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Part II: Defining Measurement Elements of the Theory of Change

In this section you will you will learn about what should be the focus of impact measurement for women's empowerment programs, and the challenges of measuring empowerment.

What is "Impact" in the context of Women's and/or Girls' Empowerment Programs?

Impact is the highest level of change that occurs for the population group (as defined by our impact group). In the context of women's and/or girls' empowerment programs we are speaking of impact that is over a longer-term time horizon and whose meaning is associated with a social change process. Most WEIMI countries articulated an impact goal that includes the term “empower,” and “women's empowerment” is defined in the SII to be:

If this is an accepted definition, then “impact” is no less than the attainment of rights.

The behavioural and structural changes amongst other actors and institutions that are crucial for attaining this goal occur at the level of pathways and domains of change. However, if gains made for women or girls under the program are incremental (e.g., improvements in rates of girls’ retention in school) but not sustained by deeper social change that is grounded in changing power relations, then rights attainment will be an elusive goal. It is also for that reason that the term “breakthroughs” was incorporated into the conceptualization of a theory of change, to mark progress over time, highlighting changes that are not easily reversed and capture both breadth and depth.

Challenges of Measuring Women's and Girls' Empowerment

What are some of the challenges specific to women’s and girls’ empowerment?

Empowerment is complex, multi-dimensional, nonlinear, reversible and unpredictable. Women may be “empowered” in one dimension but not in others. It is beyond the scope of one organization, let alone one time/resource-bound project.

There is a tension between global efforts to harmonize and standardize measures for women’s and girls’ empowerment and the reality that definitions for empowerment vary across contexts, time, groups and individuals.  They are embedded in socio-cultural systems and communities with their own set of beliefs and values. Moreover, even over the course of a woman’s life, her social position and aspirations of what is possible may change.

Empowerment is highly subjective and therefore difficult to measure, as the SII revealed.  Indeed, it is said that contextual factors (e.g., the community context) are often more important in determining women’s empowerment than individual level factors.  As such, social norms may have a stronger influence on empowerment than would the abilities or capabilities or individual women/girls, especially in the public sphere.  That empowerment is more a process than a condition also makes it difficult to measure. Recent efforts have sought to capture process through direct measures of decision making, control, choice, etc., which should be measured at least two points in time.

For more detailed reviews of the challenges of measuring women's empowerment and social change for gender equality see the following:

If Gender Equality is the Impact Goal, What Should be the Focus of your Impact Measurement?

The 2012 World Development Report on Gender Equality and Development highlighted five priority areas for its global agenda:

  • Closing gender gaps in human endowments,
  • Promoting women’s access to economic opportunities,
  • Closing gender gaps in voice and agency,
  • Preventing intergenerational reproduction of gender inequality for which it emphasizes a strategy of investing in adolescent girls and boys, and
  • Supporting evidence-based public action, for which it proposes that new information be generated, particularly on ownership of assets and on decision making within households

Information on what happens within households is sorely missing and key to understanding many of the gender gaps. This knowledge gap exists because households have not always been disaggregated. Accurate recording of life events (e.g., death) and property must also improve to aid the enforcement of laws.

Within CARE, guidance is now available through the Good Practices Framework that identifies 8 core areas of inquiry for a gender analysis:

  1. Sexual/Gendered Division of Labor
  2. Household Decision-making
  3. Control of Productive Assets
  4. Access to Public Spaces and Services
  5. Claiming Rights and Meaningful Participation in Public Decision-making
  6. Control over one's Body
  7. Violence and Restorative Justice
  8. Aspirations of Oneself 

All of these have relevance across the spectrum of the WEIMI CO programs and are equally applicable to all programs, regardless of whether the impact group is women or girls. Gender equality measures ought to be systematically introduced into all areas of programming and followed up with strategies to address disparities and gender injustices.

It is also worth reminding ourselves that to address the underlying causes of poverty & social injustice and gender inequality, i.e., to achieve transformational development, we will need to be measuring change in:

  • Gender roles and relationships within household, community and at a macro level
  • All three of these levels will require our attention in measuring the change, across structure, agency and relations.
  • The lives, networks and status of individual women, households, solidarity groups, communities, etc.
  • Social norms around accepted gender-based roles and behaviors .  In examining community dynamics, social norms reveal themselves; these are essentially the perceptions, often incorrect perceptions, on what are typical or desirable behaviors. Social norms are properties of a social group (e.g., all men in the community, VSL groups) and are powerful when they apply to people’s everyday life. They influence individual and group behaviors.

Further, attention to gender-sensitive measures, whether in a program specific to women or to girls, includes systematically disaggregating data for both genders. Sensitivity is also required for differences in age groups and stages of the life cycle.

These differences must be reflected in the line of inquiry as well, framing questions and employing methods appropriate to the age group and gender.

Key Considerations for Developing an Impact Measurement System

Developing an “impact measurement system” should not be viewed narrowly as a technical undertaking or putting into place the hardware to manage information. It encompasses much more, and so it is important to:

  • Develop a strategy of how you plan to measure change at all levels of your theory of change
  • Construct a framework for the knowledge and the results you expect to produce
  • Establish processes for monitoring and reflection that become a way of working
  • Continuously build capacity of staff and partners in monitoring and evaluation iteratively with acting and planning.

When monitoring and evaluation ceases to be episodic and is supported by continuous reflection as an internalized practice, then the gap between “implementing good initiatives” and “telling an impact story” will close.

CLICK HERE for Part II of the WEIMI Guide