by Andrea Meneses
Can we say that an evaluation is truly participatory if it does not involve a gender perspective? Can we carry out gender responsive evaluations without the active participation of the groups involved in the evaluation process? Are we politicising evaluation by incorporating an inclusive perspective?
Far from providing answers, I want to briefly look at the ideas put forward by various researchers and evaluators who invite us to reflect on the topic, the task of evaluation, and its transformative potential.
Different Latin American feminist voices have spoken out against the technocratic and depoliticised way in which gender approaches have been used and the limitation this has on their transformative potential. For example, María Galindo (2015) has argued that there is a rupture between the way gender is used as a category and the ideological matrix that conceived it: feminism. This rupture obliterates the analysis of power relations in the patriarchal system and trivialises and simplifies gender. As a result, gender comes to be conceived as harmless, apolitical and sanitised. Several evaluators in the region have also spoken about this issue and gender-responsive evaluations, including Silvia Salinas, Fabiola Amariles, Alejandra Faúndez and Marisa Weinstein.
For Alejandra Faúndez and Marisa Weinstein (2012), the incorporation of a gender perspective is an evaluation approach, not content to be evaluated. It therefore involves more than indicators and the disaggregation of data by sex. These authors point out that a gendered approach involves a questioning of power relations, in which it is necessary not only to analyse the results but also the processes that have been implemented as part of the intervention.
Fabiola Amariles and Silvia Salinas (2013) remind us that evaluations do not take place in a vacuum, ‘… there are political, social, cultural and institutional barriers that impede a breakthrough in the incorporation of gender perspectives’ (p.4). They highlight the importance of taking a reflective and critical stance on the political context in which evaluations are embedded and the assumptions of false gender neutrality that underlie many interventions. The authors identify a number of lessons learned to enhance advocacy and ensure that evaluations contribute to social change. Stakeholder participation in all phases of the evaluation, inclusion, and an ownership of the process are fundamental conditions for the empowerment of the groups involved in it and in their capacity to engage in advocacy activities. ‘Participation… is a central strategy to ensure that the voices of the most excluded people are valued and heard’ (Amariles and Salinas, 2013, p.8).
For Julia Espinoza (2022), by placing people and their needs at the centre of the evaluation and involving them throughout the process, participatory evaluation ‘opens up a space to highlight the violation of rights, processes of social exclusion and the structural inequalities that exist in each context’ (see post).
Picking up on discussions initiated by Brisolara et al. (2014), María Bustelo (2017) argues that a feminist evaluation ‘recognises that evaluation is a political act and that there are different forms of knowledge, some of which are more privileged than others, so attention must be directed at the most marginalised people, and care must be taken to ensure that the knowledge produced by the evaluation is a resource of, and for, the people who generate it, sustain it and share it.’ (María Bustelo, 2017 p. 6).
Two handbooks published by the United Nations Evaluation Group on Gender Mainstreaming are used in the Latin American region. These manuals identify participation as a guiding principle of gender mainstreaming, together with other principles such as inclusion and equal power relations. For example, the UNEG’s 2011 Handbook states that evaluations which integrate gender equality must be participatory, and mentions five possible levels of participation: inform, consult, involve, collaborate and empower. This handbook stresses that gender-responsive evaluations must go beyond facilitating merely informative or consultative participation. For its part, the UN Women handbook (2015) provides further theoretical input on the analysis of stakeholder participation throughout the process and its benefits, as well as establishing a series of tools and recommendations for generating this participation. It argues that identifying and involving different groups at the beginning of an evaluation has several advantages. The process of reflecting on and owning the intervention being evaluated promotes accountability, builds capacity, encourages the use of the findings and can empower the participants.
In these publications, the gender perspective constitutes a central element of the evaluation, at least at a theoretical level. However, in my opinion, a deeper and more critical reflection is required concerning its potential to advocate for change by questioning inequalities of power, giving voice to vulnerable groups and guiding these processes in practice. In summary, from a feminist perspective (a perspective that I share), a gender-responsive approach permits the analysis of gender inequalities, understanding them to be part of a patriarchal, systemic structure. It also recognises that evaluation is a political act and that for this reason historically vulnerable groups must be listened to, using active participation methods at all stages of the process.
