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Struggling to Drive our Discourse: Lessons from CARE International’s Strategic Impact Inquiry. Elisa Martinez Senior Program Advisor, CARE Feminist Perspectives on Rights-Based Development September 26, 2005. Meet a Struggling Practitioner.

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struggling to drive our discourse lessons from care international s strategic impact inquiry
Struggling to Drive our Discourse:Lessons from CARE International’s Strategic Impact Inquiry

Elisa Martinez

Senior Program Advisor, CARE

Feminist Perspectives on

Rights-Based Development

September 26, 2005

meet a struggling practitioner
Meet a Struggling Practitioner

I am uncomfortable about dealing with gender issues in Afghanistan - they are delicate, difficult and dangerous. Violence is associated with gender issues, before, during and since the overthrow of the Taliban. The Taliban had issued edicts against women’s employment and girls’ education, CARE staff were beaten because they are women. In some areas today, girls can be given as blood payment to settle murders or opium debts. Many girls schools have been bombed and burned. Women endure death threats in order to work. It is a dangerous country to deal with gender issues and I’m uncomfortable with it.

But Afghanistan is at the bottom of the Human Development Index for Asia – largely because of gender issues. Almost 1 in 10 women die in childbirth. 1 in 4 children die before they reach 5 years of age. There is 98 percent illiteracy of rural women in the country.

We can’t ignore these problems and we do address them as a team

care s vision
CARE’s Vision

We seek a world of hope, tolerance and social justice, where poverty has been overcome and people live in dignity and security.

CARE will be a global force and a partner of choice within a worldwide movement dedicated to ending poverty. We will be known everywhere for our unshakable commitment to the dignity of people.

highlights of care s journey in gender and rights
Highlights of CARE’s Journey in Gender and Rights
  • 1995-96: First Diversity Initiative fails
  • 1997-98: Leadership change, Gender Equity Initiative launched with Audit
  • 1999: Human Rights and Diversity work strengthen relational, exclusion, equity lens
  • 2000: CARE International Vision
  • 2002: Diversity Gap Analysis, planning
  • 2003: Programming Principles
  • 2004: Global Leadership Conference & SII
so what does it take
So what does it take?

CARE International Programming Principles

1: Promote Empowerment

2: Work in partnership with others

3: Ensure Accountability and Promote Responsibility

4: Oppose Discrimination

5: Oppose Violence

6: Seek Sustainable Results


The Strategic Impact Inquiry on Women’s Empowerment:

an exercise in RBA

Guiding Questions

What contributions are CARE programs making, if any, to the empowerment of women and the advancement of gender equity?

What internal, organizational variables are associated with higher – and lower – levels of impact on women’s empowerment and improving gender equity?


A collaboration with external institutions

  • A multi-year, joint CARE International effort
  • An attempt to apply Programming Principles to research process itself
  • In depth site research in four COs (Bangladesh, Ecuador, India, Yemen)
  • Meta-analysis of 31 evaluations from all regions
  • Analysis of qualitative data from 404 CARE projects
  • Analysis of 31 proposals from all regions
  • Mapping and promising practice review in Asia Region
  • Secondary literature reviews (at multiple levels)

SII approach and methods

ok so let s measure impact
OK, so let’s measure impact...

Research from around the world has shown that gender inequality tends to slow economic growth and make the rise from poverty more difficult... Research also shows that women and girls tend to work harder than men, are more likely to invest their earnings in their children, are major producers as well as consumers, and shoulder critical, life-sustaining responsibilities without which men and boys could not survive, much less enjoy high levels of productivity... For all these reasons, the World Bank views the third Millennium Development Goal – to promote gender equality and empower women – as a central component to its overall mission to reduce poverty and stimulate economic growth. - World Bank website on Gender and Development, July 05.

  • Step 1: What do we mean by “empowerment?”

