Skip to content

In the struggle for gender equality, do everything

Ruth Levine 8 March 2021

On International Women’s Day, IDinsight CEO Ruth Levine reflects on the multiple ways we must disrupt gendered behavior and structural bias.


Padma, a representative from the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), leads a nutrition program for mothers at the BALSEWA Center, which addresses issues for women working in the informal sector by providing affordable daycare, health check-ups and educational programs. ©Paula Bronstein/Getty Images/Images of Empowerment

I once asked a gender studies historian what we could learn from our past progress on women’s rights to help us focus our attention now: Should we build movements or get women elected to high office? Should we champion more equal representation in popular culture or better data and evidence illustrating inequalities? Should we ensure our own homes and organizations are places where men and women have equal power and pay, or highlight bias throughout society? Her answer: “Do everything.”

By “do everything,” she meant that the struggle for women’s rights takes persistent, insistent action of all types, all the time. No single lever or isolated action can disrupt deeply entrenched patterns of gendered behavior and structural bias. Let’s face it: every economy in the world is built on unpaid work predominantly done by women, and every society is plagued by sexual harassment and violence. There are no quick fixes or one-and-done interventions.

International Women’s Day is a moment to reflect on whether we are indeed doing everything we can to accelerate progress. We need political representation and gender-aware leadership throughout the public and private sectors, legal and regulatory reform, popular movements, and norm change. We need data and evidence about how and why gender affects social and economic conditions, and vice versa. And we need all work toward gender equality to incorporate the multiple forms of disadvantage and exclusion, so we do not continue to reproduce racism, classicism, and other ills within the movement to advance the rights of women and girls.

Each organization has a special role to play in the “everything” agenda. At IDinsight, we are looking to further contribute and play our part. We:

  • Seek out high-impact projects that have an explicit gender dimension, from girls’ education to maternal and child health care to cash transfers.
  • Look at gender-disaggregated data in our analytic work to see whether and how it’s an important factor in, say, the impact of a large government program. Moreover, we work hard to consider underlying gendered issues around data collection, whether it is constraints to fully representing women in telephone surveys or the challenges that female surveyors face.
  • Have incredible female team members at all levels in the organization. Along with others in leadership positions, I am determined to make IDinsight a place where all team members are supported to do the work they enjoy and given opportunities for professional growth, while still able to have the all-important flexibility for home life that’s so necessary now (and not just now). We’re part of the way there, and still have work to do.

For us, gender equality is not a special program or a budget earmark. It is built into how we pursue bringing the best data and evidence to bear on decisions that mean the most for people’s lives. It is, in short, becoming part of how we do everything.