Striking a balance in data collection

A big part of my research time is spent on violence against women, gender-based violence, domestic violence, and harmful traditional practices. Though sometimes all whipped into a category of “women’s issues,” I’ve argued before that these are problems that everyone should care about, that they exert severe effects on our health and well-being as a society, emotionally, physically and economically.

Currently, I’m mired in two data collection projects, both with various degrees of hopelessness. I’ll write more later about my time in Caracas, but suffice it to say for now that there simply isn’t data available on issues like the ones I mention above. Or if it is available, no one’s going to give it to me. No surveys, no police data, no statistics on hotline use, nothing. We don’t know anything.

Conversely, in a meta-analysis of programs for adolescent girls that I’m writing with a colleague, my coauthor came upon a study suggesting that in order to correctly assess prevalence of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) we should submit randomly selected female villagers in rural areas to physical exams.

I was shocked and disgusted when she sent me the study. I don’t doubt for a minute that the most accurate way to gauge prevalence of FGM is to randomly select women and examine them, but seriously? I am astounded that no one thought through the psychological consequences of women who have already been victims of gender-based violence being examined by a foreigner who thinks they are lying about whether they’ve been cut.

These days, it’s a good reminder for me that in collecting data there is such a thing as too much, and such a thing as not enough. It’s all about striking a balance.

Sabana Grande, renovado

The first time I lived in Caracas, I had an internship at a small business and finance magazine in a part of town known as Sábana Grande. It was not the nicest part of town. The pedestrian mall, which stretches from Plaza Venezuela to Chacaíto, was filled with buhoneros, or street vendors selling socks and batteries and burned CDs. And not just filled like If you were the one copyediting late, you weren’t allowed to be there by yourself, walking around at night was not allowed, under any circumstances. Since then, the pedestrian mall has been totally repaved and the buhoneros have been exiled to a large building named after liberatadora Manuelita Saenz (one of the few famous female figures from Latin American independence movements). It’s clean. And almost totally lacking in street vendors. It’s a supremely surreal experience, to walk up and down the mall. Music is still blaring, cheap shoes are still sold in half of the storefronts, and mannequins with impossible proportions (or rather possible with surgery) grace the windows. My enduring complaints about Caracas are being eroded. Well, at least the dirty part (we won’t get into the catcalls I endured today.) In fact, I’ve been impressed with quite a few areas that were once run down and dangerous and have been renovated. I spent the morning in areas called Altagracia and Capitolio, which has a new (not yet inaugurated) mausoleum for Simón Bolívar’s remains, a renovated Plaza Bolivar, repainted municipal buildings and more. I even saw some people scrubbing the bricks in Sábana Grande today and friends tell me that the nightlife in Capitolio is where it’s at. Unthinkable a decade ago. It seems that Caracas actually has changed in the last 10 years, though perhaps not so much in other ways. I’m here for another week, trying to dig up some data. I’ll let you all know what I’m up to after I get back.