Feminist evaluation (FE) emphasizes participatory, empowering, and social justice agendas. While all evaluation approaches are laden with their own, often implicit, values, few assert their values as openly as feminist evaluation. Unlike most gender approaches, feminist evaluation does not provide a framework or advocate a precise approach; rather, feminist evaluation is often defined as a way of thinking about evaluation. (See, for example, Podems, 2014; Podems 2010; Beardsley & Hughes Miller, 2002; Hirsch & Keller, 1990; Hughes, 2002; McRobbie, 1982).
Feminist evaluation has a strong overlap with some of the key characteristics of other evaluation and research approaches (see figure below); if you draw upon or appreciate these other approaches, then a feminist evaluation approach might be something that adds value to your practice.
What are the basic concepts that underpin feminist evaluation?
Feminist evaluation is based on feminist research, which in turn is based on feminist theory. Feminist evaluation theorists often list six basic tenets as the fundamental elements of a feminist evaluation:
- Feminist evaluation has as a central focus the gender inequities that lead to social injustice.
- Discrimination or inequality based on gender is systemic and structural.
- Evaluation is a political activity; the contexts in which evaluation operates are politicized; and the personal experiences, perspectives, and characteristics evaluators bring to evaluations (and with which we interact) lead to a particular political stance. A feminist evaluation encourages an evaluator to view her- or himself as an activist.
- Knowledge is a powerful resource that serves an explicit or implicit purpose.
- Knowledge should be a resource of and for the people who create, hold, and share it. Consequently, the evaluation or research process can lead to significant negative or positive effects on the people involved in the evaluation/research. Knowledge and values are culturally, socially, and temporally contingent. Knowledge is also filtered through the knower.
- There are multiple ways of knowing; some ways are privileged over others.
(Sielbeck-Bowen et al. 2002: pp. 3–4)
FE is particularly well suited to understanding inequities and encourages evaluators to use their empirical findings to advocate for social change:
- FE questions what it means to do research, to question authority, to examine gender issues, to examine the lives of women, and to promote social change.
- FE has as a central focus the gender inequities that lead to social injustice.
- FE views participation as a political activity and views knowledge and participation in discourse as a form of power.
- FE seeks also to ensure that the narratives and experiences of women in evaluations are valued equally to that of men’s and does not treat women as a homogenous group.
(Sielbeck-Bowen et al. 2002)
What’s the difference between gender approaches and feminist evaluation?
Feminist theorists used the terms ‘sex’ to describe anatomical differences between females and males and ‘gender’ to refer to socially constructed relationships between women and men (Podems 2010). Fletcher (2015) refers to gender as “a process of judgement and value (a social hierarchy), related to stereotypes and norms about masculinity or femininity, regardless of your born sex category. It is intimately entwined with sexuality and works alongside other social hierarchies, which most commonly form around race/ethnicity and class/caste/socio-economic status. In some countries and cultures, other hierarchies—such as those related to age or religious beliefs—are also important.” (see BetterEvaluation Blog: Gender injustice and inequality: what helps in assessing impact? and Fletcher 2015).
In a brief historical overview ‘gender approaches’, Podems (2010) refers to:
- interventions that took a welfare approach (e.g., handouts and services) to helping women in the developing world without challenging women’s status or the prevailing patriarchal structures (starting in the 1950s and 1960s but fashionable well into the 1990s)
- women in development (WID) approaches that focused on making women more efficient in what they were doing so as to alleviate poverty (starting in the 1970s)
- women and development (WAD) approaches that focused on improving the macro context (i.e., economic, political and social structures of developing nations) in the assumption that this would benefit women (starting in the 1970s)
- gender and development (GAD) approaches that focus on the interconnections of gender, class, and race and the social construction of their defining characteristics (starting in the 1980s)
While acknowledging that some gender approaches do incorporate one or more feminist elements, key differences between feminist evaluation and gender approaches may be summed up as follows:
|Gender Approaches||Feminist Approaches|
|Identify the differences between women and men in different ways.||Explore why differences between women and men exist.
|Do not challenge women’s position in society, but rather map it, document and record it.||Challenge women’s subordinate position; empirical results aim to strategically affect women’s lives, as well as the lives of marginalized persons.|
|View women as a homogenous group, without distinguishing other factors such as race, income level, marriage status, or other factors that make a difference.||Acknowledge and value differences; do not consider women as a homogenous category.|
|Assume that equality of women and men is the end goal and design and value evaluations with this understanding.||Acknowledge that women may not want the same things as men and design and value evaluations accordingly.|
|Do not encourage an evaluator to reflect on her/his values or how their vision of the world influences their design and its findings||Emphasize that an evaluator needs to be reflexive and open, and recognize overtly that evaluations are not value free.|
|Interpret gender as “men” and “women”.||Recognise other gender identities in addition to male and female|
|Collect gender-sensitive data||When collecting data, value different ways of knowing, seek to hear and represent different voices and provides a space for women or disempowered groups within the same contexts to be heard.|
Advice for using feminist evaluation
You don’t need to be a feminist to use feminist evaluation. While there are different schools of thought, feminist evaluation should not be exclusively for those that identify as feminists. The belief that only feminists conduct feminist evaluation keeps the approach out of mainstream evaluation and prevents non-feminists from exploring its potential use in their own evaluation activities. Choosing a feminist evaluation approach, like choosing any evaluation approach in any part of the world, needs to be done with careful consideration of multiple factors. Feminist evaluation should be applied based on its cultural, social, and technical appropriateness to a given context and should lead to a feasible, useful, appropriate, and credible evaluation (Podems, 2014).
