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By Karin Kohlweg, EES Secretary General, & Petra Novakova, Leader of EES Thematic Working Group 1

International Women’s Day is often a reminder and provides a good space for reflecting on where we stand with gender equality. With this blog, we want to mark the start of a quarterly series on gender and evaluation with the aim of setting a ‘quarterly reminder’ and advocating for a systematic approach for gender mainstreaming and gender-responsive evaluations.

To set the stage, let us start with the basic definition of what gender mainstreaming actual refers to. When speaking of gender mainstreaming, we talk about an approach that involves integrating gender perspectives into the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of policies and interventions with the objective of promoting equality and combating discrimination, ensuring that no one is left behind.

Since the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action on Gender Equality, commitment to gender mainstreaming has become widespread. The majority, if not all, multilateral and bilateral donor agencies, governments and NGOs commit to applying gender mainstreaming in their policies, programming, and evaluations. We can see this commitment from the growing number of manuals and guidelines on gender mainstreaming.

Sadly, despite these efforts over many years, the evidence from gender audits, meta-evaluations, evaluations, reviews, and quality assurance work suggests continuing gaps in the mainstreaming of gender in our policies, interventions, and evaluations.

This raises questions. What are we doing wrong or not enough of? How is it that despite our utmost honourable words, commitments, and efforts, we are still having difficulty turning gender mainstreaming promises into action? Why do we still not know much about how women’s and men’s lives have been affected by interventions? Why is it that, when we reach the point to evaluate our policies or programmes, gender mainstreaming appears as an “afterthought”, rather than a standard approach, visible in the designs, monitoring and evaluations of our policies and interventions?

We will start with our observations around five recommendations for further improvements, knowing that there are many others too.

  1. Make gender analysis a compulsory element of policy making, programming and evaluations. There is evidence that a gender analysis sets the scene and is the cornerstone of facilitating gender mainstreaming in our policies and interventions. This, however, also needs the right resourcing, in term of both financial resources as well as human resources. Often, we have seen that organisations do not invest in staff whose main responsibility is gender mainstreaming, rather than gender mainstreaming being an addition to their other responsibilities. Gender analysis also needs to be closely related to the planned interventions. If they are too generic, and become 30-50 pages study documents, it remains questionable if the information can be absorbed and used by busy programme/project managers. For the evaluation process, it means that the gender analysis also needs to be considered and analysed.
  1. Include gender mainstreaming in project management and evaluation guidelines and manuals. Make them accessible, not just available, and comprehensible for all users. From the field, we hear various definitions of what gender mainstreaming is. We need to increase our efforts to demystify gender mainstreaming in general but also better define what it exactly means to evaluate gender mainstreaming. This would also imply using a language that is clear and simple, and, if possible, adapt to the local context to ensure that “gender” is not seen as synonymous with “women only” and that gender mainstreaming means focusing on gender relational impact on policies and development interventions on gender equality.
  1. Make gender mainstreaming visible in evaluations! Even if gender mainstreaming has not been applied in the design phase or even in the implementation, it should be integrated into all evaluations. If you are commissioning evaluations, ensure that you mainstream gender in the Terms of Reference (ToR). Referencing gender mainstreaming only once, e.g., under “cross cutting issues”, will not be sufficient. Requesting for a gender responsive evaluation approach is a good starting point for the evaluation. Ensuring that gender mainstreaming is being considered in the entire evaluation process, it is recommended to include specific gender related evaluation questions under each evaluation criterion in the ToR. Additionally, it is also suggested to refer to gender issues in other parts of the ToR such as in the context/background, project description, scope, methods, evaluation products/deliverables, evaluation team/requirements and include relevant gender related references in the bibliography, if applicable.
  1. Deploy the right skills, expertise, and competences for evaluators. Go beyond teams’ gender balance and seek abilities and skills to collect, analyse and interpret data. In addition to this, the evaluation team would ideally have, an understanding of and sensitivity to the local context and the context-specific gender realities. Last, but certainly not least, evaluators need to adhere to a strict ethical code of conduct when collecting data and be guided by the ‘do no harm principle’.
  1. Ensure the utilisation of findings and lessons learned from evaluations and feed them into the development of new policies and interventions, facilitating, and nurturing the culture of learning in institutions. Investing more in meta-evaluations, analysing the available information from existing evaluations and other sources of what worked well and what did not, could be one option. Another one could be inviting evaluators as partners and facilitators during the design phase of interventions, respecting possible conflict of interests, of course! This would allow them to benefit from the richness of the evaluation experience when it comes to lessons learned from similar interventions and ensure that no learning is lost.

The above represents just the “tip of the iceberg”, when it comes to recommendations and we see, that there is much more that needs to be done. However, we feel that we cannot wait any longer and must act now to avoid coming back on 8 March 2031 only to find the same issues all over again. For that reasons we believe we need to step up our joined efforts and commitments to walk the walk, not just talk the talk.

Thus, we would like to invite you to share your experiences with us, responding to our question: what did you do to strengthen gender mainstreaming in your evaluations?