US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton related the story of one of her "personal heroes", Ela Bhatt, the founder of the Self-Employed Women's Association in India, to underline the importance of data in getting things done.
"Data not only measures progress, it inspires it," she said at "Evidence and Impact: Closing the Gender Data Gap," an event co-hosted Thursday by the State Department and Gallup. "As we have learned in this country, what gets measured gets done."
Bhatt, Clinton recalled "earned her law degree in the early 1950s at a time when not many women were in the law and certainly not many women in India.
"She used her degree to work for a local textiles labour union, but the law only granted rights and recognitions to industrialized labourers. All around her, she saw plenty of women doing lots of work in the informal economy."
"Ela learned that only 6 percent of women in India were officially counted as employed," Clinton said.
"And she recognized that the first step to helping women who were obviously very hardworking but invisible to business and government would be to bring their work into public view."
"Now, one easy way to prove the economic value of women in the informal economy would be to ask them all to take the week off and just see what happens," Clinton said amid laughter.
"But Ela Bhatt had a better idea. She convinced researchers to collect and analyze data about all the work people - mostly women - were actually doing from their homes," she said.
"And once the numbers came out, policy makers couldn't ignore them," Clinton said. "And in 1996, thanks in large part to Ela's leadership, the International Convention on Home Work recognized the rights and contributions of those who work from their homes and established new standards for employment conditions."
"We have very strong data from India, and some evidence from other countries, that women leaders are more likely to direct spending toward infrastructure related to women's roles and responsibilities, like better drinking water and sanitation," Clinton said.
"But we need to learn more about the ways and degree to which greater representation by women influence public spending and public choices, as well as the overall efficiency of the outcomes that are sought," she said.
(Arun Kumar can be contacted at email@example.com)