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Women Talk Too Much! What I learnt from a manager who thought so

A few years ago in a workshop I was facilitating, a man grew impatient with the pace at which the women in his group were trying to reach a consensus. He literally put his foot down, said 'women talk too darn much and that's why we don't leave decision making up to them'. Having silenced the women, he proceeded to make the decision for the group.

Coincidentally (or ironically), the workshop was to sensitize local Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) on the Dutch funded “Girl Power programme” on gender equality. The gentleman in question (and I used the term ‘gentleman’ loosely), was a Director at one of the NGOs that would be implementing the programme in that particular region.

On one hand, it is good that he was a participant at this workshop. After all, persons who held similar views to his, stood to derive the most benefit from this workshop on gender equality and women empowerment.

However, on the other hand, it was a bit disconcerting that a high ranking official at a NGO that is the partner in a gender equality programme, could not only have this opinion, but also felt comfortable to express them in the workshop setting.

His comment and subsequent action made me alter the format of the workshop for the remaining days. I decided to assign the women and men to separate groups. The change was immediate.

Women who were silent on Day 1 of the workshop were more vocal and actively participating when placed in groups by themselves. Before the commencement of the workshop, I would have been resistant to the segregation of groups based on sex, as I felt this went against inclusivity (and maybe even bordered on marginalization). However, in this particular context, with the power dynamic at play, division of men and women was necessary to encourage true participation of everyone.

The point of this article is to underscore the importance of having gender considerations in programme design, as well as the need for gender-responsive evaluations.

What is Gender responsive evaluation?

This is an evaluation that ‘incorporates principles of gender equality, women’s rights and the empowerment of women. It is a systematic and impartial assessment that provides credible and reliable evidence based information about the extent to which an intervention has resulted in progress (or lack thereof) towards intended results regarding gender equality and the empowerment of women’ – UN Women, Independent Evaluation Office, 2015

It should be stressed that gender responsive evaluation is applicable to all types of development programmes, not just gender specific work. Gender responsive evaluation looks at how development programmes are affecting men and women differently.

Tips for planning gender responsive evaluations

1. Use methods that facilitate participation and inclusion

These are participatory methodologies that allow all stake­holders to not only submit data and information, but also actively participate in the definition of what data should be collected. This is important for empowering rights-holders (or beneficiaries) and getting the voice vulnerable groups in the evaluation process.

I am a big fan of the Most Significant Change (MSC) technique, as it is a truly participatory method that involve stakeholders in the data collection as well as the analysis of this data. I would go as far as to say that every gender responsive or human rights evaluation should try and have this technique as part of the evaluation design.

2. Ensure collection of sex disaggregated data

I have covered this extensively in my other article on indicator development. Disaggregation of data is basic to any gender or human rights evaluation. All data gathered should identify the sex of the respondent and other basic data about the respondents that may prove relevant to the evaluation, including age, ethnicity, nationality, marital status, occupation. Be warned that this type of disaggregation may be politically sensitive and controversial in some contexts.

3. Employ a flexible methodological approach

Some methods of data collection may be appropriate for certain groups of beneficiaries but may actually place others at a disadvantage. Thus, the methods identified need to be carefully targeted and weighed against the potential risks.

4. Inclusion of vulnerable populations

The evaluator should be aware of potential biases that may arise in the selection of methods and avoid this through the inclusion of the full range of stakeholder groups.

Biases may involve gender, power (sources able to contribute freely because privacy and confidentiality issues are addressed), class or caste, and distance (favouring the more accessible).

Additionally, the choice of location, timing and language used of the evaluator may all have a bearing on the capacity of particular respondents to participate. Some groups may not be able to express themselves freely because of social pressure or they may not be allowed to speak or be represented in public meetings or community consultations. This last point became clear during my workshop on the ‘Girl Power’ programme.

5. Probe gender roles

The data collection tools should address the gender issues of the initiative or project, and must probe into broader gender issues.

For example, in assessing the effect of an income generation initiative for women, it is not only important to look into what the trainees have learned but also how this will affect the power dynamic at home.

In order to assess this, it is essential to probe into the gender roles within the trainees’ home environment and look at how they are able (or unable) to practice their newly-acquired skills. Will the trainees’ husbands or male relatives respond positively to the women earning more than the men or becoming a breadwinner?

6. Use mixed qualitative and quantitative methods

A mixed methods approach increases the reliability and validity of the evaluation findings, and helps to explore whether or not different stakeholders groups benefited differently and why.

7. Develop of precise indicators

These indicators should be able to measure the gender equalities and the difference in power relations. –

Going back to my Girl Power workshop example, an indicator that simply assessed the number of men and women attending in the workshop, would not have captured that the women had no voice in workshop. An indicator that sought to measure the levels of participation by women during the workshop, would be a better formulated indicator than that of ‘number of men and women trained’ .

A good overview of examples of gender indicators and how to develop them is given in this OECD document.

The following excerpt also gives a nice summary of the points in this article. It is taken from UN Women, How to Manage Gender Responsive Evaluation: Evaluation Handbook.

Hope the article was useful in helping you to design gender responsive evaluations.

Please share your own experiences on the issue of gender within your own programme in the 'Comments Section' below.

Publications consulted for this article:

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​​​Ann-Murray Brown

Monitoring, Evaluation and
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