02.13.143:35 PM ET

Adding Up the Numbers for Equality

Hillary Clinton and Melinda Gates launch a partnership to collect data on the status of women.

Neither howling winds, nor thick, wet snow, nor the arguably unsexy topic of data dampened the enthusiasm of a standing-room-only crowd gathered this morning at New York University for announcement made by two of the world’s most powerful women. In a conversation moderated by Chelsea Clinton, Hillary Clinton and Melinda Gates unveiled a new partnership among their eponymous foundations that, as a part of the Clinton Foundation’s new No Ceilings initiative, will both collect and analyze data about the status of women and girls’ participation around the world.     

Launched this past November, No Ceilings—subtitled “The Full Participation Project”—aims to unite a number of partner organizations in the name of advancing women’s equality. The data produced by this new partnership will be released in 2015 and will serve as a 20th anniversary follow-up to the UN Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, in 1995, when Clinton famously declared, “Let it be that human rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights, once and for all.”

Hard numbers matter for a number of reasons, both Gates and Clinton stressed in their remarks. The former—a self-described “data geek”—emphasized that the economic argument for gender equality is often the only one that resonates with the leaders of many countries. “They unfortunately don't want to hear the moral argument,” said Gates. By presenting concrete evidence that investing in women and girls can improve their country’s bottom line, advocates, she said, can “get in the door, and then take [the discussion] all the way down to: Do women have property rights? Are girls going to primary school or secondary school?”

“If you don’t have data,” she continued, “you don’t know where to work.”

The year 2015 is also a target for the evaluation of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, noted Clinton, which similar organizations named in order to meet the needs of the world’s poorest.

Gates invoked some of her organization’s work in women’s health, connecting it to the big picture aims of this new partnership.

“Amen,” said Clinton. “I see this as an important platform to help set the agenda, and I also see it as converging with the good work that’s already being done to push everything forward.”

Finally, in a nod to the future—and the relative youth of the NYU audience—Clinton let her daughter have the last word.

“[Twenty years from now], I hope that we have fewer ceilings and that people know how to break down those that still persist,” said Chelsea. “And that we have a clear view of what will crack them and break them regardless of where someone stands.”