Based on the contributions of Bustelo (2017) and Espinosa et al. (2015), I consider that a gender-responsive evaluation requires a minimum set of principles:
- question the gender neutrality of the intervention being evaluated at all times;
- reveal, analyse and manage the power relations that exist between the different interlinking levels: technical staff, target population, evaluation team, facilitator and others;
- generate analysis, knowledge and learning about the inequalities that underlie the theory of the intervention being evaluated and that therefore have the potential to be perpetuated;
- propose an advocacy strategy for during and after the process, involving capacity building, awareness raising and the empowerment of involved groups; and
- ensure inclusion and active participation, especially of those groups that have been marginalised throughout our history.
In light of these principles, the inclusion of gender mainstreaming in the theoretical and methodological framework of an evaluation requires the active and empowered participation of all stakeholders during the different phases of the evaluation process (design, implementation and use). This empowerment process results from increasing a person’s or group’s capacity to make decisions and promote changes in their own lives. This is where the gender perspective and participatory evaluation come together, proposing processes in which the groups involved in an intervention strengthen their capacity to determine their own development through a conscious and active participation in the evaluation process. The transformative approach to participatory evaluation ‘trusts people to be able to speak and think critically, to make decisions and act independently. It also recognises that they have their own interests, expectations and priorities.’ (Tapella et al., 2021, p.61).
In short, gender-responsive evaluation and participatory evaluation share the fundamental principle of interpreting evaluation as a tool for social transformation, rather than an instrument that is limited to the purpose of learning or accountability and solely at the service of a few.
I also believe that this kind of participation in evaluations with a gender perspective can lead to more substantial equality. However, in practice, several challenges can hinder the combination of both approaches in the field of evaluation. These include political agendas, resource availability, partiality for conventional approaches to evaluation, lack of awareness on the part of decision makers, the socio-political context in which evaluations take place, the capacity to carry them out and cultural resistance to gender issues.
Based on the contributions of the authors discussed, the following are some ideas or questions that we can consider in our evaluation practice in order to enhance the transformative nature of gender-responsive practice and participatory evaluations:
Gender-responsive evaluations and participatory approaches go beyond the technicalities: they involve dialogue, learning and the construction and deconstruction of knowledge and know-how. We should continue to ask ourselves what we are doing to promote an inclusive (participatory and gender-responsive) approach in our evaluation practice in order to have a real impact on people’s lives. Let’s promote participatory evaluations with a gender perspective and gender-responsive evaluations that are highly participatory.
Anzorena, C. (2014). Aportes conceptuales y prácticos de los feminismos para el estudio del estado y las políticas públicas. Plaza Pública. Tandil, Year 7 – No. 11, July 2014 – ISSN 1852-2459.
Amariles, F. and S. Salinas (2013). Evaluación y cambio social con enfoque de género: Una mirada política a los aspectos técnicos de la evaluación. Paper presented at the Symposium on Evaluation Research on Public Policies, Programmes and Social Projects in the framework of the 3rd International Congress on Science, Technology and Culture, University of Santiago de Chile, 7th-10th January 2013.
Bustelo, M. (2017). Evaluación con perspectiva de género: una evaluación de mayor calidad, alcance y rigor. Spring 2017. No. 124. Tiempo de Paz.
Espinoza, J. (2022). Participatory evaluation. An opportunity to advance in human rights, inclusion and equity. Blog post on EvalParticipativa website.
Espinosa-Fajardo, J; A. Faúndez, S. Salinas; F. Amariles; M. Bustelo; M. Winstein (2015). Decalogue of evaluation from a gender perspective. Global Evaluation Week. Kathmandu.
Faúndez, A and M. Weinstein. (2012). Ampliando la mirada: la integración de los enfoques de género, interculturalidad y derechos humanos en la programación para el desarrollo. Santiago de Chile.
Galindo, María. (2015). Descolonización y despatriarcalización de y desde los feminismos de Abya Ayala. Colección Feminista Siempre. ACSUR.
Tapella, E.; P. Rodríguez-Bilella; J. Sanz; J. Chavez-Tafur; J. Espinoza-Fajardo. (2021). Sowing and Harvesting. Participatory Evaluation Handbook. Bonn, Germany: DEval.
United Nations Evaluation Group (UNEG).(2011). Integrating human rights and gender equality in evaluation. Towards UNEG guidance. UNEG Human Rights and Gender Equality Task Force.
United Nations Women. (2015). How to manage gender-responsive evaluation. Evaluation handbook. Independent Evaluation Office.