How development programmes choose to measure the empowerment of women and girls impacts whether an intervention ultimately contributes to or impedes their empowerment. In a new paper, KIT Royal Tropical Institute provides insight and guidance on the value of participatory approaches, those that ground the measurement of empowerment in the lives and perspectives of women and girls.
The paper, entitled “What do participatory approaches have to offer the measurement of empowerment of women and girls”, aims to inspire practitioners, monitoring and evaluation specialists and policy makers working on the measurement of empowerment of women and girls in development programmes. It was co-authored by KIT gender experts Julie Newton, Franz Wong and Anouka van Eerdewijk.
The potential pitfalls of measuring empowerment
The empowerment of women and girls is regaining much attention from diverse development actors. It is viewed as an important development objective in itself and as a means to other key development outcomes such as nutrition, food security, and health.
What is empowerment?
KIT defines empowerment as the expansion of choice and strengthening of voice through the transformation of power relations, so women and girls have more control over their lives and future.
Women and girls’ own articulations and experiences of empowerment are part and parcel of the process of empowerment. This also applies to efforts to measure their empowerment. The very nature of empowerment suggests that it should be driven and led by those whose lives it affects. This implies that measurement is informed by women and girls’ realities and interests.
But amidst the current enthusiasm to measure empowerment, there is concern that the advancement of women and girls becomes driven by measurement and data. The danger is that the efforts to measure empowerment become an end in itself, and are not grounded in women and girls’ voices and interpretations of what empowerment means to them as both a process and an outcome.
Moreover, there is increasing concern that it will be co-opted to support the achievement of other development outcomes rather than gender equality as a goal in itself. Without adequate input from women and girls, there is the real possibility that the measurement process can actually be disempowering and cause harm.
Participatory approaches to measuring the empowerment of women and girls are one effective way to help mitigate these concerns.
Why participatory approaches have value for measuring empowerment
Participatory approaches is an umbrella term for a diversity of methods that emphasise the active involvement of people in the decisions that affect their lives; through speaking up, being listened to and ensuring their voices are acted upon to influence action.
In practical terms, participatory approaches can facilitate more accurate data on empowerment by grounding evidence in women and girls’ interpretations of empowerment. This contributes to an improved understanding of how interventions empower or disempower. The paper provides guidance as well as illustrative examples of when and how participatory approaches can be used to measure the empowerment of women and girls.
Participatory approaches to measuring empowerment of women and girls: Why use them?
They ensure that different groups of women and girls can voice their concerns and perspectives throughout the implementation process
They place the voice of women and girls at the centre of measurement process
They challenge top-down traditional development partnerships, shifting power into local hands and local ownership and control of data
They prioritise the selected empowerment outcomes and analysis is informed by the voice of women and girls at different stages of the monitoring, evaluation and learning process
More on the paper
The paper builds on recent webinar on measuring empowerment of women and girls for the CGIAR Collaborative Platform for Gender Research. The paper draws on on-line consultation with the Pelican Platform for evidence-based Learning and Communications for Social Change and Gender and Evaluation Community. This builds on earlier work focused on developing a conceptual model on women and girls empowerment for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation used to inform their Gender Equality Strategy.