The Concept of Impact in the Gender Space:
A Conversation with Ranjani Krishnamurthy.
- Ranjani Krishnamurthy, Gender Expert & Researcher with 30+ years of experienceBack to main blog page
In your recent article, you spoke about “formal” and “substantive” inequality. Do you think studies and data on “formal inequality” are misguiding policy makers in the gender space -especially in designing initiatives for women? Can you tell us about your practical experiences?
The concept of “formal gender equality” is based on the principle of impartiality: treating men and women same regardless of their social and biological differences. For example - the inability of women to take up reserved positions in formal sector due to care responsibilities may be absent in male counterparts. Hence “formal inequality” has its own gaps whereas “substantive inequality” differentiates women and men biologically and socially and also recognizes caste, class, and various other differing factors. To go back to the same example, care services may be offered at place of work, out of station training programs may permit young children to come along and parental leave may be provided.
Yes, I believe formal inequality is misguiding policymakers globally. For example, even though there are various laws to prevent domestic violence, but it persists globally. Hence, we need to look at not just formal equality which is comparatively easier to fix but also address substantive equality. The global gender gap report states that it is going to take at least 100 years to achieve gender equality because we focus on formal equality.
Some states in India provide 50% reservation for women in local governments. But are women independent candidates? Or are they proxy? Are they upper caste? Are they gender sensitive?
The first generation of elected women to PRI included many proxy women. Over time they are learning, and the percentage of elected women who are representing their husbands or upper caste landlords has decreased- though far from gone. They came from different caste groups. I once met an affluent women PRI leader from Tamil Nadu who had climbed up economically after winning elections. She said, “I’m waiting for my daughter-in-law to bring me a nice dowry.” This goes to show that being a woman local government leader does not make one gender sensitive or less corrupt.
As per the Global Gender Gap Report, gender parity hasn't been achieved with respect to sole ownership of land. This seems to be a major concern for India, which is primarily an Agrarian nation with 47% females in the agricultural labour force. Can you talk about the problems that a lack of gender parity has created in the agricultural space within India?
Women own only about 13% of landholding in India and if men migrate to cities for work, then it complicates their claim for agricultural credit from the bank. The Kisan Credit Card is also in the name of the landholder, hampering cooperative membership. To make matters worse, women’s employment in agriculture has declined with the conversion of agricultural land into industrial sites, infrastructure, and housing projects.
However, COVID-19 is reiterating the importance of agriculture with the return of migrant labourers to their homeland. There are women’s SHGs and federations for women that hopefully would revive the importance of agriculture and substantive equality. Women increase efficiency of agriculture owing to their indigenous knowledge, and prioritization of food crops over cash crops. Women dominated producer companies managing value chains of crops, vegetables, eggs, milk and meat products is the way forward.
So, there are different facets to review and promote substantive gender equality in agriculture.
What steps can organizations and governments take to change the existing situation within agriculture?
The National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM) aims to strengthen agriculture and pursue gender equality across value chains. NGOs are good at community mobilization, but lack expertise when it comes to marketing, value chains, and processing. Managers from institutes like IRMA can play an important role here as they know the cooperative/producer company model in a detailed manner. These models should extend from milk to all agricultural and livestock produce, and encourage women as shareholders.
In India, Panchami land is allocated to Dalits. Similarly, the Government of Nepal allocates unused agricultural land to landless. Such provisions encourage agriculture, and uphold rights of marginalised.
There is also a need for provision of storage facilities so that farmers can store their produce and sell it at a better price. This has been tried with Tuvar dal in Karnataka, coconut oil in Samoa and the Coffee Cooperative in Ghana. We need to replicate this system globally with the help of prefinancing, storage infrastructure and information technology.
In your article, you have written about gender gaps in four major spheres; political, economic, education, and health in the decreasing order. We know that all these spheres are interconnected. In your opinion, addressing the gap in which sphere holds the key to creating the biggest overall impact?
The Economic sphere can create the biggest overall impact. If you take the Change Matrix evolved by Women at Work, changes are required in policies/legislation, outcomes (economic, assets, income), social norms, and individuals’ attitudes. Closing the gender gap in in economic sphere necessitates entails changes in all these realms and in health, education and political norms. We have on other hand seen countries like Rwanda where there are a lot of women in ministerial positions, because war had killed a lot of men. Yet social norms remain rigid.
