Better data about race and ethnicity is critical for advancing gender justice 

by | May 8, 2023 | Other

Earlier this year, the federal government requested comments from individuals and organizations about updating the way they ask for information about race and ethnicity in surveys like the Census. It might sound complicated (or boring!), but better data collection is vital to civil rights, democracy, research, policymaking, and ultimately, better lives for women across the country.

We can’t understand what we can’t measure. In its current form, federal surveys don’t necessarily capture everyone’s experiences or the ways in which they identify; the federal government has proposed new question formats and categories to begin to create more inclusive and accurate data. For example, the proposal would create a new category for people to identify as Middle Eastern or North African (MENA) and finally begin to gather information about the needs of MENA communities.

The National Partnership submitted comments – just as we did when the federal government first set official standards for gathering race and ethnicity data back in 1977 – because we know racial justice is an essential part of gender justice. As an organization working towards a more equitable country for women and families, we rely on inclusive, comprehensive data to inform our understanding of the issues faced by women and the policies that can remedy longstanding, structural disparities – disparities we can’t begin to identify without the right information.

We know that economic and health outcomes – amongst others – are heavily determined by structural and institutional racism and sexism, and that women and men have very different lived experiences, as do people of color compared to their white counterparts. For example, data tell us that Black women have higher labor force participation than other demographics of women, but also experience among the highest rates of poverty. Black people are more likely to experience hunger and food insecurity than other families. We also know that Black women are more likely to be uninsured, and that they experience higher rates of preventable diseases and chronic health conditions such as diabetes and hypertension, are less able to access prenatal care, and face greater financial barriers to care when they need it when compared to their white counterparts. Black women are also more likely to die from pregnancy or childbirth than white women or Latinas and experience more maternal health complications than white women.

It is clear that gender and racial justice are inextricably intertwined and policy solutions that don’t work for those facing the most harm are incomplete. Research by the National Partnership finds that income disparities – such as those demonstrated by the wage gap – vary greatly by race, ethnicity and country of origin and offers proof that policies that don’t account for racism will only continue to leave millions of women of color behind. Our work also finds that while occupational segregation impacts women of all races, both the occupations that women are sorted into and the impacts that has on women’s finances and benefits varies by their race and ethnicity (along with their gender). Our work on health justice exposes similar patterns; for example, critically reflecting on the intersection of race and gender shaped the analysis and solutions advanced in our Saving the Lives of Moms and Babies series, which offers an understanding of how racism impacts maternal health. For the millions of women and people who face barriers to quality health care and support due to the combined effects of structural marginalization, racism and sexism, understanding their needs can be the difference between life and death.

Quantitative data – like the numbers we get from federal surveys – are just one important way that we can identify how gender justice and racial justice are intertwined, but improved federal data collection is a critical step. Whether it’s through the numbers, lived experience, reflecting on this nation’s troubled history, or listening to grassroots advocates and communities, we know that centering race and the experience of people of color is critical to advancing gender justice and achieving equity for women and families.