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Operation Fistula aims to highlight gender inequality with #Viz5

Jessica Twentyman Profile picture for user jtwentyman March 12, 2020
The London-based non-profit is teaming up with data visualization community Makeover Monday to shine a light on the hidden inequities that girls and women face

Image of a woman
(Image taken via Operation Fistula website)

This week saw the launch of Visualize Gender Equality, a new global data advocacy project that aims to highlight some of the extreme inequities faced by women and girls worldwide.

The initiative is also known as #Viz5, in recognition of the fact that gender equality is Goal 5 of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Each month, data collected by London-based non-profit organization Operation Fistula will be made available to a worldwide community of data enthusiasts, who will work with that data to create eye-catching visualizations and tell more compelling data stories. They’re all participants in Makeover Monday (#makeovermonday), a weekly online challenge for those who are looking to improve their data skills and/or share them with others. The Viz5 initiative also has the support of the Tableau Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the viz software company.

At Operation Fistula, founder and CEO Seth Cochran hopes that the visualizations produced through this initiative will not only serve as advocacy and awareness-raising tools, but also help inform future strategy and directions at his organization.

He’s from a data science background himself, he says, so he knows that the data his charity collects, while primarily about obstetric fistula patients and their treatment (or lack of treatment), may also offer new insights into other symptoms and results of gender inequality.

Childbirth injury

First, a bit of background: obstetric fistula is a childbirth injury that occurs when a prolonged, obstructed labour without access to timely medical treatment leads to a hole forming between the woman’s birth canal and bladder and/or rectum. In addition to the death of her baby, the woman is left singly or doubly incontinent, often isolated from her community and facing depression and deepening poverty.

Fistula is very preventable, if expectant mothers receive proper prenatal checks and obstetric care during their deliveries. It can also be quickly and cost-effectively repaired by surgery, but this treatment is often not available or not seen as a priority. As Cochran puts it:

Obstetric fistula only happens in places where systems fail women and girls. Because of this, its persistence is a profoundly effective indicator of systemic failure and gender inequality.

For example, he says, Operation Fistula’s data has already revealed that 30% of fistula patients at a facility it supports in Bangladesh were married and pregnant before the age of 15.

That’s shocking - it’s extreme gender-based violence. And I started to consider that if we want to think bigger on tackling inequality, then maybe we have to think beyond the fistula sector. There’s a lot that data can teach us about the directional issues of gender inequality and we thought, if we can start to map that gender inequality now using our data, we can not only help with the wider global push on this, but also improve our own understanding of where we might find a high prevalence of fistula and how we can help contribute to its prevention.

Now, Cochran is hoping that the work of the Makeover Monday crew on #Viz5 will unearth many other insights. Much of the data will come from GOFAR, the Global Obstetric Fistula Automated Registry built by Operation Fistula, which is fed by data collected by the doctors funded by the non-profit to perform fistula repairs and shared with hospitals and surgeons who can use its insights to improve care pathways.

It’s based on Comcare’s case management software for data collection; Alteryx for data processing and cleansing; Exasol as the data warehouse; and Tableau for visualization. Operation Fistula is also working with data partners and grassroots organizations to collect new subnational data for the Viz5 initiative.

Makeover Monday

Makeover Monday, meanwhile, is led by Eva Murray, head of business intelligence and Tableau evangelist at Exasol and a long-time collaborator with Operation Fistula on achieving its data-analysis ambitions. She expects hundreds of participants to engage with the #Viz5 initiative, she says, which will see them visualize 12 data sets over the next 12 months, each focusing on a different area of gender inequality.

We started Makeover Monday as a weekly data challenge for people to practice their visualization skills and yeah, it is still that in essence, but what’s been important in the last four years is our collaborations with non-profits. We basically see it as crowdsourcing of data expertise for these non-profits who maybe have only one person working on their data. Suddenly, there’s 100 or 200 people doing something with their data, which is good for them. And it’s good for our community, too, because our people are so much more engaged whenever our challenge is based on a social impact topic. They really give it 100% and treat the topic with care and respect. They dig a bit deeper.”

I can’t wait to see what our global community can achieve for Viz5, with their collective ideas, creativity, empathy and data expertise.

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