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Learning to Measure Gender Impacts to better Value Gender-Focused investments

By Rachna Nag Chowdhuri, Senior Director (Analytics), and Ken Chomitz, Chief Analytics Officer  |   Posted 15th March 2021

In 2019, in partnership with Global Affairs Canada, GIF made a commitment to fund innovations that explicitly aim to transform unequal gender relations for women and girls. To do this effectively, GIF has sought to ensure gains in women’s and girls’ agency, and reductions in violence against women and girls, would be appropriately recognized and accounted as impacts of gender-transformative investments.

At the core of GIF lies a difficult challenge of choosing investments, across any sector and location, that will generate the largest possible social benefit. To tackle this, we use Practical Impact (PI) methodology to create a single yardstick that can forecast the impact of innovations across all outcomes, including health, education, and livelihoods. This forces us to articulate our values, assess how and why we expect an innovation to be beneficial, and to confront the real trade-offs involved in choosing among diverse opportunities.

The impacts of gender innovations are highly complex to distil into single yardstick comparisons, however. Gender impacts range from changes in social norms, decision-making, to reduction in violence against women and girls (VAWG).

Despite the complexity, as noted, quantification allows us to help situate our priorities explicitly and express that GIF values gender equality and allow us to elevate attention for gender innovations. Advocates of improved health, education and environment have learned that attaching economic values to these outcomes helps shape policy. More recently, Duvvury et al (2019) note that accounting for costs to VAWG is a powerful tool to incentivize countries to allocate resources. Quantification also helps us frame a monitoring and evaluation strategy so that we can learn about the intervention’s impacts and cost-effectiveness. Yardsticks for impact help the wider community to learn what kinds of interventions are most effective and understand how innovations create positive change in complex social systems. Overall, quantification supports in directing investment priorities and evaluate intervention effectiveness. For GIF, therefore, why we do this is clear, but for gender impacts, how to do this has been both daring and daunting.

We expanded GIF’s impact forecasting Practical Impact methodology to incorporate gender equality outcomes. This novel approach introduces two measures that are key to transformative impact– increase in women and girls’ agency and safety from violence.

Framework linking gender equality interventions and impact measures

GIF’s understanding of the complex notion of agency is derived from Kabeer’s (1999) seminal work and expansion of the definition by Alsop et al (2005) and Donald et al (2017). Agency is having a choice, ability to exercise choice, and achievement of choice. Because women and girls exercise agency (or not) over many kinds of decisions in different contexts, there is diversity in agency measures. GIF is inspired by exciting emerging work in the field of agency measurements (see EMERGE) and generating evidence base for agency (see J-PAL). Part of what makes Practical Impact practical is that it doesn’t dictate specific measurement methods, which allows GIF to use the diversity of measures to forecast impact.

VAWG, on the other hand, is a widely researched outcome. The Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) have comprehensive modules on intimate partner violence. Surveying women on VAWG is a sensitive task, but researchers have developed instruments and appropriate sensitive techniques for eliciting responses (see Heise et al (2019)). In GIF’s Practical Impact, we express reductions in VAWG as increases in ‘safe life-years’, building on a concept introduced by Every Woman Treaty.

GIF’s Practical Impact aims to ensure that gains in women’s and girls’ agency and reductions in violence against women and girls are both appropriately recognized and accounted as impacts of gender-transformative investments. We envision this innovative tool to not only help GIF, but also to push forward the discourse for donors in the field to direct more resources to impactful ways to promote gender equality.