Integrating a gender dimension into Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) systems - best practices

November 30, 2021

Integrating a gender dimension to M&E structures is an important step towards achieving broad-based and inclusive development. Our article provides step-by-step guidance to help you and your organisation integrate gender into your project and different components of your M&E system as a crosscutting issue. Development actors working in M&E or anyone who provides M&E support to organisations or those interested to learn about Gender and M&E can greatly benefit from this guide.

The new development agendas acknowledge gender equity and equality as essential elements for combating poverty and stimulating sustainable development. However, women, girls, gender non-confirming individuals, and other minority groups continue to suffer marginalization, discrimination, and violence in most parts of the world as consistent, meaningful progress toward gender equality remain elusive. To build an equitable and more inclusive society, governments, organisations, policymakers, and industry leaders across the globe must instill gender parity across all sectors. This requires developing appropriate gender-sensitive policies, targeted interventions and M&E systems.

Stay with us as we explain what gender-sensitive M&E means and how development organisations and others working in the sector can benefit from integrating a gender dimension into their M&E structures. In addition, we explore a 4-step process to help development actors use specific gender-related questions to ensure integration of gender components into all aspects of their M&E system for the appropriate collection, compilation, analysis, dissemination, and use of gender data for assessing and addressing the needs of all individuals.

What is gender-sensitive monitoring and evaluation (M&E)?

Before we explain gender-sensitive M&E, let’s try and understand how the term Gender’ is defined in international development literature. The Glossary of Terms and Concepts by UNICEF explains ‘Gender’ as a socio-cultural variable that refers to the comparative, relational, or differential roles, responsibilities, and activities of females, males, and gender-nonconforming individuals. While the sex of an individual is biologically-determined, gender roles are socially constructed and it’s important to recognize that gender roles and other attributes can change over time and vary with different cultural contexts.

Likewise, ‘Gender Equality’ refers to the concept that women, men, girls, boys, and gender non-confirming individuals have equal conditions, treatment, and opportunities for realizing their full potential, human rights, and dignity, and for contributing to and benefiting from economic, social, cultural and political development. People’s rights, responsibilities, status, and access to and control over resources and benefits should not depend on their sex or gender. Instead, every person should be able to develop their interests and abilities and make choices that are free from limitations set by rigid expectations, responsibilities, and roles based on stereotypes and discrimination. 

According to the UN Women Evaluation Handbook, ‘Gender-sensitive monitoring and evaluation (M&E)’ is a powerful tool for learning, decision-making, budgeting, and accountability that supports the achievement of gender equality and the empowerment of women, girls, and other minority groups. 

Gender-sensitive M&E uses the method of gender mainstreaming to consciously incorporate the concerns and experiences of all individuals as an integral dimension of the evaluation objectives, approaches, methods, and use as well as project design and implementation so that all individuals benefit equally from the intervention. Thus, gender-sensitive M&E is not only a driver of positive change towards gender equality and the empowerment of women and other minority groups, but the process itself also empowers the involved stakeholders and can prevent further discrimination and exclusion.

The benefits of integrating gender into monitoring and evaluation (M&E) systems

The development of an appropriate gender-sensitive Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) system that contains meaningful gender equality outcomes and indicators can provide the following benefits for the international development community:

  • Gender-sensitive M&E discloses the extent to which an intervention has addressed the different needs of different genders, and has made an impact on their lives and overall social and economic well-being. 
  • Gender-sensitive M&E provides evidence to governments and policymakers to understand where government policies and programs fall on the gender equality continuum and the extent to which their interventions are relevant and effective in terms of achieving the desired gender equality, women’s empowerment, and human rights outcomes. 
  • Gender-sensitive M&E encourages the collection of inclusive data, disaggregated by sex, age, and other dimensions. Data disaggregated by sex can provide richer insights into gender differentials in knowledge, behavior, access to services/resources and their utilization, and other outcomes. More on data disaggregation.
  • It also improves project performance during implementation, encourages midterm corrections, and enables development actors to derive lessons for future projects.
  • Gender-sensitive evaluations tend to be inclusive, participatory and reflective, respectful, transparent, and accountable.
  • Even when project designs are gender-blind, using gender-inclusive indicators and conducting gender-sensitive M&E can help create equitable project outcomes.
  • The evidence from Gender-sensitive M&E can be used to advocate change, address gender dimensions in different sectors, recommend actions to improve the effectiveness of interventions in addressing different needs of different genders and contribute to greater gender equality. 

