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Spectacles for Seeing Gender in Project Evaluation

by Sara Hlupekile Longwe

“Spectacles for Seeing Gender in Project Evaluation” was delivered at a GEM Africa workshop on 16 November 2002. It expounds on a framework using gender analysis developed by Sara Hlupekile Longwe, a gender expert from Lusaka, Zambia. It argues that women’s empowerment can be achieved by enabling women to wrest control on the factors of production, allowing them to equally participate in the development process of an activity or a project. (For purposes of this manual, we edited Longwe’s paper.)

Longwe is a grassroots organiser, critic and author of the “Longwe Framework for Gender Analysis.” She has pioneered the use of international human rights laws in the fight for women’s rights in domestic courts. Since her first battle with the Zambia government as a young secondary school teacher for her maternity leave, Longwe has become a prime mover in a lobby group that successfully pushed the government to introduce, in 1974, a provision for maternity leave in the teaching service. Her continued involvement in women’s rights in different fields, including ICTs, has earned her the Africa Prize Laureate in 2003 which recognised her contribution to gender struggles. [Zulu and The Hunger Project]

We see the world in different ways – our appreciation and involvement are informed by many factors like class, race, gender, cultural backgrounds, economic and political situations, and many others. Aware of this, we need to use a kind of lens to look into the gender problems that operate in a project. These spectacles enable us to distinguish different types of gender-related problems, categorising and defining them according to their level of severity allowing us to better examine the situation.

Levels of Severity of Gender Problems

  • General Development Needs are those needs which affect women and men equally, which can be said to bear hardly any impact on sex or gender difference, thus, ranking lowest on the levels of severity of gender problems. It is often claimed that such matters as the need for roads, transport, or water are general development needs. But given the severe gender differentiation and division of social and economic roles in most societies, it is doubtful whether any need, with the possible exception of the need for air, can properly be put in the category of a general development need. Nonetheless, it may be said that some needs are more general than others, where gender differentiation and discrimination are less severe. For example, perhaps roads are more of a general need in comparison with land. In Africa, access to land is an area where women have a much greater need, being the majority amongst farmers and food producers, but at the same time this is an area where women are severely discriminated against.
  • Women’s Special Needs are those needs that arise from biological or sex differences. Of course, these may be serious problems in a general sense, but they are not in themselves gender problems. Obvious examples for this category are the need for maternity hospitals, ante-natal care facilities, and so on. But most childcare facilities do not belong to this category because women’s childcare responsibilities arise mostly from the gender division of labour rather than biologically given roles. (Of course, gender problems may arise out of women’s special needs, for instance, where male control of the government budget leads to lack of funding for maternity hospitals).
  • Gender Concerns are needs that arise as a result of the gender division of economic and social roles. Examples of these concerns proceed from women’s domestic position like concern with child care, food preparation and production and the like. It is, for example, typical for women to be more dependent on the natural environment (vegetation or forests) where they gather food and medicines. For this reason, too, women and men have a very different perspective on development problems, as well as a different identification of problems that need to be addressed. A development project may adjust to gender concerns but must address gender issues.
  • Gender Inequality is a more severe type of gender problem because the gender concern is also overlaid with gender inequality that stems from women having less access to facilities, opportunities and resources. In which case, women would require more resources and opportunities than men.
  • A Gender Issue arises when people recognise that a particular instance of inequality is wrong, unacceptable and unjust. This realisation is more likely to arise where the gender gap is large, and when women are aware of their democratic and human rights. (In the very patriarchal states of Africa, most gender injustice is perpetrated against women, rather than the other way around.) Of course, from a purely moral standpoint, gender inequality is always unjust, and therefore an issue. But from a political perspective, it is difficult to make gender inequality an issue if it lacks support from a broad public.

If your project recognises and addresses gender problems, are these problems the important and more serious issues, or has the project opted for the lesser problem of adjusting to gender role differentiation rather than tackling gender discrimination?

The above list will help you form a clear focus of interest on the type of gender problems which should be the focus for your evaluation. Hopefully, you will want your focus to be on the more serious issues, for instance on whether the project assists in tackling gender issues rather than merely disseminating information on gender concerns.

But if a project is to tackle serious gender issues, then we need to understand the dimensions of a gender issue.

