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Taking into account the voices of women and gender-diverse people through feminist evaluation

Graphic image of cocoons on a branch, growing in four butterflies.

Global Affairs Canada (GAC) intends to leverage all of Canada’s international efforts in support of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, a framework centred on 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the UN. Feminist program evaluations help us understand our contributions to achieving gender equality (SDG 5). 

Recently, GAC completed a feminist evaluation of the relevance and effectiveness of the international assistance provided by one of its programs: Women’s Voice and Leadership. The program provides direct financial support to women’s rights organizations in over 30 countries. It is part of Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy, which aims to improve women’s power and gender equality around the world.

What it means to conduct a feminist evaluation

Feminist evaluations are guided by a set of principles: participation, inclusion and empowerment. GAC’s evaluation team worked with well-known expert Donna Podems to turn these principles into practical steps and considerations.

Feminist approaches to international assistance

Feminist approaches are already an integral part of GAC’s evaluation work, especially since the adoption of the Feminist International Assistance Policy in 2017. Here are 2 examples of how GAC’s Evaluation Division has been exploring different ways to capture the perspectives of women, girls and gender-diverse people in evaluations:

When it came time to evaluate the Women’s Voice and Leadership Program, a feminist evaluation made perfect sense.

Importance of empowerment

Infographic of a woman climbing a ladder in the sky.

A unique element of a feminist evaluation is the focus on empowerment. This positions the evaluator as more than just a researcher, but rather as an activist contributing to positive social change. The Women’s Voice and Leadership Program evaluation empowered its participants by:

  • working with local evaluators in 4 countries who co-designed and led case studies as a way to empower local stakeholders to define their learning interests and data collection methods and, ultimately, know how to use the findings
  • including a learning component in the case studies for participating women’s rights organizations and opportunities to share what was learned during the case study
  • including women’s rights organizations to guide the overall evaluation of the program
  • forming a reference group with members from GAC, project implementing partners and women’s rights organizations to guide the evaluation

The evaluation shone a spotlight on participating women’s rights organizations: nearly 120 women, men and gender-diverse people representing a wide range of women’s rights organizations participated, in addition to over 190 people representing GAC, its partners and other relevant organizations.  

Significance of the findings

The feminist evaluation approach allowed the team to gather valuable data from a wide range of stakeholders and then develop findings and recommendations that resonated with the participants. The report itself has prompted important conversations at the highest levels of GAC’s leadership on how the department can better implement feminist programming and support smaller, local organizations.

The evaluation demonstrated that the program’s early results are contributing to meeting SDG 5, which concerns gender equality. The lessons learned will also help to inform the design of future evaluations, including those beyond the realm of international assistance. While a feminist approach might not always be suitable, the principles of inclusion, participation and empowerment can contribute to inherently better evaluations.

To learn more about what the evaluation found, be sure to check out the Women’s Voice and Leadership Program Formative Evaluation report. 

Also, don’t miss the Women’s Voice and Leadership Formative Evaluation Learning Series in October 2022.  This series of webinars will explore a variety of topics, including feminist monitoring and evaluation approaches. 

Stay tuned!

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