Gender Equality in Public Administration (GEPA) Research Presentation at the United Nations

By Rachel Vinciguerra

The GEPA working group, co-led by Dr. Müge Finkel of GSPIA and Dr. Melanie Hughes of Sociology, has been a Ford Institute working group since fall 2015. The GEPA working group brings together a multidisciplinary team of students to work with the Governance and Peacebuilding Cluster of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to gather and analyze data on women’s global representation in public administration. This past year, graduate researchers built off of the work of the 2015-2016 working group, to analyze further disaggregation among countries with gendered data. Their second presentation at the United Nations in New York City in May 2017 focused on Sustainable Development Goal 16.7 which calls for proportionate representation of population groups in public institutions.

The GEPA project was initiated by UNDP with a goal of bringing attention to the state of gender equality globally in public administration. The initiative recognizes public administration as not only a critical sphere of policy-making, but also an important job offering which may be the only acceptable employment opportunity to women in many countries. The role of women in public administration has been largely unexplored up to this point with no global baseline data on women’s presence in public administration. The GEPA initiative seeks to close gender gaps, initially by tracking the state of global women’s leadership in public administration.

The first phase of the GEPA project was a report published by UNDP in 2014, UNDP Global Report on Gender Equality in Public Administration. The report highlighted 13 country case studies with quantitative and qualitative data on the status of women in public administration. In 2015, the UNDP Governance and Peacebuilding Cluster teamed up with the Ford Institute for Human Security working group for phase two of the project: expanding the search for sex-disaggregated data in public administration across Economic Co-Operation Development (OECD) member and non-OECD member countries. On May 3, 2016, the GEPA working group presented their findings at the UN Headquarters in New York, concluding that only a few countries had viable sex-disaggregated data on public administration.

This year, 2016-2017, through a continued collaboration with UNDP, the working group researched further disaggregation in countries with gendered data researching a total of 134 countries over the course of the year. In particular, students focused on gendered data by age, level of government, and gender identity and sexual orientation. They found that only 19% of OECD countries, and 17% of non-OECD countries researched had data by gender and age, 13 out of 83 researched had data by gender at subnational levels, and there was no data regarding gender identity and sexual orientation in the context of public administration. Further disaggregating gender data when proven missing, remains critical to understand the scope and extent of inclusivity across public administration globally.

The GEPA working group delved into the variance among definitions of public administration that countries use to collect data. They found that only 97 countries of the 134 researched had publicly-available definitions. Even in countries with definitions, there is not universal agreement on what ministries should be categorized as public administration which makes it difficult to compare data across countries. 

Furthermore, definitions of public administration which include and exclude different government ministries have implications for understanding the extent of gender equality. Some countries, like Australia, include the male-dominated ministry of defense within their definition of public administration which skews the overall public administration percentages towards men. Other countries, like Oman, include the female-dominated ministry of education which skews the overall percentages toward women and appears to reflect more equitable proportions of women when, in the case of Oman, those women are largely left in the silos of the ministry of education.

Leslie Marshall and Daniel Jacobson were two new members of the GEPA team this year. As a PhD candidate in the Department of Political Science and PhD student in the School of Social Work respectively, they specifically focused on the status of LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex) data and made recommendations regarding the classification and protocol for collecting this type of data for public administration. 

“Once it became clear that [LGBTI] data [in public administration] is not available, we decided to expand our scope of interest to include any evidence available at the country level that could signal something important about the level of inclusion of LGBTI people in public administration,” Marshall said.

Their work continues to contribute to the development of indicators for the UNDP’s LGBTI Inclusion Index Project. Marshall and Jacobson are currently synthesizing their lessons-learned to develop a small set of indicators for data collection which will be piloted in selected countries later in 2017.

In researching and analyzing these data over the course of the year, students gained hard skills in raw data collection, manipulation, visualization, and presentation skills that are deemed necessary by development practitioners and emphasized by UNDP partners.  Perhaps equally important, the students benefitted from the professional mentorship of UNDP colleagues, who came to campus for an initial presentation in December and remained in communication via skype throughout the year. 

