fundraising package, during the process of which we received some very helpful references for our fundraising letters. For example, Rachel Mayanja, the UN Assistant Secretary-General for Gender Issues, wrote:

We cannot tell what helps or hurts women without information on the changing situation of women over time. Both basic research and applied policymaking are hampered to the extent that information and indices are lacking. The WomanStats Project helps fill this gap. Their research agenda to investigate the linkage between the security of women and the security of the nation-state will be crucial input to debates at the United Nations and other fora that may lead to improved decision-making in the 12 critical areas of the Beijing Platform for Action.

Swanee Hunt, the founding director of Harvard’s Women and Public Policy Program wrote that “the WomanStats Database is an indispensable aid to researchers, policymakers, and advocates involved in women’s security.” Diane Kelly, the Consul-General for France and former Senior Policy Advisor to the Department of State’s Office of Global Women’s Issues, wrote “I think that anyone who takes a look at WomenStats is well worth the investment.  I have used statistics from your site in some of my own remarks, more importantly, when scholars and women’s groups write asking me for statistical information on trends in women’s issues, I refer them to your website.”

However, we still have much to do. Specifically, below is an excerpt from one of our funding requests, I think it does a good job of showing the big picture:

While the WomanStats Database is, hands down, the largest compilation of information regarding the status of women in the world today, we have not filled the 301 variables x 174 countries matrix completely.  Most of the countries have 60-70% coverage of the over 300 variables, but several have rates of less than 60%, including East Timor, Angola, Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea Bissau, Kosovo, Libya, Suriname, and several others.  Furthermore, while many of our variables have coverage for 100% of 174 countries, other variables are incomplete, especially those concerning mental health, government and subnational group exploitation of women, societal rites of passage for girls, representation of women in municipal governments, and custody of children after divorce, among others.
In addition, we strive to create innovative scales of the data we have compiled, not only for the purposes of our own research, but also for the use of the users of our database.  These scaling efforts are quite intensive, requiring a thorough survey of the data already collected, searching for additional required information, and integrating these qualitative assessments into cross-nationally comparable ordinal scales.  Our scales have been in great demand by scholars for whom the effort required would otherwise be overwhelming.  In addition to our existing scales, many of which are the first of their kind in the literature, we have several new scales we wish to develop, such as degree of access to health care for women, a rape and sexual assault scale, and a dependence on customary law scale, among others.  Whenever we perform a scaling, we also provide our users with GIS mappings thereof; seehttp://womanstats.org/mapEntrez.htm.
We also intend to greatly enhance our website functionality.  We have a very talented programmer, but we are hampered in our ability to “set him loose” due to a paucity of funding.  Our programmer has made several suggestions for improvements to the user interface that we would like to implement over the next two years.  These would include RSS feeds off every variable, every country, and every variable/country combination.  A user could then sign up for the feeds of their choosing, and whenever new data was uploaded to the database, they would be notified.  We would also like to instantiate a user-controlled mapping function that would create maps to the specifications of a particular scholar’s research project.  We would also like to instantiate “mouse-overs” for easier variable identification.  Last, we wish to move from a PHP to a Python environment, which will allow for easier downloads by our users, as well as the ability to create a web crawler to identify new information on the web as it becomes available.

A lot of us on the WomanStats team will be moving on in the next couple of months; we’ll see how much of this we can get done before a new team of coders takes over!.

—by SC


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