A Lens for Analysing a Gender Issue

Our spectacles also need a lens that will enable us to see a gender issue in terms of its underlying causes because addressing an issue necessitates tackling its underlying causes, more than the effects.

Ideally, we expect that the Situation Analysis and Problem Identification parts of a project plan should identify the underlying causes of a particular gender issue. We should then expect that an intervention strategy is appropriate in tackling those underlying causes.

Below provides a useful framework for looking at the underlying causes of a gender issue:

Gender Gap is the observable (and often measurable) gap between women and men on some important socio-economic indicators (e.g. ownership of property, access to land, enrolment at school), which is seen to be unjust, and therefore presents a clear empirical evidence of the existence of a gender issue.

Gender Discrimination is the attitude and behaviour patterns that cause a gender gap. A gender gap is never accidental, but is caused by discriminatory gender treatment. In a patriarchal society, this is almost always the different treatment given to girls and women that cuts them off from access to opportunities, facilities and resources. Such discriminatory treatment may be part of a social custom, or may be entrenched in government administrative rules and regulations, and even in statutory laws. Even if these discriminatory practices reside in religious practices or customs, they may well have achieved the status of law in many countries.

Patriarchal Control is the system of male monopoly or domination of decisionmaking positions at all levels of governance, which is used to maintain male dominance and gender discrimination for the continued privilege of males.

Patriarchal Belief is the system of belief that serves to legitimise male domination and gender discrimination. It relies on patriarchal interpretations of biblical/religious texts, beliefs in male biological superiority (sexism) claiming that the unequal gender division of rights and duties is either natural (biological), or God-given, or too difficult to change because they are irretrievably embedded in culture.

Coercion is an even more ugly side of male domination that relies on violence against women to keep them in their place. Such violence may be domestic, or institutionalised within schools, police, army, etc. Where women’s acceptance of patriarchal belief begins to waver, physical and sexual violence is the fallback method for control and subjugation.

But if we are to tackle these underlying causes, then we must understand the process of women’s empowerment by which gender issues can be recognised and addressed. If a project is to be action-oriented on gender issues, we should expect that it incorporates and enables the process of women’s empowerment within its intervention strategy.

In order to evaluate a project’s contribution to the process of women’s empowerment, we need to understand the process.

A Lens for Seeing the Process of Women’s Empowerment

A focus of evaluation interest might arise from the general question of whether a project is merely disseminating information on gender issues, or whether it is also contributing to the process of women’s empowerment. But do we sufficiently understand this process? how do information systems contribute to this process? are we to naively assume that women are ‘automatically empowered’ by being better informed?

Because gender problems are embedded in a patriarchal system and given the dimensions of a gender issue, it becomes obvious that interventions cannot be achieved by ‘topdown’ planners. Women’s advancement, however, involves the process of empowerment, or the process by which women achieve increased control over public decision-making. This empowerment is women’s route to changing the practices and laws that discriminate against them, and the means to achieve an equitable gender division of labour and allocation of resources.

The male domination of decision-making is preserved by men for the purpose of serving their interests, where women do most of the work and men collect most of the rewards. It would be folly thinking for women to expect male leaders to suddenly ‘realise’ the value of gender equality, and ‘give’ women an equal share of the pie. Past experiences have provided more than enough proof that men do not ‘give’ power to women. It is axiomatic in gender politics, as in all politics, that power is never given; it has to be taken.

Clearly, therefore, we need a lens to look into the process of empowerment as a form of women’s action by which a gender issue can be confronted. This process of empowerment may be better understood in terms of the following five ‘levels’ of a ‘Women’s Empowerment Framework’:

  • Welfare
  • Access
  • Conscientisation
  • Mobilisation
  • Control

Welfare is defined here as the lowest level at which a development intervention may hope to close a gender gap. By welfare we mean an improvement in socio-economic status, such as improved nutritional status, shelter, or income. But if an intervention is confined to this welfare level, then we are here talking about women being given these benefits, rather than producing or acquiring these benefits for themselves. This is therefore the zero level of empowerment, where women are the passive recipients of benefits that are ‘given’ from on high.

