Director General for evaluation places evaluation front and center in pursuit of gender equality

Last week I spoke at the Executive Board of UN Women about the centrality of evaluation to their role in bringing about gender equality.

Changing the way women and men, boys and girls relate to each other, understanding each other's roles and seeing each other as equals, is a demanding challenge. It shakes up longstanding norms and questions values that are often deeply ingrained and frequently subconscious. The full realization of gender equality involves not only the notional opening up of equal opportunities, but also ensuring equal access, participation and derived benefit across social, economic and political domains. And this can only be achieved through understanding and equally valuing and favoring the different behaviors, aspirations and needs of women and men.

To make progress towards this goal, we need a different level of understanding and insight underpinned by evidence that informs us, for example: about how policies are informed and formed by norms; and about how such policies can serve to reinforce or change patterns of behavior, and militate against equal opportunities to fully participate in and benefit from social and economic development. Evaluation provides such evidence, as it looks back at past policies, programs and projects to assess their consequences – intended and unintended, positive and negative - and, in turn, help us understand how to reshape norms.

This is why a group of us -- the Global Evaluation Advisory Group of UN Women – felt strongly about placing the need for and importance of evidence based policy as the centerpiece of our recommendations to UN Women. If it is to be successful in achieving gender equality, the leadership and the organization needs to own and use evidence from evaluation and research in its daily discourse and actions.

This suggestion was fully embraced by many of the Board members. And when you listen carefully to Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women, you will hear a key player making strategic use of evidence from research and evaluation to convince others of the importance of gender equality and how to make a difference.

At IEG, we are committed to integrating gender dimensions into our evaluations to generate evidence on what works:  

  • Placing Gender at the Heart of Evaluation spoke about how we had reviewed our own experience in incorporating gender into our evaluation work, highlighting, for example: where gender-issues were obvious (for instance in fragile and conflict situations) but with surprising findings such as overlooking economic empowerment and rights of women in the aftermath of violence; and areas where it might not be obvious that gender mattered, such as investment climate reforms. But, we also looked at the challenges of ensuring we integrate gender in our evaluations without "€œdulling the edge" and making it a tick-box exercise;
  • In Keeping the Focus on Gender Equality we spoke about understanding gender equality as an integral part of the World Bank Group'€™s goals of sustainably eradicating poverty and boosting shared prosperity for generations to come. This will help ensure that gender dimensions are understood as an integral part of development effectiveness and focus our attention on evidence that helps understand distributional effects, including on gender. The blog, however, also highlighted the urgent need to enhance data and statistics that allow a gender-differentiated analysis of outcomes;
  • Marco Segone of UN Women, in his guest blog Four Steps to More Gender-Responsive Evaluations, emphasized how gender needed to be reflected in the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals  and how gender-responsive evaluation will be critical to building an evidence base to create the right incentives for gender-focused vision, leadership and strategy in the UN System. That, in turn, should help strengthen organizational capacity for gender equality and put in place an appropriate accountability and reporting system.

Looking ahead, we have a number of important reports in the pipeline that have a gender dimension, including:  a soon to be published Clustered country evaluation addressing Resource Rich Countries; and major evaluations and systematic reviews of Early Childhood Development,  Financial Inclusion for Low-income households and Microenterprises, and the Bank Group'€™s Support for Electricity Access.

A lot done, a lot more to do! Let us know your ideas and experience about how evaluation can best contribute to building an evidence base to support gender equality.


Submitted by Eric on Sun, 02/22/2015 - 05:20

A key issue that should be taken into account is violence against women, as one of they main obstacles towards gender equality. Fortunately, a burgeoning literature is tackling this issue. My personal experience is with an impact evaluation in rural Mexico []. The main finding is that in order to change social norms regarding violence against women, informational interventions should be public, and not private. That is, if a policy maker is providing information, they ought to make sure not only that people receive such information, but that they also know that others are also receiving that information.

Submitted by Elena Bardasi on Wed, 02/25/2015 - 23:41

In reply to by Eric

Thank you for the comment Eric. Domestic violence is indeed a significant obstacle to the achievement of gender equality. The numbers are mind-blowing: according to a recent survey by the World Health Organization ( , over 35 percent of women worldwide have experienced physical or sexual partner violence or non-partner sexual violence. The phenomenon is particularly hideous in certain contexts. Our recent evaluation on WBG Assistance to Low-Income Fragile and Conflict-Affected States [link] shows that sexual violence as a weapon of war -- targeting of women as a tactic during armed conflict or gender-based targeting during the recovery period -- is a particularly relevant issue in FCS, which deserves more specific attention in our interventions.

Submitted by Maureen Wang'a… on Tue, 03/10/2015 - 08:11

I agree with the DG IEG on its focus on advocacy to promote use of evaluations by UN WOMEN. As a professional evaluator and previous consultant of UN Women sadly I find that of all the UN agencies, UN Women is in fact the least friendly and intimidating to fellow women. I am talking about the UN Women office in Kenya that is absolutely the worst place any person would want to visit because of the cold atmosphere that greets you right from the main door. With this kind of attitude internally, how can an important organization such as this one even reach out to the people it seeks to serve? I would probably suggest an evaluation of human resources at the UN Women agency to find out the real issues affecting staff attitudes and the working environment before we even attempt to promote use of evaluations by the agency to better the lives of women. Agreed utilization focused evaluation is a key and critical area that needs to be promoted by evaluators, however addressing the root causes of lack of evaluation use is also important. Perhaps the name of the agency is self defeating and should instead be UN Gender to be more inclusive and balanced in its approach and outlook. I believe women's as well as men's issues need to be looked at separately and together in order to understand the dynamics of relationships between both genders. I hope that evaluation will move towards reviewing the root causes of relationship dynamics rather than the superficial ones created in response to underlying factors.

Submitted by Caroline Heider on Thu, 03/12/2015 - 08:16

In reply to by Maureen Wang'a…

Maureen, your point about looking at "gender" rather than "women" is well taken. It is not solely about whether women participate or benefit, but how interventions affect -- positively or negatively, deliberately or inadvertently -- the relationships between men and women. In my previous job at the World Food Program we found that giving a resource (food) to a woman could be empowering her or putting her at risk, it all depended on the circumstances. We are finding similar things here in our evaluations at the World Bank Group.

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