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Powerful and powerless: Use of discussions on power in impact evaluations!

Recently I was facilitating a workshop on team building with an activist NGO in South India. 

As part of this workshop I raised the workshop I asked the staff (from field to team level) when did they feel powerful and powerless in the organisation. 

Interestingly the field and middle level staff spoke mainly on the impact of their work (and constraints) on changing gender and social relations, while the team level staff focused on issues related to internal organisation.

Giving examples of when they felt powerful, the field level staff shared many achievements which may or may not have emerged through other questions.  Several field staff explained "We stopped the practice of 'Sammandi Seeru' in 41 coastal villages". Sammandi Seeru is what is given by bride's family to the groom's family when either of his parents pass away. In the beginning only small things were given, but soon the gifts included fridge, television, bike etc.  It became like the practice of dowry. Child sex ratio had started declining in the villages, when earlier it was not the case. The Gender Lead Person in the team, community coordinators and organizers had extensive discussions with women's federations, women's groups and traditional fishing village councils. After lot of negotiations this practice was banned by the traditional fishing village councils in 41 villages. Indeed a remarkable achievement. Another staff pointed to how they had worked with the women's groups and adolescent girls groups to stop the ceremony when girls attained puberty in few villages, as well when women became pregnant.  Again girl's/women's side had to spend money, and the ceremony was an embareisment for the girl  Several child marriages were prevented. All these were occasions when the field staff- majority from the fishing community- felt that they, the women's groups and federation were powerful. In three villages other stakeholders tried to take over buildings constructed for women's groups. The women's groups with the federations and staff lobbied with the government and fishing village councils  that it belonged to them. That is, challenging unequal social norms and exercising control over their collective resource is a source of power for grassroots functionaries (and perhaps as well as women's groups from their account). 

At the same time, when a child marriage could not be prevented by them and child help line as the n the male leaders of the village where part of it they felt powerless.   Another source of feeling powerless-cited by a women organiser- is when some women get beaten up regularly by husbands, ask the police to put their husbands behind bars (with support from groups) and the very next day get their husbands released and the violence continues.  The police then refuse to act when some other women in a similar situation genuinely wants her husband to be booked for wife battering.  Yet other cases cited was of feeling when adolescent boys being taken out of school and put into fishing, or adolescent girls for housework.  Feelings of powerful and powerlessness shift with time like tides of ocean. It is not static, neither is impact static.  

To sum up questions on when you felt powerful and powerless in your work can give staff's perspective on impact.  I intend asking the same questions with marginalised women, girls and boys to get their perspective and see if this question works with rights holders.            

 

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Comment by Ranjani K.Murthy on October 8, 2015 at 16:38

Madhumita thanks so much for sharing this insight.  Very interesting, at the same time sad that "contacts' have to be the source of poor- and not transformation in their lives or social norms.

At the same time nobody is fully powerless. People fluctuate between the two in different situations and institutions.

Best

Ranjani   

Comment by madhumita sarkar on October 8, 2015 at 8:35

Dear Ranjani,

discussion on power relations is always extremely useful. i recently facilitated an assessment with Palestine refugees from Lebanon and Syria. the refugees from Lebanon have experienced  this refugee status for 67  years, they have no statehood. the refugees from Syria are past refugees in Syria but with a better status than those from Lebanon.they became refugees twice because of teh current crisis. during the FGD we wanted to know if they had any sources of power, interestingly the powers idnetified were position, connection and information by those from lebanon and information and connection for those from syria.

the women from Syria said they never required any connection power while in Syria but have acquired them in Lebanon to survive. their connections are primarily with agencies that distribute resources or provide skill opportunities to start small business...

i have not done the feeling powerful or powerless aspect...

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