Gender, the law and data science
‘On the Basis of Sex’ was the title of a movie released earlier this year about the life of pioneering American lawyer and Supreme Court Judge, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her work to overturn laws which unfairly discriminate on the basis of gender.
It might not make a movie script but UTS Law’s Dr Ramona Vijeyarasa is working in a similar area – looking at how women are affected by laws passed in a range of countries.
It’s a unique research project which involves the creation of the Gender Legislative Index (GLI) - a tool which categorises laws in terms of gender bias - with the help of Data Science.
The GLI is a world first and aims to encourage countries to uphold women’s rights when drafting legislation; whether the laws address domestic violence or set out the rules for tax or finance.
There’s a huge amount of data collected for the index. Laws are assessed against a set of seven questions and rated as Gender-regressive, Gender blind, Gender-neutral or Gender-responsive. They are then rated overall from a scale of “Complete disregard for international law” through to “Meeting international standards”.
Dr Vijeyarasa says she wanted to ensure the index was strong on methodology but would also be easily accessible for lawyers, activists and policymakers:
My goal was to create a tool that would advance accountability for women’s rights. I needed it to be both a strong piece of research as well as a database that was user-friendly and appealing.
That’s where the expertise of UTS Data Science comes in.
Rapido is an advanced technology development unit that works with many types of organisations, including not-for-profits through its pro bono arm, Rapido Social. CIC works in close partnership with faculties and business units to provide research-based data science tools and expertise.
CIC and Rapido specialists developed the evaluation tool which uses heat-map visualisations to show how each evaluator assessed each law; and an algorithm to calculate the overall rankings.
Dr Vijeyarasa says by using Data Science, the index combines meaningful aggregation of the different parts of each law’s evaluation, while also giving users an overall score to facilitate comparisons across laws and countries:
I needed to process the data in a way that could give users a quick snapshot but without losing the richness underneath.
It was a first for everyone involved.
Rapido Social had never worked with lawyers before and the team at CIC were experimenting with a newly designed decision ‘‘tree’ to create an algorithm for a computer-generated score for each law.
Dr Vijeyarasa says it was an incredible learning experience:
The learning curve was steep but rewarding – now it’s hard for me to imagine doing future research that doesn’t involve collaboration of some kind.
It’s hoped the Gender Legislative Index will be used by activists to push for law reforms and address inequality suffered by women - in short, to work for laws which only discriminate in a positive way on the basis of sex.