Earlier this month I had the pleasure of attending EvalFest 2018, and in particular the session on gender transformative evaluations. I left the session curious about the programmatic context in which gender transformative evaluations are conducted. The questions that I want to raise for discussion are, “Can gender transformative evaluations be conducted only of programs that themselves intend to be gender transformative? What options are available to feminist evaluators who are called to evaluate programs that are, for example, gender-blind?” My interest in this topic stems from my own experiences as a program evaluator.
I work as an evaluator largely for for-profit social enterprises, many of whom have been in the solar energy sector. While I cannot claim that the evaluations I have conducted are representative of the for-profit social enterprise sector overall, this experience has been supplemented by landscape scans I have conducted of for-profit social enterprises in India. In these scans I have found for-profit social enterprises largely to be gender blind, and this is at least partly because of their dual objectives of both providing access to basic goods and services to disadvantaged groups, and of being financially sustainable at the same time. Most social enterprises are therefore in the “low margins, high volumes” business, and would eschew a marketing strategy that focuses on particular sub-groups of customers (and unfortunately in the case of low-income women, a group that may not have control over financial decision-making). When approached by such organizations, I have seen evaluation as a tool that can be used to draw my clients’ attention to issues such as the differences between men and women in their access to their products and services, how they use them, and how they benefit (or don’t). I believe that there is an opportunity here to advocate for changes that can improve women’s access to, use of, and the benefits derived from, these products and services within the constraints that for-profit social enterprises face.
Nevertheless, I am aware that for my evaluations to be useful to my clients, they must also answer the questions that my clients see as more central to achieving their dual objectives (which may not include gender at all). In addition, budget constraints typically prevent me from conducting a separate study within the evaluation that focuses on gender issues. In these contexts, I have often used gender-disaggregated data as the first step to draw my clients’ attention to the issues of access, use and benefits I described above.
While I fully subscribe to the view espoused by the EvalFest 2018 panellists that gender-disaggregated data does not make an evaluation gender-transformative, I wonder if it would be useful to think of varied sets of approaches and tools that can be used for programs that are designed to be gender-blind, gender-instrumental, gender-specific and gender-transformative, with the objective of enabling clients to move “up the ladder” to program designs (and evaluations) that are gender-transformative. I think this would be particularly relevant if gender-blind programs are not only the norm among for-profit social enterprises, but in the non-profit sector as well (as I suspect).
Thanks for this posting Devyani. I liked how you want to bring in gender lens in the work being done in for profit sector. I have also learned from you the importance of reflecting on our own work and taking small steps to urge others for greater degree of equity in their work.
Would you have an example where those who commissioned an evaluation took action on more gender transformative approach?
Good message for learning.
Here is a detailed response from Jyotsna Roy
This sounds very interesting but, not having been to the conference, I want to clarify something. You say that you see a need to "think of varied sets of approaches and tools that can be used for programs that are designed to be gender-blind, gender-instrumental, gender-specific and gender-transformative, with the objective of enabling clients to move “up the ladder” to program designs (and evaluations) that are gender-transformative." Do you think that approaches and tools would vary significantly between gender-blind, gender-instrumental, gender-specific and gender-transformative programming AND do you think that having a better match between evaluation approaches/tools and programs would lead to more gender-transformative programming? Thanks for explaining!
Response on email
This is very good to hear we have an evaluation example for-Profit which is having a gender angle.....
i cant wait to read more..... i can's agree more when she says. Most of the objectives look at dual objectives of providing access to goods and services and financial sustainabiliy of the enterprise......
I am also benefiting too
Thank you for such a well-written piece to get us discussing this issue. It is so uncommon that even in nonprofit realms we go much beyond sex disaggregation to really thinking about how gender influences service uptake. We are not necessarily better at this, in my opinion, when the project is focused on gender, or on interventions with a strong gender component like caregiving or food security - we take it for granted that, since women are target "beneficiaries" then gender is already well attended-to.
I share Margerit's question about moving up the ladder - how would you see the tools changing?
Dear Margerit and Keri,
Thanks very much for your comments, and for pushing me to think more about what I meant by moving "up the ladder". Let me try to illustrate with an example.
In two evaluations that I conducted recently, I ended up holding both single-sex and mixed focus groups (for varied reasons). What I found the most interesting was how the responses of men to questions about joint decision-making varied in single-sex and mixed focus groups. While in the mixed focus groups men were likely to describe more equal gender relations (whether in terms of decision-making or the division of labor), in the single-sex focus groups they were much more likely to describe themselves as being more dominant.
While mixed focus groups might therefore be a good tool to understand the extent to which there has been a transformation in relationships and power dynamics among men and women (and as important, the extent to which this is publicly acknowledged), in a conservative community a mixed focus group may only be an effective tool to use in an evaluation if the program that is being evaluated has already created an environment in which men and women feel comfortable speaking in mixed focus groups. This relates to the second part of Margarit's question about a better match between programs and evaluation tools. While a feminist evaluator might be keen to facilitate a conversation about gender relations and power dynamics in a mixed focus group, if the program has not created an enabling environment for these discussions to take place the experience is likely to be uncomfortable and potentially harmful for participants rather than illuminating or empowering.
At the "bottom" of the ladder the variations in approaches/tools I was referring to were largely related to making incremental changes such as the one I've described above. At the "top" of the ladder, I believe there are many more approaches and tools that have been developed which are outside my area of expertise. Jyotsna mentioned gender audits, and I'm sure there are other members of this community who would know of many others.
I hope this helps!
That was so helpful! Thank you so much. It never really occurred to me that gender dynamics would influence certain tools or ways of workings greatly. But your example makes perfect sense. I've also interviewed husband and wife teams (because the wife wouldn't come alone) and never thought to impose that type of lens on the data. I assumed Was hearing less from the wide but never thought I might be hearing something different from the husband. Thanks for taking the time to explain that. Great food for thought.
Great example, thank you! I am part of a training team with a dozen evaluation professionals and we used your example today in our course! Maybe Gender and Evaluation will see some more sign-ups tomorrow as a result... :>
All the best,
Thanks for your comment, and for kick-starting this discussion!
Unfortunately I don't have a successful example from my own experience of being able to convince a client to take a more gender-transformative approach. That's probably the subject for another discussion on evaluation use! However, in an evaluation that I was involved in for a social enterprise that provides employment services, by dis-aggregating our data we found that female job-seekers were more educated than their male counterparts but had lower salary expectations. Data such as this could POTENTIALLY convince the social enterprise to increase the awareness, confidence and negotiation skills of female job-seekers so that they start to ask for (and get) higher salaries.
Thank you for this powerful example. I have so much to learn from you.