Access is defined as the first level of empowerment where women improve their own status, relative to men, through their own work and organisation arising from increased access to resources. For example, women farmers may improve their production and general welfare by increased access to water, to land, to market, to skills training, or to information. But was the information which was considered appropriate ‘given’ to them by ‘higher authorities’? Or did they increase their own access? If it is the latter, then this suggests the beginning of a process of conscientisation – of recognising and analysing their own problems, and taking actions to solve them.

Conscientisation is the process by which women realise that their lack of status and welfare, relative to men, is not due to their own lack of ability, organisation or effort. It involves the realisation that their relative lack of access to resources actually arises from the discriminatory practices and rules that give priority access and control to men.

Conscientisation is therefore concerned with a collective urge to action, to remove one or more of the discriminatory practices that impede women’s access to resources. It is here where the potential for strategies of improved information and communication as a means for enabling the process of conscientisation becomes more evident. It is driven by women’s own need to understand the underlying causes of their problems, and to identify strategies for action. The leadership of more liberated and activist women is essential at this phase where dissatisfaction with the established patriarchal order moves on to concrete steps.

Mobilisation is therefore the action level which complements conscientisation. First, it involves women coming together, recognising and analysing their problems. Women begin to identify strategies to overcome discriminatory practices, and plan to take collective action to remove these practices. Here communication may not be merely concerned with the mobilisation of the group, but also to connect up with the larger women’s movement, to learn from the successes of women’s similar strategic action elsewhere, and to link up with the wider struggle. Here communication entails joining the global sisterhood in the struggle for equal rights for women.

Control is the level reached when women have taken action achieving gender equality in decision-making on access to resources. They have taken what is rightly theirs, and no longer wait indefinitely for resources to be ‘given’ to them at the discretion of men or the whim of patriarchal authority. Here the role of information and communication is to spread the word on the development of successful strategies. For example, in the widows’ fight to retain title to their property after their husband’s death, strategies developed by women in Zambia may be equally useful, or adapted, in Southern and Eastern Africa.

These five levels do not happen in a linear progression, or the way they were written above. In some instances, the achievement of women’s increased control leads to better access to resources, which improves their socio-economic status.

In evaluating a project, we need to ask ourselves if the project intervenes merely at the level of providing improved welfare, and access to information. Or does it enable women’s participation in a process for increased conscientisation and mobilisation which then leads to more engagements and achieve control?

Sometimes, while making an appraisal of a project plan, the evaluator may already notice see the phenomenon of a fade away in the project’s attention to gender issue. In other words, gender issues appear quite prominent in the Situation Analysis, but gradually fade away as the plan progresses towards goals, intervention strategies and objectives. This fade away may also manifest in the Women’s Empowerment Framework. It is quite common for the Situation Analysis to boldly admit gender issues at the level of gender discrimination and women’s lack of participation in decision-making. But as the plan moves on towards interventions, matters of welfare and access to factors of production become prominent. The evaluator may find it useful to use the above framework to draw a ‘gender profile’ of the project, assessing each element of the project plan in terms of its level of attention to women’s empowerment.

Project implementation also provides another opportunity for the fade away phenomenon. It may be that the project plan provides quite bold interventions for women’s empowerment, but management chooses to re-interpret this in a top-down manner. The end result of this is watered-down interventions concerned at the level of welfare and access.

Conclusion: Use Your Spectacles to Find Your Evaluation Focus

The above frameworks demonstrate that there are an endless number of questions which can be asked about every aspect of the project, even within our specific interest in the project’s gender orientation. From this angle, the evaluator’s task may now seem to be overwhelming.

But think of the frameworks as lenses in a pair of spectacles, similar to an optician who changes the lenses, the better for the patient to focus and choose the proper lens. Similarly in this paper, each framework provides a different lens or adds lenses that bring into fore additional aspects of the project evaluation. This enables you to map out wellfocused priorities for your gender evaluation. Using your different lenses, you now have a pair of spectacles that will help you focus on the:

  • weakest aspects of the project where gender issues are absent;
  • types of evaluation questions needed to look at vis-à-vis aspects of the project;
  • more severe or crucial gender issues which the project needs to address;
  • important underlying causes which need to be addressed; and
  • aspects of women’s empowerment to which the project can contribute.

With your new spectacles, you will now be able to focus on the evaluation problem and priorities. After that, you will be in a position to begin formulating essential evaluation questions, indicators, and methods for collecting the essential information.

So, before you do anything, don’t forget to put on your spectacles!