Women's rights to benefit, as law meets data science
Human rights lawyer and UTS researcher Dr Ramona Vijeyarasa has been developing a new tool, the Gender Legislative Index, to understand—and highlight—the good and the bad of laws affecting women around the world.
It’s the first index of its kind globally and aims to encourage countries to uphold women’s rights when putting in place legislation—whether those laws address domestic violence or set out the rules for tax or finance.
Behind the index, a huge amount of data is collected. Evaluators assess individual laws against a set of seven questions, using global and regional benchmarks, rating them as Gender-regressive, Gender blind, Gender-neutral or Gender-responsive. Laws are then ranked overall from a scale of “Complete disregard for international law” through to “Meeting international standards”.
Dr Vijeyarasa, from the Faculty of Law, knew she had to find a way to not only ensure the index was methodologically sound but could also be presented in an accessible form for lawyers, activists and policymakers.
“My goal was to create a tool that would advance accountability for women’s rights,” she says. “I wanted to create an index that would help activists on the ground push for law reforms that would address inequality suffered by women. I needed it to be not just a methodologically-sound piece of research but also a database that was user-friendly and, frankly, appealing.”
This meant she had to go beyond the traditional boundaries of her area of specialist expertise, the law, and into the realm of data science.
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.
“I was amazed by how my legal expertise could come together with software engineering and data analytic skills to create something really incredible,” Dr Vijeyarasa says.
CIC and Rapido specialists developed the evaluation tool for the index, came up with heat-map visualisations that show at a glance how each evaluator assessed each law, and designed an algorithm to calculate the overall rank for each law.
Dr Vijeyarasa says the work meant the index could combine 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.”
The collaboration was “an incredible learning experience for everyone involved”, Dr Vijeyarasa says.
“Rapido Social had never worked with lawyers before. The team at CIC were experimenting with a never-before-designed decision tree to create an algorithm for a computer-generated score for each law.
“For me, the learning curve was steep but rewarding. It’s hard for me to now imagine doing research that’s not of a collaborative kind.”
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