Are gender-sensitive evaluations and feminist evaluations different?

In evaluation conferences, at times I hear "I do feminist evaluations, and not gender evaluations". Feminist evaluation places issues of power at the center of defining scope of evaluation, evaluation process and, how findings are used.  They look at intersections between gender and identities, and examine how the project/programme change social structures. Gender evaluations do not deal with issues of power and structures"

Having been taught about gender relations through reading  "Preliminary notes on Women's Subordination" (Ann Whitehead, 1978) as my bible, which emerged from collective reflection of  women activists from different parts of the world on women's subordination it has been ingrained into me that gender relations are power relations which interlock with race, caste, class, ethnicity, religious identity etc to keep women in a subordinate position.  Naila Kabeer through her book Reversed Realities (1994) added that these power relations are shaped by the institution of household, community, market and state. Murthy and Rao (1997) added inter-state institutions to this list.  The focus is on both so called "traditional" barriers to women's emancipation as well those imposed by "neo-liberal" policies.   When those of us who work with this paradigm on gender and social relations facilitate evaluations we are aware of how power gets contested at each stage of evaluation, and also try to capture marginalised women's perception of what extent power relations in different institutions are changing to the advantage of women and marginalised groups.  

Yes the term gender aware* evaluations since the 1990s has been  used in other ways too. The term gender-aware has been used to mean (adapting Kabeer, 1994):

1. Gender-neutral evaluations: Such evaluations examine how far the project/programme has used the traditional roles of women and men for the success of project objective (e.g increasing child health, improving agricultural productivity). Women in such evaluations are asked evaluate soft aspects while financial viability, project management etc are allocated to a male facilitator.  An example of a gender neutral evaluation is an assessment of an educational intervention on breast pump use to improve health of infants in special care nursery in Kenya (Friend and Chertok, 2009)   

2. Gender-specific evaluations: Such evaluations examine how far the project/programme has contributed to meeting women's sex/gender specific needs. (e.g. improving maternal health, seed preservation). Like in the case of gender-neutral evaluations, women in such evaluations are asked evaluate soft aspects while technical viability, financial viability, project management etc are allocated to a male facilitator. An example of gender-specific evaluation is the assessment of Green Path Campaign an information-education-communication (IEC) campaign to promote use of contraception in Armenia particularly targeting women. Women used abortion as contraception, affecting their health. 1088 married women were surveyed to assess changes in knowledge, attitude and practice 

3. Gender-redistributive/transformative evaluation: Such evaluations examine how far the project/programme has contributed to changing power relations within institutions based on gender and other identities (e.g. strengthening women's asset base, decision making in institutions). Women in such evaluations are often the team leaders, and include facilitator  from marginalised groups in the team. Like in the case of feminist evaluations, issues of power are placed at the center both on the ground, within the evaluation team, between the evaluation team and implementing agency and implementing agency and donor. Mixed methods are used for such evaluations. An example is the assessment of UNDP supported South Asia Poverty Alleviation Project which sought to assess impact of the project on poverty reduction and (dalit, single) women's empowerment in Andhra Pradesh, India. The project had component on social mobilisation (including dalit, disabled, single women federation), value chain development, micro-finance and capacity building. The evaluation was led by a woman who trained project staff in gender/socially sensitive mixed methods exploring changes in social relations and institutions. The findings were validated with project team, and the authorship rested with all (Murthy, Raju and Kamath  et al, 2005)

To conclude gender-redistributive evaluations and socialist feminist evaluations are similar, while gender-neutral and gender-specific evaluations are not.     

*Some evaluations are gender-blind that is they do not refer to women or men or changing relations between them . For example,  the goal of the Monitoring and Evaluation Program (MEP) in Pakistan as defined in the TOR is to assess whether USAID resources are well-spent and achieving desired results and to prevent waste, fraud, and abuse in the administration of programs, regardless of the implementation mechanism (See MSI, 2014).


Friend, D. and I. R. A. Chertok (2009). "Evaluation of an educational intervention to promote breast pump use among women with infants in a special care nursery in Kenya: Populations at risk across the lifespan: Program evaluations." Public Health Nursing 26(4): 339-345.

Kabeer, N, 1994, Reversed Realities: Gender Hierarchies in Development Thought, Verso, UK

Management Systems International, 2014, Call for Application: Team Leader/Evaluator, Interim Performance Evaluation, Power Distribution Program - MSI - Pakistan Last accessed August 22, 2014

Murthy, R.K,  and N Rao, 1997, Addressing Poverty: Indian NGOs and Their Capacity Enhancement in the 1990s.  Friedrich Ebert Stiftung

Murthy, R., Raju, K., & Kamath, A et al. (2005). Towards women's empowerment and poverty reduction: Lessons from the Andhra Pradesh South Asia poverty alleviation programme. In N. Burra, J. Deshmukh-Ranadive, & R. Murthy (Eds.), Micro-credit, poverty and empowerment: Linking the triad. (pp. 61-116). New Delhi: SAGE Publications India Pvt Ltd. 

Thompson, M. E., & Harutyunyan, T. L. (2006). Contraceptive pra... 

Whitehead, A. (1979) Some preliminary notes on the subordination of women. Institute of Development Studies Bulletin, No. 10: (3).  



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Comment by Ranjani K.Murthy on August 29, 2014 at 12:30

Thanks Donna so much for your comments. I straddle between using the term gender-redistributive evaluations and socialist feminist evaluations depending on the context.  The former with development agencies and the latter with feminist groups! Your thinking influences me a lot! Best Ranjani

Comment by Donna Podems on August 29, 2014 at 10:39

Thanks for a very interesting paper that encourages a theoretical debate, provides an important way to encourage discussion, and ultimately get people to apply, feminist or gender approaches. When I read the literature, there is a pure distinction--and many gender approaches, as noted in this article, are heavily influenced by feminist perspectives. I sort of see it as there is black (Feminist, but the colours are just to make a point!) and gender (white)  and then all these shades of grey where they draw from each other. Understanding the core differences helps a practitioner to decide how, if, and when to use what elements, to develop a strong evaluation approach. Ranjani, thanks for your wonderful, insightful thoughts on this.

Comment by Ranjani K.Murthy on August 22, 2014 at 7:42

Thanks Shraddha - i tend to agree with you. Just like amongst feminists there are liberal, socialist, marxist, eco and other feminists, so too there are amongst those who work on gender. Thanks. We need to sift the wheat from the chaff in both cases Ranjani


Comment by Shraddha Chigateri on August 22, 2014 at 7:34

Thanks for this Ranjani- this nuances the debates on gender vs/and feminist evaluations. I too, like you, feel that gender is about power relations in the feminist conception of it, but understand critiques from feminists such as Donna Podems that the wide-spread use of gender has emptied it of its connection with power. By nuancing conceptions of gender, as you have, I think we are better able to tell when gender is used to analyse power relations, and when it is not.

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