The working group maintained a close working relationship with UNDP partners Pelle Lütken (policy specialist), Ciara Lee (international consultant), and Nana N’dow (international consultant). Lee and N’dow visited the University of Pittsburgh on December 14, 2016 for a presentation of the first semester’s results of research and were available to the working group during the year as students worked with data. Additionally, this year’s working group communicated directly with regional consultants hired by UNDP to fill the gaps in data sets in Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa, and the Arab States. Over the past year, the work of the GEPA team has been a truly collaborative and global effort working with centralized UNDP specialists, regional UNDP consultants, and graduate student researchers.

The 2016-2017 working group presented the results of their research on May 2, 2017 for UNDP colleagues and a panel of experts. The event was moderated by Suki Beavers, one of the founding members of the UNDP GEPA initiative and an inclusive political processes policy advisor. The panel included experts from UN Women, UN Statistics Division, UNDP Youth Global Programme, and the Wilson Center who each responded to the presentation of graduate students. 

Of the presentation at the UN, Marshall said, “I really appreciated the format of the presentation, since it brought together people with expertise in a wide range of related subject areas and UN agencies to share information and ask questions.”

Upon the conclusion of the presentation, Beavers turned to the group saying, “The exercise that you’re undertaking at this moment really underscores the fact that it is complex. It is difficult, but it is absolutely necessary. . . If I wasn’t convinced coming into this room, and I already was, I would have been that this is an absolutely critical area of development work.” 

Lütken remarked that the group of student researchers had become a core of ambassadors for the GEPA initiative. He said, “There are few people, maybe even in the world, who’ve looked at this multitude of different tracking systems.” He concluded the presentation speaking to the assembled group with a smile, “I hoped that Melanie and Müge would say there were more answers and less complexity, but that wasn’t the case, so I guess we’re in it for another year and we’re looking forward to it.”

“I am extremely proud of our students and their commitment to this extremely important global agenda.” said Finkel after the presentation at the UN headquarters. “We put a lot of time and effort into searching for data and looking for explanations as to why women are not equally represented at leadership positions in public administration anywhere in the world. And, even though we still don’t have as many clear cut answers as we would have liked to, we are convinced that we have a worthwhile research agenda and a model collaboration with our colleagues at the UNDP.”

The working group partnership with the UNDP cluster has grown and developed over the past year and expectations are heightened for continued collaboration. The UNDP cluster continues to incorporate the research provided by the working group into deliverables that support gender equality. As last year, the presentations have also opened up professional opportunities for working group members: including summer posts as UNDP/GEPA junior researchers in the regional UNDP offices of Addis Ababa and Panama City, at UNDP headquarters in New York, and as remote researchers in Pittsburgh at the Ford Institute for Human Security. 

Tiffany Tse began working as a junior researcher at UNDP in New York City a few days after the presentation. “It has been a pretty amazing experience to be involved in the GEPA project as we are contributing real-world, real-time data to an outside organization. It feels so much different than a research project as this is a moving target and goal that the UN is working towards. We get to see the successes as well as the challenges of striving towards the SDGs and the objectives that apply to GEPA.” 

Tse said of her work in New York, “This summer will provide even more perspective towards the working group as I will see how the data collection applies to other initiatives the team is pursuing. I get to witness firsthand how the data collection is important to provide a baseline and way of tracking progress of gender equality in public administration and its impact on representation, equity, and efficiency of civil service.”

These junior researchers will hopefully be joining a growing group of GEPA-Working group graduates who are now working in the field of International Development, including one who is a consultant in the regional UNDP office in Amman and another who did a six-month consultancy for the regional UNDP office in Bangkok in 2017.

The working group will reconvene in fall 2017 to explore further disaggregation of gendered data in public administration, particularly in the context of conflict-affected countries.


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