During COVID-19 I was involved in three evaluations, one in South India (face to face) and one additionally covering parts of north- west India (online). The evaluations were of projects/programs on livelihood development and women's economic empowerment. These were carried out in the first phase of COVID-19 which was not so severe.
The lessons on challenges posed by gender and diversity in face to face interactions during evaluations during COVID-19 were the following:
- the need for women to get permission from husbands to attend FGDs during COVID-19 times, while this did not apply to meetings with husbands.
- the difficulty faced by women with motor and sight disability to attend FGDs, as buses did not ply.
- the lesser knowledge of cycling/two wheeler riding which limited the time women could give to evaluations when compared to men.
- men at times interfering with discussions with women, as they had free time.
- in online Whatsapp interactions only few women came, and at times seem to be guided by implementing agencies who were holding the smart phone.
At the same time, COVID-19 created more opportunity to interact with men and male youth to ascertain changes in their attitudes, as migrants (more men than women) were present in villages. It was possible to meet diverse and more women during online interviews as travel costs were saved which could be invested in cost of consultants in meeting more time on evaluation.
Some gendered findings on impact of COVID-19 on livelihood and women's economic empowerment were the following:
- the income of women running grocery stores increased during lockdown as there were restrictions on people's movement and a few women tailors who got orders from government to make masks benefited during COVID-19 (though orders were not consistent)
- lesser drain of family income on alcohol with closure of liqour shops during lockdown
- most livelihoods of women and men were adversely affected during pandemic like fisheries, agriculture, floriculture, brick kilns, horticulture etc due to inadequate inputs, transport, access to markets, demand. However, there was some demand for milk and vegetables.
- restrictions on women accessing ATMs- and finance- during COVID-19, men overcame this in some way or the other.
- loss of livelihood of men migrants- spouses- leading to crisis in family income and resultant domestic violence.
- combination of floods and COVID-19, resulting in no income from agriculture and brick kilns in parts of south India, and death of small animals. Women hence found it difficult to repay loans/interest to SHGs.
- faced with livelihood crisis, early marriage increased in some districts (dowry was less), but not others where girls studying to high school was the norm
Thus, there are gendered challenges to evaluation and gendered outcomes as well which need to be kept in mind.