Not integrating a gender dimension into project planning, design, implementation and M&E greatly reduces the relevance, effectiveness and sustainability of an intervention. In fact, in many cases, this further reinforces existing and unequal power relations between the sexes and can even exacerbate these and diminish women, girls and gender nonconfirming individuals’ status in a society. 

Making each component of the M&E system gender-sensitive

At a systemic level, it’s important for donors and governments to establish accountability systems to track their compliance with commitments to gender equality. They must also build alliances with local entities and civil society organisations to support the capacity of national statistical offices to produce gender-sensitive data while strengthening gender policy and normative frameworks at national and local levels. Moreover, governments and development organisations should also work together in securing proper financing for projects and programs that support gender equality and the empowerment of women and minority groups. 

At an organisation level, NGOs must align with the national and donor’s gender agendas to design gender-sensitive projects and M&E systems. This requires incorporating gender mainstreaming throughout the project’s lifecycle as well as an assessment mechanism with a focused gender lens applied to all M&E system components. This enables the project team to assess progress of their intervention in achieving broad-based and inclusive development.

Here’s a 4-step process our in-house M&E experts recommend for making each component of your M&E gender-sensitive.

Step 1 - Conducting a gender situation analysis

One of the prerequisites of incorporating gender dimension into a project is to conduct a thorough gender-sensitive assessment. On the one hand, this type of assessment helps to deepen the understanding of the present situation of the target groups including the social, cultural, political, and economic aspects as well as the predominant gender roles, disparities, concerns, constraints, opportunities, gaps and structural and systemic causes of gender discrimination and inequalities within the context of the intervention.

On the other hand, this assessment is useful to estimate how the situation analysis relates to the objectives and goals of the project and whether or not it adequately considers gender concerns throughout its planning and implementation, regardless of whether the intervention explicitly targets the empowerment of women or gender equality. Additionally, gender analysis also helps to predict how the intervention is expected to change the existing situation as well as its potential impacts on different individuals and communities. 

Organisations must engage with as many local stakeholders, staff members, beneficiaries, and gender experts as possible to conduct the situation assessment. Input and feedback from multiple stakeholders can greatly inform the project and M&E design and improve its overall efficacy. Based on the assessment results derived from this close consultation and participatory dialogue, organisations can adapt their interventions to align with the underlying gender issues.

Key questions to ask:

  • Are sufficient capacities in place for identifying and addressing gender issues, gathering gender-sensitive information, and conducting gender analysis? Do we have team members with appropriate expertise? If not, what kind of capacity building will be needed to train the current members? 
  • Are funds being allocated for gender capacity building?
  • Are the benchmark surveys or baseline information gender-sensitive and capture the relevant gender concerns? 
  • Is there a gender focal point or staff in charge of gender concerns within the organisation?
  • Have key stakeholders had an opportunity to provide gender-related inputs?
  • Has the project plan been circulated for comments to the responsible gender specialist or gender focal point (if there is one)? 

Step 2 - Integrating gender into project design and M&E system

Based on the gender situation analysis, the project team can start defining the evaluation purpose and scope, and identify appropriate gender-sensitive project goals, objectives, targets, and indicators and establish an appropriate monitoring and evaluation (M&E) system. It is important to include input from women, men, and other minority groups from the project team, local stakeholders, gender specialists (if there is one) in setting these goals and objectives.

Identifying and selecting key gender-sensitive indicators for input, output, outcome, and impact is a key step in setting up a gender-sensitive M&E. Based on the indicators, the team can select the most appropriate gender-sensitive evaluation questions, data collection methodologies, tools, data analysis techniques and determine a proper timeline and budget. Gender-sensitive evaluation must apply mixed-method data collection and analytical approaches to account for the complexity of gender relations and to ensure participatory and inclusive processes that are culturally appropriate. While quantitative information helps to compare, qualitative information helps to capture the more complex and less quantifiable causes and effects of gender inequality.