Be knowledgeable about what feminist evaluation is, and is not. Many people have a strong reaction to feminist evaluation and yet few can explain what the approach entails. If appropriate, engage potential users of the evaluation in a discussion around how elements of the approach (or all of it) could enable a credible and more useful evaluation within the particular context it going to be used.
Consider removing the label while sticking to using the approach. Having two words (‘feminist’ and ‘evaluation’) that often elicit strong reactions together in one approach can be a challenge. If you believe that elements or the entirety of FE are appropriate to the evaluation process, explicitly introduce each element that you will use, or clearly explain the approach in its entirety, and provide the reasons for choosing it.
Adapt as needed. Feminist evaluation can provide a useful complement to, and intermingle with, other evaluation approaches such as democratic evaluation, empowerment evaluation, transformative evaluation, and others. Consider which elements of FE would fill important gaps or help to emphasise important ways of working or diversify results.
- Get involved and take it one step further. Peer support can be invaluable when practising evaluation. This is particularly important for feminist evaluation which is currently not widely practised.
Examples of feminist evaluations
The Transforming Organisational Culture for Gender Equality in Research and Innovation (GENOVATE) project is a European action-research project implemented by seven European universities with the main goal to promote gender structural change. Complutense University of Madrid evaluates the GENOVATE project and trains and supports partners to evaluate their own GEAPS. The evaluation is formative, continuous, and carried out in collaboration with its seven partner teams. The evaluation's goal is to contribute to learning about gender change and how to promote more gender-transformative actions.
View presentation slides from the 11th EES Biennial Conference presentation: Evaluation and organizational change pro-gender equality: the experience of evaluating the GENOVATE project (Julia Espinosa)
Working with men and boys is increasingly recognised as an important approach to address and prevent gender based violence and discrimination. Equal Community Foundation (ECF) has worked with more than 3,000 adolescent boys across 28 low-income urban communities in Pune and Mumbai, India. The purpose of the evaluation was to assess the outcomes of ECF’s community programmes in order to inform the development of a strategy for future work in order to improve, replicate it and scale up the approach. A gender transformative or feminist lens along with utilization-focused and developmental approaches was used to evaluate the program and assess to what extent deeply entrenched attitudes towards male preference and female subordination had changed, what factors supported the change, who were the gatekeepers and what was the impact of these changes on boys and their families in communities.
North and Central America:
Dr. Sielbeck-Mathes uses evaluation of three rural co-occurring mental health and substance abuse treatment programs to describe evaluation processes of (1) identifying and articulating feminist values internally, (2) thinking through how to frame important messages about trauma, substance abuse, and treatment for women so they are communicated in a language that is translatable and transferable, and (3) designing and responding to the analysis process and findings so as to improve outcomes immediately for women and in future programs. Dr. Sielbeck-Mathes emphasizes that in order to use the evaluation process to bring about social change, feminist values and evaluation findings should be translated into a meaningful, compelling, and actionable language.
See Seilbeck-Mathes and Selove (2014), and read their blog on this topic on AEA365: FIE TIG Week: Kathryn Sielbeck-Mathes and Rebecca Selove on Feminist Evaluation and Framing
The Canadian federal government’s evaluation practices are largely dictated by a centralized evaluation policy affecting individual departments and agencies. These organizations are held accountable to standards and directives set forth in the suite of evaluation policy tools. Applying feminist evaluation principles to the suite of evaluation policy tools provides an interesting perspective to identify and strengthen opportunities to incorporate gender and other intersections of diversity. Early research highlights conflicting priorities between the suite of policy tools and feminist evaluation principles. Presuming these tools remain static, this paper offers suggestions for others creating opportunities to incorporate gender, and other elements of diversity in their own respective evaluation functions.
Silvia Salinas Mulder, Independent Evaluation Consultant, Independent consultant and evaluator, President of the Bolivian Monitoring and Evaluation Network (REDMEBOL), Creator and co-manager of the EvalGénero, the Spanish speaking community of practice on gender and evaluation, Founding member of the Latin America and Caribbean Newtork of Women in Management (REDWIM)
This final evaluation was an experience of setting a strategy that was key in gaining trust and credibility about analyzing gender issues in a “neutral” evaluation process. The evaluation team was proactive and used negotiation skills to reach agreements and consensus with project managers and key stakeholders to achieve two objectives: linking results and recommendations to sustainable gender equity and equality; and sensitizing program staff and other actors about the importance of addressing gender equity and equality issues in order to advance social change and development. The case illustrates how, from the perspective of a Latin America reality and evaluation practice, the central political objectives of a feminist evaluation were accomplished. Based on evidence, the evaluation process challenged the paradigms of intracommunity homogeneity and equality.
