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Women and aid: beyond box-ticking

Tawergha women handcrafting traditional bak to be sold in the souks near the airport in Tripoli, Libya.
(Mathieu Galtier/IRIN)

Aid agencies have no problem agreeing that gender-sensitive programming is a good idea, but few have come up with concrete methods for evaluating the impact it has on those it is supposed to be helping.

The humanitarian sector’s Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) “Gender Marker” rates aid proposals on whether they ignore, take into account, or prioritise Gender Equality Programming (GEP).

However, the tool, introduced in 2009, only looks at projects on paper, it doesn’t monitor how well (or otherwise) they are rolled out or take into account their end results.

In an effort to close this knowledge gap, academics from the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) at the University of Sussex, commissioned by UN Women, carried out four in-depth studies involving 2,000 crisis-affected households in Kenya (in Turkana and Dadaab), the Philippines and Nepal.

As well a detailed qualitative review of how GEP was being received by women and girls in these communities – a mix of protracted conflict, refugee and rural settings - the team also created a first-of-its-kind indexing tool to quantitatively measure the outcomes of gender-focused projects.

Their findings, published this month in a new report, represent an important step forward in gender thinking ahead of an expected review of the IASC’s Gender Marker and the wider GEP debate at next year’s World Humanitarian Summit.

“We were lacking empirical data about what impact GEP had on humanitarian situations,” explained David Coffey, a humanitarian programme specialist at UN Women.

“Most aid practitioners had an idea that GEP was a good thing and that it would have a positive impact, but that was not backed up with solid evidence,” he told IRIN.

“One of the weaknesses of the Gender Marker, is that you can write the most amazing proposal, but once you implement it, you have no mechanism for monitoring it.”

Formulaic approaches

Jean-Pierre Tranchant, a research fellow at IDS, who co-led the project, said he had been surprised how little aid agencies knew about GEP, despite promoting it as a core strategy.

“There is a lot of box-ticking,” he said. “People in HQ tend to approach gender programmes in a very formulaic way, like setting targets for women’s involvement, and then ticking the box when the target is met, without really looking at what that involvement meant on the ground.”

IDS’s new GEP Index tool measures how satisfied women are with humanitarian aid, their perceived ability to influence programming, their appraisal of the level of gender equality in the programmes, and the proportion of programmes that women felt met their needs.

The model is still being worked on but it could become a key tool for measuring GEP impact in humanitarian settings.

“This is only a starting point because the GEP Index isn’t yet a finished item, but it’s an opportunity and idea that is full of promise,” said Coffey.

“The Gender Marker gives us a clue about how well-designed a project is, but the GEP Index takes us to the other end of the project cycle, giving us real on-the-ground feedback and allows us to be more accountable to the beneficiary population.

“Programmes are designed in-country and with specific contexts and nuances in mind – but this is an additional tool to help guide the design process to ensure the project delivers the best results.”

Positive interventions

Overall, the report noted that despite the current lack of detailed evaluation about gender programming, interventions were positive.

Examples included: providing school meals and uniforms to increase girls’ attendance in school; involving women in committees to improve location of water and sanitation facilities; ensuring women were economically active, which leads to more stable incomes for households; and giving women primary management of food collection to make diets more diversified and stable.

One issue however that the IDS findings did flag was that aid agencies needed to make sure they engaged men – and not just women – in GEP.

“If you want to empower women and girls, you need to involve men and boys,” Tranchant explained.

“Especially in settings like Dadaab [a Somalia refugee complex in Kenya], where refugees don’t have freedom to move around and already feel quite side-lined, it can add to that sense of exclusion if humanitarians then appear to be more interested in women.”

Limited feedback mechanisms have played a part in this consideration not always getting back to aid organisations, according to Tranchant.

Danielle Spencer, senior humanitarian advisor (gender and protection) for CARE International UK, welcomed the publication of the UN Women’s report.

“This is a very important and timely study,” she said. “While we at CARE are already doing a number of the things included in the recommendations, we welcome anything that moves this conversation along.”

And, she added: “It is rewarding that we are seeing the fruits of our collective labour. I remember in the past how difficult it was to even get people to put gender issues on a meeting agenda. Now it’s becoming a mainstream part of the system.”

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