When we consider the global pattern in gender disparity, we tend to focus on gender as a binary concept. However, gender is a fluid concept. Do you feel reports are failing to address the issues of the LGBT community? How can we push organizations to change the way they collect data, run projects, and report?
There is a huge gap here as available data for planning and monitoring is very binary. When most donors talk about gender, they mean female and male. Even the National Family Health survey is not inclusive in that aspect. The organizations working with LGBTQI often focus a lot on HIV issues. Most surveys only include “Male,” “Female” and “Others'' to choose from. However, surveys by some non-governmental players are much more sensitive in this aspect.
What we need is not separate projects, but integrated projects. Transwomen are slowly getting attention in policy. Even data about sex workers or women in entertainment is not adequately collected. We need to emphasize on the importance of real time data on gender beyond binary through radio programs, social media, etc.
What does “impact” mean to you in the gender space? Can it be measured?
Impact is about achievement of long-term goals. Often, organizations only monitor progress in implementation (process) or outputs. Impact can be measured only once the program concludes. If we use the Chhange Matrix, then changes in gender policies, outcomes, norms, individual beliefs, can be discerned.
We need to measure gender equality trends and examine if the same trend continues whether SDG 5 targets would be achieved or not. This trend analysis is missing.
Can you tell us about your experiences with data in the gender space? Are organizations and institutions in India collecting and using data to drive decisions?
We don’t have adequate real-time data. We need to analyze the adequacy of what data we have to prevent subjectivity in the analysis. For example, when we talk about violence against women, we talk of reported cases with National Crime Research Bureau (NCRB), but how many of the actual incidents are reported to the Bureau? Our focus should be to measure incidents and not reported incidents. National Family Health Surveys captured reported incidence of domestic violence, but not all forms of violence against women.
A more challenging question is how to capture unanticipated impact. For example, an old woman getting support and care from members of her SHG, is an unanticipated impact that is outside the purview of the project’s outputs. In the gender space also we require quantitative data, good sample size, real time data, trend data, and data along all 4 quadrants.
Let's talk about existing data in the gender space - how accurate do you think reports are? Do you feel there are concerns that are not being captured by bodies conducting research? What is the situation in South Asia?
District level health surveys, National Family Health Survey, Agriculture Census, National Sample Statistics, etc. are more reliable. They are a part of a global strategy to ensure every country adopts similar methods so that the data can be compared across countries, which the UN Agencies use. Although the data is more rigorous than relying on NCRB, the question is how well it is used for decision making.
“Triangulation” of data is important - for instance, if the Agriculture Census data says that women own 13% of agriculture landholding, and NFHS says that it is more than 30% - whom do we believe? In India, with increased access to the internet we need to think of ways to use technology for collecting real time data.
In your opinion, how can organizations working in the gender space embrace data and technology to drive better decisions?
Organisations working on gender space could embracing real time data to determine whether norms are changing. However, there is still a gender gap in the ownership of mobile phones/smart phones. So, if the government can address this while making wi-fi freely available, then we can collect real-time quality data.
Imagine – just by recording an SHG/federation meetings we can track how women’s groups are addressing corruption and challenging social issues. We can also combine analysis of real time, big data with regular surveys.
How can smaller organizations ensure that they are doing impactful work that makes a difference? Methods like RCTs are extremely expensive and many of the grassroot organizations can’t afford that. What can they do to ensure their work is really helping people?
I do not believe in RCTs, as behaivour and actions of humans cannot be controlled. What we need is to have a theory of change which we test through adopting mixed methods, and quasi experimental process (before-after, participant-not participation) and contribution analysis.
They can also use technology for M&E to generate qualitative and quantitative data. We should be open to situational differences and incorporate examination of secondary research, review journals, and academic articles before research/evaluation.
Ranjani K Murthy is a Consultant and Researcher with over three decades of experience in the development sector with significant contributions, especially in the fields of gender, poverty, and health. She works with NGOs, UN organizations, and national governments. She combines global and regional reviews with field research and evaluations in India, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Moldova, Sudan, Mozambique, Cambodia, and Vietnam.