Harnessing the Power of Feminist Data Visualization for Gender Equality

5 min readAug 1, 2023

*By Henry Kiragga, Doki Golder, Wilson Lukwago and Bonaventure Saturday

In the contemporary world, where data is often celebrated as a valuable resource, the immense potential of data visualization as a tool for communication, understanding, and advocacy is increasingly acknowledged. However, traditional data visualization often oversimplifies complex realities. Feminist data visualization, on the other hand, can emphasize nuance, intersectionality, and amplify marginalized voices thereby addressing the limitations of traditional approaches.

An example of a complex reality that can be oversimplified is the gender wage gap. Traditional data visualization may present this as a simple comparison of average salaries between men and women, overlooking occupational segregation, discrimination and the impact of care-giving responsibilities. Feminist data visualization, on the other hand, can delve deeper into these complexities, portraying the intersecting dimensions of race, class, and other factors that shape the wage gap, providing a more nuanced understanding of the issue.

This blog explores how feminist data visualization unravels the complexities of gender inequalities, sparking dialogue, inspiring action, and driving change. Join us on this journey to understand how these visualizations can catalyze meaningful conversations and propose practical solutions for addressing biases in data and AI. Whether you’re a data scientist, gender equality advocate, policymaker, or simply interested in feminism and data, this exploration offers fresh perspectives and a renewed commitment to achieving gender equality. Let’s harness the power of feminist data visualization to create a world where gender equality is a reality, not just an ideal.

  1. Understanding Your Data’s Context

Creating accurate and meaningful data visualizations requires a deep understanding of the sociocultural context surrounding the data. This understanding helps prevent misrepresentation and misinformation. For example , when presenting data on female literacy rates in Kenya, it is important to highlight the significant disparities between urban and rural areas. Failing to do so could lead to a misleading interpretation of overall female literacy in the country.

Similarly, when visualizing data on maternal mortality rates in Nigeria, it is insufficient to solely present the numbers. It’s important to incorporate the nuances of healthcare access, cultural norms, and infrastructure.Visual cues and annotations can be employed to convey additional information, such as color coding or symbols representing poor healthcare infrastructure as well as side notes to highlight cultural practices that impact maternal health.. To achieve this, thorough research is essential to gain a comprehensive understanding of context-specific nuances. By effectively incorporating context into data visualizations, they become powerful tools for decision-making and driving meaningful change.

2. Promote Honesty and Neutrality in Your Data Representation

Maintaining integrity and ensuring accurate narratives in data visualizations is crucial. To achieve this, it is important to emphasize disparities and consider all relevant factors in the presentation of data.

For example, when presenting data on female literacy rates in Kenya, it is essential to provide a balanced representation by including both urban and rural areas. Utilizing dual-axis charts or interactive maps can effectively visualize these differences. Similarly, when visualizing data on female farmers’ output in Uganda, it is crucial to consider factors like access to seeds, fertilizers, and technology.. A bubble chart can effectively illustrate the relationship between output and the availability of these resources.

The key principle is to present a comprehensive and unbiased picture that upholds integrity and impartiality in data representation.

3. Adopt an Intersectional Approach

An intersectional approach is crucial for understanding and visualizing gender inequality.

For instance when examining maternal health in Tanzania,it is crucial to acknowledge that different ethnic groups may have varying Maternal Mortality Ratios (MMRs). To highlight these disparities, a bar chart can be utilized to compare MMRs across ethnic groups, with an added line indicating the national average. This visualization method effectively emphasizes the variations in maternal health outcomes.

Similarly, in the education sector, an intersectional approach can reveal disparities in girls’ school attendance in Ghana based on socioeconomic status. A grouped bar chart can be employed to effectively showcase attendance rates for girls and boys across different wealth quintiles. Disaggregating data on intersectional factors, data visualizations can ensure a more accurate and nuanced representation of gender inequality. This approach supports informed decision-making and interventions that address the specific needs and challenges faced by different marginalized groups.

4. Ensure Your Visualizations Are Accessible

Creating accessible data visualizations is crucial for effectively communicating with a diverse audience. This includes ensuring that color schemes are distinguishable, labels are clear and meaningful, and alternative descriptions are available for those who rely on assistive technologies.

For example, when visualizing data on female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) prevalence in Egypt, using a color-blind-friendly palette and clear labels ensures that the information is distinguishable and understandable for all viewers. Supplementing a choropleth map with a bar graph can aid comprehension for those who find maps challenging. In visualizing progress in gender parity in secondary education in Rwanda over time, using a line graph with descriptive labels and alternative text descriptions ensures accessibility for individuals using screen-reading tools.

Considering factors like color vision deficiencies and providing clear labels and descriptions allows data visualizations to reach and engage a wider audience, enhancing their impact.

5. Use Innovative Techniques to Create Effective Narratives

Innovative data visualization techniques have the power to enhance communication by telling powerful stories and engaging audiences.

For example, when depicting gender disparities in agricultural land ownership in Ethiopia, an infographic can provide a more engaging narrative by integrating multiple data points, maps, and visual elements. Using representative symbols or characters can make the data relatable. Similarly, visualizing gender disparities in access to clean water in South Africa can be done effectively through an interactive dashboard. This allows viewers to explore the data at their own pace, filter based on different demographics, and understand the complexity of the issue.

These innovative techniques enable a more engaging, context-rich, and personalized exploration of data, ultimately improving the communication and understanding of gender inequality issues.

Concluding Reflections: Advancing Feminism Through Innovative Data Visualization

Data visualization, approached from a feminist perspective, holds transformative potential as a powerful tool for advocacy, amplifying silenced voices and catalyzing change.

By understanding the context and incorporating diverse experiences, data visualization counters oversimplified narratives and reveals the nuanced layers of gender inequality. Promoting honesty and neutrality ensures fair representation, upholding the feminist principle of integrity. Adopting an intersectional approach acknowledges the varying effects of gender inequality based on intersecting identities. Making visualizations accessible aligns with the value of inclusivity, allowing a wider audience to engage and learn.

In conclusion, innovative data visualization, when approached from a feminist perspective, serves as an effective medium for showcasing the complexities and intersectionalities of gender inequality. It goes beyond the simple display of data to craft compelling narratives that can change perceptions, foster conversations, and spur action. In our collective quest for gender equality, this is more than just a tool — it’s a form of resistance, an act of empowerment, and a pathway towards a more equitable world.

*This blog was written by Henry Kiragga (Evidence and methods lab), Doki Golder Silver (2023 Data fellow, Pollicy), Wilson Lukwago (Design Lead, Pollicy), Bonaventure saturday (Research Assistant, Pollicy)