At this stage, the team should also organize reporting and feedback mechanisms by clearly identifying who will collect and analyze information and when, and who will receive the information, and how it will be used. The team must ensure that there is a good representation of women and other minority groups in evaluation and data collection teams. 

key questions to ask: 

  • Are the intervention’s goals and objectives gender-sensitive? Do they adequately reflect all individuals’ needs? Have they been incorporated into the project logframe, results framework, or the theory of change? 
  • Who should be involved in defining the vision of change, determining the indicators, and gathering data? 
  • Do the tools and methods selected for data collection reflect gender outcomes and impacts?
  • Are there male and female data collectors, and have they received gender sensitivity training? 
  • Are quantitative collection and analysis methods being complemented with qualitative methods? Is gender analysis being integrated into these? 
  • Are both qualitative and quantitative project indicators, targets, and milestones gender-inclusive? Do they need to be revised to better capture the project’s impact on gender relations?  
  • How can we ensure small changes will be measured? Which indicators could capture the small, nuanced shifts in gender equality that tend to happen over time? 
  • What legal frameworks exist that may enable or inhibit gender equality? 
  • Is there a plan in place to protect the rights of the respondent, including their privacy and confidentiality?

Step 3 - Project implementation

At this stage, the team can start collecting gender-sensitive data based on the selected indicators. Plus, they can start monitoring the progress against targets set for the period under evaluation and feedback results into the system to allow for corrections and improvements as needed to obtain expected gender-related outcomes.

Key questions to ask:

  • What information already exists, or is being collected, to assist in tracking changes?
  • Is all data being collected disaggregated by sex, age, disability and other diversities and gender-specific indicators?
  • What expected effects does the intervention have on gender relations? Are these effects regularly analysed? Is someone specifically assigned to do this? 
  • Are key project activities and outcomes being discussed with key project partners? 
  • How does the project strategy need to be adapted to increase the gender-responsiveness of the intervention?  

Step 4 - Project analysis, reporting and lessons learned

This is a good time to determine how the collected data will be analysed, disseminated, and used. Assess the impact of gender integration in the overall project context, followed by the assessment of the impact of the interventions on women, men, boys, girls, and gender non-conforming individuals. The finding can also assist in determining whether the intervention has prompted changes in the existing norms, cultural values, power structure, and the roots of gender inequalities and discrimination in the community of interest. 

Key questions to ask:

  • What are the key results and how do they compare to the targets? 
  • How will the results be communicated to the stakeholders?
  • How has the intervention affected the men, women, boys, girls, and non-gender-conforming individuals in the target community? 
  • How will people’s gender or sexuality affect the way they understand and experience these changes? 
  • Are the effects of the intervention on different genders and gender relations part of every progress report? 
  • Do the findings, conclusions, and recommendations reflect gender analysis and explicitly address the gender-responsiveness and gender-related performance of the project? 
  • What are possible long-term effects on gender equality? Is there sufficient information to know that? 
  • Are the positive gender-related outcomes likely to be sustainable?
  • What lessons can the team learn from the key results and how will it inform the design and implementation of the current and future interventions?
  • Has the project established mechanisms to share knowledge related to gender equality?

In summary, gender-sensitive M&E can be an extremely powerful tool for the empowerment of women, girls, gender non-conforming individuals, and other minority groups. It is also equally beneficial for reversing unequal distributions of power, resources, and opportunities, addressing structural barriers and challenging discriminatory laws, social norms, and stereotypes that perpetuate inequalities and disparities in our societies. Therefore, the development of gender-sensitive projects and M&E should be made mandatory within the international development sector. Donors, governments and policymakers, government agencies, civil society, and grassroots organisations, and all development actors all have a part to play in realizing this common goal.

We hope our article was helpful. If you have any feedback or suggestions on how we can improve it, please feel free to write to us in the comment section below.

Key References:

By Chandani Lopez Peralta, Content Marketing Manager at TolaData.

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