The registration of births and deaths, including cause of death, and the inclusion of other vital events through CRVS systems, provides people with access to benefits and protections and allows governments to collect and use data for policy and decision-making. CRVS systems that are continuous, compulsory, permanent and universal are at the root of good governance.
Countries across the world vary in the strength of their CRVS systems, and civil registration completeness rates vary within many countries as well. Some subpopulations have lower birth and death registration rates and are underrepresented in cause of death data, usually because they are marginalized, stigmatized, vulnerable or physically hard to reach. Unregistered people may not be able to access social protections and state benefits, and disproportionately low registration rates in some sub-populations hinders the overall performance of the country’s CRVS system and the accuracy of civil registration and vital statistics data.
People in many countries face barriers that limit civil registration and its benefits because of their gender. Although research suggests that there are generally no significant differences in birth registration rates between females and males, female death registration rates are often lower than that of males. In some countries, the higher-than-expected numbers of newborn males reflected in the sex ratio at birth may indicate the under-registration of births of females, it may also indicate female infanticide, abandonment, prenatal sex determination and sex-selective abortion.
Women and girls and people who are non-binary face critical barriers and structural impediments in registering their vital events, which prevents them from achieving empowerment through education and economic opportunities and blocks their access to social protections and services such as financial inclusion and rightful claims to property or inheritance. Furthermore, as an official proof of age, a birth certificate is a means to enforce laws designed to protect children. Research from the World Bank also shows a correlation between high birth registration with low child marriage rates. Finally, the under-registration of female deaths in many countries affects the production of accurate gender-relevant vital statistics such as maternal mortality, adolescent fertility, age at first birth and births outside of marriage.
Despite the existence of inequities in access to civil registration, the problem often remains a blind spot, and the groups most affected will remain largely invisible if the matter is not specifically addressed. To ensure that registration is truly universal and gender inclusive, countries can conduct assessments of CRVS-related inequities. The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) is supporting inequality assessments as part of “Get Everyone in the Picture,” its Regional Action Framework on CRVS in Asia and the Pacific. Conducting inequality assessments can and should be an essential step in creating inclusive civil registration systems.
UNESCAP has developed resources and held a series of expert group meetings and webinars to provide guidance for countries on conducting inequality assessments, including: The application of quantitative methods using secondary data sources; indirect demographic methods; and qualitative assessment tools like the Bali Process Toolkit. As part of this initiative, UNESCAP has also been conducting regional and national capacity strengthening workshops for CRVS stakeholders to increase demographic analysis skills needed to conduct inequality assessments.
As the work is scaled up, activities will also include a discussion with policymakers to ensure the results from inequality assessments are used for policy formulation. Six countries in the Asia and Pacific region have completed inequality assessments to date in 2022: Armenia, Australia, Indonesia, Kiribati, Thailand and Viet Nam, and more are taking initiative to conduct inequality assessments in the near future.
Achieving universal civil registration means that vital events for people of all genders need to be counted. That is only possible when measures are taken to investigate where disparities exist, why they exist and what can be done to include all genders. Inequality assessments, therefore, are a critical step to getting everyone in the picture.