Beyond the Bare Minimum: 3 Myths About Gender Responsive Evaluation

Gender responsive programming has become recognized as a critical component of highly impactful humanitarian and development projects. In fact, many international organizations and government bodies have created criteria and requirements on gender responsive programming which must be satisfied to be eligible for their funding. Nevertheless, despite these advances, many programs are still launching “gender blind” “gender exploitative” and “gender accommodating” projects – either due to ignorance, lack of capacities, minimizing the importance of gender programming, or intentional exploitation of gender dynamics to further objectives. A “gender blind” program simply fails to recognize the need for any programming or analysis specific to gender dynamics, while a “gender aware” program may be gender exploitative, accommodating, or transformative. In its worst form, “gender exploitative” programs recognize power dynamics between genders and take advantage of them, such as exploiting traditional values of male dominance to encourage strict family planning. Many programs fall within the “gender accommodating” category, recognizing that gender dynamics exist and doing the bare minimum – like capturing gender disaggregated data, but failing to challenge power dynamics and offering adaptive programming. Programs that reach this level of challenging power dynamics and taboos are called “gender transformative.”

Gender responsive monitoring systems and evaluations can identify weaknesses in programming, opportunities, and help a program grow from “gender blind” to “gender transformative.” Unfortunately, even many evaluation experts fall into the trap of weak gender responsive analysis, providing minimal evidence-based feedback on gender components of interventions. Therefore, evaluations and programs can be brought one step closer to being “gender transformative” by debunking three of the greatest myths in gender responsive evaluation.

Myth #1: “Not Seeing Gender” will lead to a more unbiased evaluation.

One argument that is made for performing gender blind evaluations or having gender blind programs is that giving special consideration to gender will make it biased. However, in this attempt to create objectivity in an intervention, the evaluator is actually reinforcing harmful dynamics due to power inequalities between men and women. Ignoring a problem will not make the problem go away; in reality, it will limit a program in its potential to have a sustainable impact for everyone. Misinformation about womens’ empowerment and gender responsive programming has led many to believe that womens’ empowerment comes at the detriment to the empowerment of others, a harmful mindset that truly limits empowerment for all.

As an evaluating firm, we see the importance of addressing weaknesses in programs as a result of “gender blind” program design. Our previous experience in the design of monitoring and evaluation systems help us guide organizations on the best ways to make their programs gender transformative. This includes the development of gender responsive objectives, outcomes, outputs, activities, and gender specific indicators; participant selection strategies that involve all genders; developing terms of reference for impact assessments on gender equality, gender-responsive situation analysis; and gender analysis recommendations. An effective monitoring and/or evaluation system focused on gender-inclusive indicators and questions has the ability to grow a “gender blind” program into a “gender transformative” program.

Myth #2: When 50% of Participants are Female, the Program has Gender Equality

This measurement is often cited as evidence that a program is effective in achieving objectives of gender equality – pointing out that there is equal opportunity for both men and women to join the program. However, although it is important to have female representation in a program, a measure of representation does not sufficiently capture all elements of gender equality. Other measures that must be considered to evaluate gender equality in a program include the level of participation of women (ex. Gender disaggregated data on frequency of missed training, with open ended questions to understand factors contributing to absences), the number of women in leadership roles in a program (ex. Savings Group Presidents, Treasurer, Secretary, etc.), or the gender responsiveness of activities (ex. Providing additional security for women travelling through insecure areas to distribution sites). Both gender exploitative and gender accommodating programs can also capture the gender of registered participants and represent the proportion of the population, without actually indicating anything about women’s empowerment within the program.

Myth #3: Gender lens is a methodology or a tool

A weakness among evaluators is to state that they will be “applying a gender lens” to an evaluation, without actually implementing any practical methodologies or tools. A gender lens, more accurately described, is an approach to evaluation that takes gender into consideration during the entire evaluation process – leading to the development of gender responsive evaluation questions, sampling techniques, and tools. Gender responsive evaluation questions go beyond asking “what were the genders of the participants” towards “What major gender stereotypes and cultural norms existed in the community at the start of the program – how have these changed as a result of the program?” A gender responsive sampling strategy may include strategic stratification of participants by the gender of the head of household. Gender responsive tools include Harvard’s Gender Analytical framework, the gender planning framework, and women’s empowerment frameworks.

Octopus Consulting and Insight utilizes its global network of Gender Specialists to design evaluations that are gender-responsive and appropriate to the region of implementation. We have worked with organizations in the past which specialize in gender transformative programming, such as Women for Women International and the Nobel Women’s Initiative – which reinforced our commitment to gender responsive evaluations.

Works Referenced:

Fletcher, G. (2015) Addressing Gender in Impact Evaluation: What Should Be Considered? Methods Lab.

UN Women. (2015) How to Manage Gender-Responsive Evaluation; Evaluation Handbook. UN Women Independent Evaluation Office.

Fletcher, G. (2015). Addressing gender in impact evaluation. A Methods Lab Publication. London: Overseas Development Institute & Melbourne: BetterEvaluation.

Gender-Responsive Evaluation. (2017). INTRAC: M&E Universe Series.