The transformation of the structures of subordination that have been so inimical to women is the other part of our vision of a new era. Changes in laws, civil codes, systems of property rights, control over our bodies, labour codes, and the social and legal institutions that underwrite male control and privilege are essential if women are to attain justice in society.

Sen, G & C. Grown. Development, Crisis, and Alternative Visions: Third World Women’s Perspectives. P. 74.

  • Ooops...
  • Step 0: Who defines how we see empowerment?
wake up call it s not just theory
Wake-Up Call: it’s not “just theory”
  • General policies and principles are useful directional prompts, and have rallied significant action but
  • to be truly accountable, as RBA calls us to be, we are obligated be clear and deliberate in knowing, and making known, what we mean by “women’s empowerment”.
  • Without this rigor, we are driven by discourse – syncretizing ideologies that reflect competing social visions, re-enacting our biases, and incoherent in our strategies.

And from the point of view of impact measurement, without clarity, there is no standard of accountability.Any road will get you there...

taking a step back
Taking a Step Back
  • If you look to definitions in CARE’s own programming, you’d make little progress – generally, programs don’t define comprehensive gender equity or empowerment goals and measures.
  • Looked to theories of power: Giddens, Wolfe, and NGO and activist practitioner renditions
  • Looked to accessible theory & studies of women’s empowerment – Kabeer, Narayan, Sen, Malhotra...
  • Looked to CARE’s own model of material, social, and structural underlying causes reflected in our unifying framework, and the rights-based principles of relational dynamics of poverty and power.
  • Finally, we looked to poor women themselves, who endorsed across the board that their sense of strength, effort, and freedom comes from a combination of emotional, material, relational and structural directions.

Dialogue of Knowledges



Carrying out our own analyses, making our own decisions, and taking our own actions.

Empowerment involves poor women becoming the agents of their own development





conventions, relationships and

taken-for-granted behavior

Array and quality of social interaction.

What are the preferences, habits, expectations that women have of their relations with other women, men, and institutional actors?

Institutions that establish agreed-upon significations (meanings), accepted forms of domination (who has power over what or whom), and agreed criteria for legitimizing the social order

Women’s Empowerment Framework for the SII


“woman in paid jobs, carrying purse, self-confident and self-reliant, who has the capacity to step out of her house and make her place in the world.” (CARE worker!)

freedom to make decisions and move around freely

woman who makes efforts, who overcomes, is strong

has educated children, can defend herself, speak freely, talks with men and can leave the village without permission and by herself.”

so what did the sii find

Internal GED/

External Impact

Program Design, Analysis, Implementation, and Monitoring

Impact on Empowerment




  • Self-confidence / esteem
  • GED work since 1999 clearly important
  • An incredible display of localinnovation by people who care.
  • A small number of relatively
  • micro-level programs have
  • much to teach us
  • Skills, knowledge, information
  • Decision-making
  • Long-term senior staff commitmentpays dividends
  • Mobility
  • Collectives / action
  • Income generation




