In a European Union built on equality as a founding value, the lack of comparable and regular data collection on equality and non-discrimination casts a long shadow of inefficacy, which demands improvement. Reliable and comparative data is essential among other things, to evaluate and monitor the realization of fundamental rights across equality grounds, to provide visibility of the nature and extent of discrimination, and to allow policy makers to better design and adapt policies addressing discrimination and exclusion.
There is no question that collecting equality data is a priority. This is also emphasized in a number of Commission initiatives, including the Gender Equality Strategy, the LGBTIQ Equality Strategy, the EU Roma Strategic Framework and the Anti-racism Action Plan, as well as the 2018 Commission Recommendation on Standards for Equality Bodies. To move forward with these initiatives, cooperation and coordination between relevant actors including target groups, is essential. In this context, the lack of accurate and comparable data needs to be addressed, and equality bodies are willing to play a central role in this challenge. Our new Report on the ‘Collection and use of complaints data’ explains how.
Equality data can be collected by means of surveys, censuses, administrative processes (e.g., employment data), or research, among other sources. Within these sources, any qualitative or quantitative piece of information or set of values that is useful in describing and analysing the state of equality can be referred to as equality data.
One example of data on discrimination is provided by complaints data. The European Handbook on Equality Data defines complaints data as “generated as a by-product of the work carried out by those bodies which, in one way or another, handle discrimination complaints.” Complaints data not only includes information on the numbers and types of complaints filed, but it also aggregates profiles of offenders/respondents and complainants.
So, where is this data collected from? Well, the primary source of complaints data is the justice system, including tribunals, courts, and specialised bodies such as equality bodies.
Equality bodies are key to make equality a reality in Europe. In collaboration with civil society, equality bodies carry out extensive work at the national level, including data collection reform initiatives and performing ad hoc surveys. Furthermore, one of the core functions of equality bodies is the provision of independent assistance to victims of discrimination.
Through their work to support victims of discrimination, equality bodies collect valuable information on discrimination complaints filed by victims, by third party reports, or in some cases by the equality bodies themselves. These complaints data form a valuable source of information for many purposes. For instance, they can be used in equality bodies’ reports to prove that discrimination is a problem which needs to be addressed.
For example, the Public Defender of Rights of the Czech Republic uses data on complaints not only in their annual reports, but also in workshops, lectures, and press releases to show that discrimination still persists and that it is a problem experienced by large groups of people. Equality bodies also use complaints data for advocacy purposes and awareness-raising, particularly among vulnerable groups that are likely to be discriminated but file few complaints. The Lithuanian Office of the Equal Opportunities Ombudsperson highlighted that their collected data is frequently used by other stakeholders with the aim of implementing their advocacy objectives. For example, LGBTI advocacy groups use the quantifiable data on low numbers of reports on discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation as a basis of their awareness-raising and advocacy activities to challenge the phenomenon of underreporting.
Bearing in mind the importance of data on complaints for the work of equality bodies, the members of the Equinet Working Group on Research and Data Collection have dedicated much of their work to this topic, identifying common challenges and sharing good examples. However, a comprehensive overview of data collection activities by equality bodies in general and their purposes was still missing.
For this reason, in 2018 the Working Group decided to carry out a survey among Equinet members in order to shed light on the following questions:
As a result of the survey, Equinet Working Group on Research and Data Collection has developed a report which presents an overview of the ways in which equality bodies collect and use data on complaints. This overview helps to identify commonalities and differences among equality bodies and sheds light on the comparability of this data across different European equality bodies. Finally, the report identifies common challenges encountered by equality bodies when dealing with complaints data. It also provides recommendations for improving the collection and use of complaints data by equality bodies by showcasing good practices.
The report targets a wide audience, in particular those interested and involved in building robust equality data and an evidence-based approach to promoting equality of treatment and combating discrimination.