Gender and beneficial ownership transparency

  • Publication date: 28 April 2022
  • Author: Lubumbe Van de Velde


The interactions between gender and BOT is an underexplored subject. Whilst gender equality is not a central policy aim of most BOT reforms, there are gendered dimensions to the policy areas that BOT often seeks to affect. There are also direct links between BOT and gender equality. As sex-disaggregated data is critical to achieving gender equality goals, this report explored potential sources of sex-disaggregated BO data and how these could be used.

In most cases, governments already hold sex data of beneficial owners. For example, they may collect supporting documentation for verification purposes which contains information about a beneficial owner’s sex, or can link BO data to other sex-disaggregated datasets. This may be sufficient to conduct gender-based analyses and produce gender-responsive policy. Therefore, it may not be necessary for governments to collect gender data as part of BO disclosures, which may introduce data conflicts.

The sex of beneficial owners, in conjunction with other information, can constitute personal data, and its collection, use, and publication may expose individuals to risk of harm. Where sex data is legally recognised as sensitive personal data in data protection legislation, higher thresholds for processing may apply, and explicit consent may be required. Processing sex data of beneficial owners is likely to require defining a purpose and establishing a separate legal basis if it expands the initial policy aims of BOT. Moreover, a gender-responsive approach to BOT policy will take into account risks of individual harms based on gender or sexin any legal context, and seek to mitigate these to the degree possible.

This exploratory report has identified potential use cases for sex-disaggregated BO data, including:

  • improving the capacity to identify and disambiguate beneficial owners by collecting sex data, particularly in jurisdictions where women may have less access to official IDs;
  • assessing the gendered dimensions of policymaking and analysing the role of women in the economy by looking at their economic empowerment and participation in enterprise; and
  • enabling specific gender equality policies, such as preferential treatment and affirmative action.

However, sex-disaggregated BO data has inherent limitations. Gender inequality itself may contribute to data inaccuracies, and may limit the insights the data can provide. Therefore, potential data users should be cautious in using the data, and, when they do, take these limitations into due consideration.

Finally, it is up to governments to decide whether to publish sex-disaggregated BO data. Publicly available sex-disaggregated BO data may have a range of uses, such as enabling gender-based research, or monitoring of gender equality policies, for example in public procurement. It may not be necessary to publish personal data along with sex data, and releasing summary statistics or anonymised data may suffice to meet the stated aims. Governments considering the explicit publication of sex data of beneficial owners should identify a purpose and legal basis, assessing whether the publication of sex-disaggregated BO data creates potential risks; whether these risks can be mitigated (for instance, through implementing a protection regime or restricting access to sex data); and whether the publication of data to achieve specific aims is proportional to this risk.

This is a nascent area and only a few jurisdictions collect and process sex data of beneficial owners, or have plans to do so. Not many of these jurisdictions have justified the decision to do so in public sources. If these jurisdictions document their use of data, it will enable additional research in the future. This research may be able to help identify additional use cases and expand on the specific value sex-disaggregated BO data may have to further gender equality.

Next page: Annex 1: Research on women’s enterprise