Example cited in Chapter 9, Salinas-Mulder, S. & Amariles, F. ( 2014). Latin American Feminist Perspectives on Gender Power Issues in Evaluation.of the Book “Feminist Evaluation and Research. Theory and Practice”, edited by Sharon Brisolara et al., 2014.
In the early 1990s, in Botswana, a nonprofit organization (NPO) established itself on the physical grounds of a rather underfunded government mental institution. The aim of the evaluation was to provide the NPO with data that they could use to improve their program, demonstrate successes, and engage the hospital management in supporting or, at the very least, not preventing the NPO from doing their work. The evaluation was strongly influenced by feminist evaluation, informed by other approaches and resulted in credible and useful findings. This small, low budget, quiet, evaluation made a difference in the lives of the invisible (the patients), the undervalued (the nursing staff) and the unrecognized (NPO).
Gender Statistics Database: The Gender Statistics Database contains gender statistics from all over the European Union (EU) and beyond, at the EU, Member State and European level.
DHS Gender Corner: The DHS Gender Corner provides quantitative information on such topics as domestic violence, women’s status and female genital cutting, and links to gender-related publications based in DHS data.
Ohio Women’s Centers’ Reflections on Evaluation & Assessment: The second of the Ohio Women's Centres Issues Brief, paper presents reflections from the Ohio Women’s Centers on evaluation and its role in their work and issues related to its accomplishment.
Capturing changes in women’s lives: the experiences of Oxfam Canada in applying feminist evaluation principles to monitoring and evaluation practice: This article describes Oxfam Canada’s efforts to develop a mixed-methods approach to monitoring, evaluation, and learning rooted in feminist evaluation principles.
Feminist Evaluation and Gender Approaches: There’s a Difference?: This article provides readers with a historical overview and description of feminist evaluation and gender approaches.
Feminist Evaluation and Research: Theory and Practice: This book provides an overview of feminist theory and research strategies as well as detailed discussions of how to use a feminist lens, practical steps and challenges in implementation, and what feminist methods contribute to research and evaluation projects.
Websites and Networks
The My M&E website: The My M&E Website is both a source of knowledge about monitoring and evaluation practices and a network to connect practitioners from around the world. My M&E provides free e-learning opportunities related to gender and evaluation and feminist evaluation.
Gender and Evaluation International Online Community of Practice: The Gender and Evaluation Community's objective is to bring knowledge building and knowledge sharing under one place, and to share the content and experiences from people involved in the network.
Feminist Issues in Evaluation - AEA Thematic Interest Group: This American Evaluation Association Thematic Interest Group contributes to the annual AEA conference through the sponsoring of sessions and professional development workshops, and serves as a network for members and others interested in feminist issues in evaluation.
Beardsley, R. and Hughes Miller, M. (2002). 'Revisioning the process: A case study in feminist program evaluation', New Directions for Evaluation. 96:57-70.
Brisolara, S., Seigart, D. and SenGupta, S. (Eds) (2014) Feminist Evaluation and Research: Theory and Practice. The Guilford Press.
Fletcher, G. (2015). Addressing gender in impact evaluation. A Methods Lab Publication. London: Overseas Development Institute & Melbourne: BetterEvaluation.
Hirsch, M. and Keller, E. (1990). 'Conclusion: Practicing conflict in feminist theory'. In: Hirsch M, Keller E (eds). Conflicts in feminism. p370-385. New York: Routledge.
Hughes, C. (2002). Key concepts in feminist theory and research. London: Sage Publications.
McRobbie A (1982). The politics of feminist research: Between talk, text and action. Feminist Review 12:46-48.
Podems, D. R. (2014). 'Feminist Evaluation for Nonfeminists' in Feminist Evaluation and Research: Theory and Practice. Edited by Sharon Brisolara, Denise Seigart, and Saumitra SenGupta. Guilford Press: New York.
Sielbeck-Bowen, K., Brisolara, S., Siegart, D., Tischler, C., and Whitmore, E. (2002). 'Exploring feminist evaluation: The ground from which we rise', New Directions for Evaluation 96: 3-8. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ev.62/abstract
Sielbeck-Mathes, K. and Selove, R. (2014) 'An Explication of Evaluator Values: Framing Matters'. In S. Brisolara, D. Seigart, and S. SenGupta (Eds) Feminist Evaluation and Research: Theory and Practice pp. 143-150.
Whynot, J. (2015) Integrating Gender into the Canadian Federal Government Evaluation Function. Presentation at The Evaluation Conclave 2015.