FIE/MME Week: Katherine Hay on How to do Feminist Evaluation

Hi, I’m Katherine Hay. I’ve spent the last 15 years in India working on development, research, and evaluation.

Lessons Learned:

  • A mantra I use all the time is:  ‘there is no gender neutral policy, program, or evaluation.’  If I hear one of these things described as ‘gender neutral’ I start to probe.  Usually when an intervention is called ‘gender neutral,’ it is actually gender blind.
  • South Asia, my home and the place I work, has the worst gender inequities in the world.
  • Evaluation can reinforce or reflect social inequities – or it can challenge them. I want to play a part in challenging them. To do that, evaluation has to help us figure out what shows promise in shifting inequities and what does not.  This is what draws me to feminist evaluation.
  • Mainstream development, and by extension mainstream evaluation, grapples with mainstream questions.   This has resulted in designs, approaches, and tools which are not particularly well suited to understanding inequities.   Feminist analysis brings inequity to the foreground.

Hot Tips:

  • I’m often asked, ‘But how do you do feminist evaluation?’  There are no shortcuts.  The answer is, ‘by applying feminist principles at different stages in an evaluation.’   For example:
  1. At the start of the evaluation feminist analysis can be used to ask, ‘whose questions are these?’ and, ‘whose questions are being excluded?’
  2. A rigorous feminist evaluation uses the mix of methods that matches the questions.  But some designs factor out the perspectives of marginalized groups.  Feminist evaluation designs include them.
  3. At the judgment stage, feminist evaluations recognize that there are different and often competing definitions of success in development interventions. Feminist analysis brings these differences to the surface for debate.
  4. At the use stage, feminist analysis brings recognition that particular pathways may be strategic, blocked, or risky. A feminist approach also brings responsibility to take responsible action on findings.
  • Get Involved. Peer support has been invaluable to my evaluation practice.  I’m part of a group in South Asia trying to strengthen our work through feminist analysis.  We share our designs, instruments, processes and challenges.  We are critical but supportive.  Being part of this group reminds me why evaluation matters. Try to find a group of peers to challenge and inspire you.  If you want to share resources or get in touch, we have a Feminist Evaluation website.

Rad Resources :

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating the Mixed Methods Evaluation and Feminist Issues TIGs (FIE/MME) Week. The contributions all week come from FIE/MME members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

4 thoughts on “FIE/MME Week: Katherine Hay on How to do Feminist Evaluation”

  1. Let me take a crack at Tamara’s question (on the difference between participatory evaluation and feminist evaluation).

    My starting point would be that with hundreds of evaluation approaches out there – usually what any of us use in practice combines or draws from multiple approaches. For example, my work is very strongly infused with a utilization focused evaluation (UFE) approach. When I’m using a UFE lens within a feminist evaluation a key distinction between UFE in its ‘pure’ form and the way I would use it within a feminist evaluation would be that:

    a. a key use would have to be attempting to redress inequities through the evaluation findings and or process (not any use is ‘ok’ if it’s a feminist evaluation), and,
    b. defining the key user would include a step of critically analyzing power relations and inequities and exploring and questioning whether the design perpetuates the exclusion of marginalized groups from being the user while privileging others.

    Similarly – in doing feminist evaluation it is often very helpful to draw on participatory approaches. One of the key markers of feminist evaluation is recognizing multiple perspectives and voices and trying to bring those perspectives into evaluation. This lends itself to strong complementarity with participatory evaluation.

    However – feminist evaluations are not by definition dominantly based on participatory evaluation designs. The design or methods selected are those that best fit the questions. For example – I could envision a feminist evaluation of government budgets that uses all of the feminist evaluation tenants to examine and critique government spending priorities but for which the majority of the design is desk based quantitative budget analysis. I can also envision an evaluation that looks at whether cash transfers for institutional deliveries reduce maternal mortality that relies extensively on an RCT design but is done with a feminist approach. So in my view, feminist evaluation can, and does, draw a lot from participatory evaluation approaches in practice but all feminist evaluation is not by definition participatory nor is all participatory evaluation by definition feminist.

    Of course in practice, again, much of what we use and much of what I think usually makes sense (particularly for complex programs) are mixed methods designs. Feminist evaluation is no exception to this. If these designs intend to bring in multiple perspectives and voices it makes a lot of sense to draw from the rich terrain of participatory approaches.

    I hope this helps! Others may have other thoughts on this.

    Katherine Hay

  2. As a white woman (Scandinavian and Northern European, by ethnicity), born and raised in a wealthy country (U.S.), I am embedded, I am certain, with the blind spots that colonialism has wrought. It is with this awareness that I want to express my deep appreciation and gratitude for Vidhya Shanker’s incisive and insightful post.

    As a feminist activist working toward racial justice, I am frequently aghast at (my inchoate sense of) the intersection V.S. so aptly articulates (“of patriarchy AND neoliberal economic policies that systematically benefit wealthy countries (including the white women in them)”)(Thank you, V.S.).

    The relevant questions for me, then become: How do I better educate (and expose) myself in order to more quickly recognize when I am up to the kind of decontextualizing of which the dominant culture is guilty? and how can I attempt to systematically combat the disadvantaging which I am a beneficiary of?

  3. Evaluation can also reinforce or reflect the colonial narrative in which white women from wealthy countries decontextualize gender inequities as the result of backward cultures and deny the possibility that women of color and indigenous may be agents of social change rather than simply victims of “brown men to be saved by” (see Gayatri Spivak) them. Carefully omitted from this post was the role South Asian women play in challenging the intersection of patriarchy AND neoliberal economic policies that systematically benefit wealthy countries (including the white women in them). Indeed, South Asia has the largest women’s movement in the world (too many references to list, but available upon request). Despite that fact and the fact that South Asian women are a disproportionately large source of research/ evaluation scholarship on the ways that patriarchy intersects with white supremacy and capitalism to benefit wealthy countries–including the white women in them–and systematically disadvantages women of color and indigenous women worldwide, we are yet again voiceless and invisible in this supposedly feminist blog post that perfectly illustrates the reinforcement and reflection social inequities.

  4. The concept of feminist evaluation is new to me. I have enjoyed the series on the topic here. This post was most useful; however, I am left with a clarifying question. What is the difference between a feminist evaluation and participatory evaluation approach?

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