This study analyses current assumptions about monitoring and evaluation (M&E) in the context of women’s rights, gender equality and women’s empowerment work. It assesses M&E tools and argues that donors and agencies need to work more closely with constituencies in building M&E systems to find creative ways of tracking the effects of interventions in the change process. Women’s rights organisations need to make internal learning systems a stronger part of their work.
Few M&E frameworks show how change happens or how gender relations have been altered. They do not reveal effective interventions for shifting the complex social power relations that mediate women’s access to resources and rights, security and autonomy:
- Many tools measure performance, rather than impact or change, and often confuse short-term change with sustainable change.
- Some frameworks, like Theory of Change, Making the Case, and SMART, attempt to locate indicators related directly to the changes being sought but with varying degrees of success.
- Methods such as Logical Framework flatten change processes into cause-effect relationships that cannot capture and measure complex social changes and may even mislead about how these occur.
- Many M&E frameworks mistakenly assume the presence of democratic rights, law and order, an impartial judiciary and police, civil liberties, and an independent media.
- Most tools do not enable the tracking of negative change or of how power structures are responding to women’s rights interventions.
In order to develop more effective ways of measuring change, the following issues need to be addressed:
- It is important not to assume that the logic and conceptual underpinnings of M&E systems are universal, rather than culture- and region- specific.
- Donors need to be aware of the complexities and potential and limitations of the various tools.
- After a framework has been negotiated, it should not become a rigid tool with little space for modification.
- M&E should not be used punitively. If the indicators chosen at the outset turn out to be inappropriate, the data generated through them reflects poorly on the project and can negatively influence funding decisions.
- Donors need to understand that good assessment requires staff time and resources and must provide extra funding for the process.
Emerging insights from practitioners engaged in gender equality and women’s rights work suggest the following assessment principles:
- Use tools that are designed to unpack the nature of gender inequalities and the social inequalities through which these are mediated.
- Create M&E systems that combine the best of existing tools.
- Enable the tracking and appropriate interpretation of backlashes and resistance to change (for example, not as failures of the strategy, but evidence of its impact and possibly, effectiveness).
- Do not seek to attribute change to particular actors, but to assess who and what contributed to the change.
- Challenge and transcend the traditional hierarchies within assessment techniques – such as between the evaluator and the evaluated, subjective-objective, quantitative-qualitative.
- Recognise that women are often the best sources for sensitive indicators of hard-to-assess dimensions of change in gender relations, and privilege their perspectives in assessments.
- Measure change not only in the formal domain of law, policy and resources but also in relation to cultural norms and practices.