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“When universities are funded to conduct research on social conditions, the public that’s paying for these studies deserves to know that they will make a positive impact.”
— Dr. Jody Heymann
THROUGH ITS RESEARCH on the state of constitutional rights, laws and public policies pertaining to education, health, labor, poverty, equal rights and other outcomes in nearly 200 countries, the FSPH-based WORLD Policy Analysis Center produces data with the potential to inform policies that can change the odds for millions of people. But data alone isn’t necessarily sufficient. For the policymakers, civil society groups and intergovernmental organizations that have turned WORLD’s evidence in to impact, the quality of WORLD’s research is only one aspect of the center’s value.
WORLD’s comparative data on global policies is highly user-friendly — shining a spotlight on gaps, on which countries lead and which ones lag, and how these relate to public health outcomes. Through visually powerful and easily accessible global maps, WORLD’s reports aim to increase transparency and accountability while providing information on what comparable countries have accomplished, along with a range of policy options for addressing particular issues. WORLD also works closely with partners interested in using the center’s ﬁndings to bring about positive changes.
“When universities are funded to conduct research on social conditions, the public that’s paying for these studies deserves to know that they will make a positive impact,” says Dr. Jody Heymann, WORLD founding director and FSPH dean. “For that to occur, we need to go beyond generating the data — ensuring that what we produce is useful, and working with citizen groups and decision-makers to advance evidence-based policies that improve people’s lives.”
The success of WORLD’s approach is illustrated by developments over recent years on the issue of paid parental leave, which has been found to yield substantial health, social and economic beneﬁts to children and parents. In the Philippines, as part of successful efforts to double the duration of paid maternity leave from 60 to 120 days, the senators advancing the legislation cited WORLD evidence that the country’s maternal leave policy lagged behind much of the global community, along with research from WORLD and McGill University showing that longer paid leave reduces infant mortality.
After the organization Equality Now issued a report that used WORLD data to show that Ireland discriminated on the basis of sex in its exclusion of paternity leave from employment law, the Irish government passed two weeks of paid time off for new fathers. “WORLD brought to our attention that not allowing paternity leave hurts mothers by giving families fewer options,” says Jacqui Hunt, director of the European office of Equality Now. Beyond highlighting the law and its impact, the international organization has worked with governments listed in its report to review all discrimination in their legislation and remind them of their international obligations with respect to women’s and girls’ rights.
Cape Town, South Africa-based Sonke Gender Justice has cited WORLD data on countries’ paternity leave policies to impress on members of South Africa’s parliament that they are behind on the issue. “One of the levers we have as activists is to show where we stand in comparison with other countries,” says Wessel van den Berg, who manages the organization’s Children’s Rights and Positive Parenting Unit. “South Africa likes to position itself as an economic and policy leader on the continent, and showing where we are behind, as well as how families have responded in countries where these policies have been implemented, is very powerful.”
During the United Nations General Assembly 2017, UNICEF released Early Moments Matter for Every Child, a new global early childhood development report that presents the latest scientiﬁc evidence on how experiences and environments during the earliest years of life have a profound and lasting impact on children’s present and future health. In the report, UNICEF used WORLD data on country-level policies, including those that guarantee two years of free pre-primary education, paid breastfeeding breaks for new mothers for the ﬁrst six months, and adequate parental leave. The analysis revealed that only 15 countries worldwide have these three basic national policies; 32 countries — home to one in eight of the world’s children under 5 — have none of these policies in place. “
“There is no time as critical for brain development as the earliest years of life. Yet, as we can see from this analysis, across the world, parents of 85 million children under the age of 5 are missing out on even the most basic support during this opportune moment of brain development,” says Dr. Pia Britto, UNICEF chief of early childhood development. UNICEF is urging governments and the private sector to push for national policies in support of early childhood development while tracking progress in reaching the most vulnerable children and families.
WORLD is also equipping students and postdoctoral fellows with skills in creating and employing evidence for impact. The Hilton Scholars Program aims to prepare a generation of leaders who will help to implement the ambitious UN Sustainable Development Goals, which tackle poverty, discrimination and other societal problems fundamental to health.
WORLD is training postdoctoral scholars such as Dr. Alissa Koski, who is conducting studies that are bringing attention to the issue of child marriage, which is associated with a host of public health problems. Although she studies the issue globally, Koski has recently focused on the United States after ﬁnding that approximately 58,000 married minors were living in the U.S. between 2010 and 2014.
As states have begun considering legislation to raise the earliest age at which persons can legally marry, Koski has used data from the U.S. Census Bureau and state vital statistics offices to produce state-by-state estimates of how many minors are marrying. She was invited to speak to members of the California Legislature about her ﬁndings in May 2017 as they considered a bill that would have prevented any person under 18 from obtaining a marriage license. “WORLD is one of the few academic centers focusing on the critical impact of social policy on public health,” Koski says. “To have so much policy information from around the globe available in one place is truly phenomenal. It facilitates the kind of analysis and information that can bring about important change.”