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Expert Q&A

To Better the Lives of Women and Girls, Improve CRVS Systems

Vital Strategies

Q&A with Joan Sara Thomas, Senior Program Officer, CRVS

What are some of the obstacles that women face with regard to registration in some countries?

There are a number of issues:

The cost of registering a vital event and obtaining the related certificate is frequently cited as a major impediment to civil registration. Often in non-income generating positions or earning less than male counterparts, this cost can be a significant barrier to registration for women especially when it is compounded by other demands such as needing to care for family members.

“Civil registration can help enforcement efforts that protect girls from underage marriage or being more susceptible to trafficking.”

The distance to registration offices and associated costs. In many countries, this can be a challenge regardless of gender, however it can often make registration impossible for women who lack transport, have other family obligations that they cannot leave behind, or are bound by social and cultural customs that restrict them from moving beyond their family or community environments.

Legal and regulatory requirements that state that an unmarried woman must disclose the identity of the father to register the birth of their child. Similarly, prohibitive to registration is the stigmatization, common in many countries around the world, associated with children “born out of wedlock.” This barrier applies to unmarried women, as well as widowed and divorced women.

Low motivation for death registration is particularly common in situations where an individual has few resources or no inheritance. These barriers are particularly significant for many women who generally have fewer assets than male counterparts and have limited autonomy due to social and cultural norms and practices.

How can CRVS systems help ameliorate these issues at an individual level?

Here are important ways we can help individuals:

Bring CRVS systems closer to women and making them more accessible both in geographic location and service. The establishment of registration units in remote areas, use of community health workers such as midwives as birth notification agents, recruitment of female registrars and training to meet the unique needs of women in their district/region could all help with encouraging registration and removing barriers. Closer proximity of registration points would minimize costs both direct and indirect.

Enhance the role of community health workers ensuring the CRVS system is active and approachable and not passive and punitive. Strengthen the role of community health workers as “notifiers” of a vital event triggering it’s registration therefore taking the burden off the family to initiate.

Increase advocacy and awareness building across all levels of the population about the importance of registering. This should address common misconceptions held that motivate low registration and raise the awareness about the greater benefits generated when individuals register all vital events. This awareness building should be across members of the community, male and female, and should harness the role key gatekeepers such as religious leaders, community chiefs, and others.

At a policy level?

It is important to ensure that:

Policies minimize penalties for late registration or waivered for the poor and vulnerable. Who qualifies and the process of how to apply for this should be clear and enforced. Governments should adopt the UN recommendations and remove fees for registration and for the issuance of a first copy of the certificate.

Policies enable women to play proactive roles in the CRVS system as notifiers (e.g. midwives) to the civil registration authorities, as staff across the system (e.g. through ensuring gender balance in staffing roles) as well as empowered actors within the CRVS system (e.g. through targeted advocacy).

Legal and regulatory requirements that are restrictive or discriminatory toward women are revised.

CRVS agencies are supported and required to produce vital statistics that are stratified by gender relevant variables to generate enough insights in this area that can guide future improvement of the system.

How does CRVS relate to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals?

In 2015, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Agenda for Sustainable Development that includes 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that offer a vision of what the global community agrees the world should look like in 2030. These include targets related to education, growth and employment, disability and more. Through access to entitlements, and social protections through the establishment of legal identity, CRVS is a direct or indirect contributor up to 40 percent of these SDG targets, and contributes directly to at least three of the targets under Goal Five, “Achieve gender equity and empower all women and girls.” These include the elimination of trafficking, child, early and forced marriage, equal rights to economic resources, and adopting and strengthening sound policies and enforceable legislation for promotion of gender equality and empowerment of women and girls.

Through civil registration of marriage, including information on the age of women at marriage, civil registration can help enforcement efforts that protect girls from underage marriage or being more susceptible to trafficking. Effective monitoring on progress for women’s, newborn’s, children’s, and adolescent’s health also depends on strong and reliable health information systems, drawing from a variety of sources including CRVS  for information on causes of death. CRVS is thus a fundamental part of monitoring SDG progress.

Achieving 100 percent birth registration and 80 percent death registration are both SDG targets.

What work is Vital Strategies doing in these areas?

At Vital Strategies, under the Bloomberg Philanthropies Data for Health Initiative and other projects, we’re partnering with 11 countries to ensure improved, and universal access to civil registration services.

Joan Sara Thomas is a Senior Program Officer for the Data for Health Initiative for Civil Registration and Vital Statistics Improvement. Joan has experience in global public health program management, strategic planning, operations and partnership building and has worked across North and Central America, the Middle East, and Asia. Joan earned her Master in Public Health from Emory University. At Vital Strategies, Joan holds a dual position, serving as the Director of Operations for the Vital Strategies, Singapore office.

References: Knowledge Briefs: Gender and CRVS