  • Strategic support to women’s groups
  • Staff capacity building
  • Definition of key terms
  • unsystematized
  • Missing power/gender analysis
  • Engagement with the powerful
  • untransformative
  • Disconnects between analysis
  • goals/objectivesstrategies
  • Structural / relational dimensions,
  • in general
  • difficult to apply to programs
  • Who calls the shots?
  • Disconnects between strategies
  • and measurement
  • Which shots are taken?
  • Accountability breakdowns
So What did the SII Find?
illustrative evidence sites
Illustrative Evidence: Sites
  • Clearest, most enduring impact in self-confidence, and dimension of self-worth. “Now we look at people, we are not afraid to speak up. We know we are making a valuable contribution to the city.”
  • Increased mobility “This new-found freedom was very special to women... enabled them to access institutions they never imagined they would see.”
  • Mobility: “Her work with the association has empowered her more than her teaching job. Because she had to deal and talk with men, had to go to different places and establish relationships with many people in different functions.”
  • Poor women’s impressive agency v-a-v middle/upper class women undermined by structural and relational forces that undermine overall empowerment (Eg, Shaymoli).
  • Harms: Most marginalized communities get excluded (target-driven); loans create added workload and strain, and are often used for harmful social practices (dowry shortfalls, fetal screening); leaders may be consolidating power and keeping all members from benefiting equally
  • No change in awareness or appropriation of legal, civil, or tribal rights. Limited material impact of generally unprofitable associations, which demoralizes women. No significant impact on family labor or renegotiating gender roles/divisions of labor.
  • “We did not work sufficiently at the policy level, and with the general public... We did not realize how important it was to work with groups beyond the women, and the failure to work at that level is eroding the success. All our focus was on the issue of self-esteem. That was important, but not sufficient.”
  • Women prefer to pursue their interests via relational approaches over independent ones. Assert agency indirectly, through negotiation, and aspire to jointness rather than autonomy.
  • Negotiation habits shifting, women becoming more willing to express needs (typically, would break pots, beat animals, make chldren cry, fake illness.)
  • Personal engagement by staff noted by women and other stakeholders as critical to success – Staff “come from experiences and social movements which are looking for structural alternatives to get out of poverty.”“Working for the project was not a job, it was a passion, a deep involvement.”
  • Internal inhibitors: Gender as an add-on that continually falls off. No serious accountability (not part of mid-term), inadequate learning/reflection time
illustrative evidence desk reviews
Illustrative Evidence: Desk Reviews

Meta-Evaluation (N=31)

  • “evaluators found the conceptualization and operationalization of crucial phenomenon – power, gender, empowerment, inequity – singularly lacking in the 31 projects included in this convenience sample... In the majority of cases, projects seem to be content with letting such impacts remain unspecified, acting morea as a form of programmatic vision for some uncertain future.”
  • “Because of the lack of a strong gender strategic action plan with consistent goals and success indicators, the staff did not know how to make its development program gender sensitive other than to target female beneficiaries.”
  • “We find even in the high-end proposals a discrepancy between intended outcomes (agency, structure, relations) and measurement of those outcomes” – especially loose proxy measures in S/R.
  • “A rather persuasive finding – persuasive because it is triangulated upon in a number of ways – is that projects focus strongly on sub-dimensions of agency.”
  • “CARE staff are not just professionals or technicians of any kind that we try to train and educate to be more gender sensitive. They are people from the very social systems – with the attendant gender norms, assumptions and biases – that our gender programs are trying to alter.”
  • And the future holds more of the same... Of 32 randomly sampled project designs, 44% declared an empowerment/gender equity focus without any gender analysis, power analysis, or explicit strategies/approaches in the proposal. 21.9% showed alignment of gender/power analysis with strategies... The existence of an analysis tended to lead to focus on relations and structures and diminished attention to agency.
implications for programming
Implications for Programming
  • Lessons about the dangers of slippery discourse re: women’s empowerment transfer across all our rights-based principles – and merit serious investment to promote a cultural shift and forestall cynicism.
  • Tighten and broaden our definition and operationalization of empowerment and how long-term social change actually happens: nonlinear, stop-and-start, progression/regression
  • Accelerate investment in programmatic approaches, via contract alignment and engagement in alliances, to overcome constraints to solidarity and sustained support.
  • Build on a handful of field successes as well as experiences of other organizations to develop more effective process indicators and new kinds of both process and impact indicators
  • Build empowerment strategies around women’s aspirations for deeply relational solutions. They seek equitable, joint solutions, not individual, independent ones: need to help them engage and shift relations with power-brokers in their lives.
implications internal
Implications: Internal
  • Need new strategies of engagement to address the serious constraint that resources/incentives represent. Until donors, and through donors, managers, give priority to the extra work needed to target empowerment effectively, success will remain small, and ephemeral.
  • Given the design and measurement challenges – they go far beyond CARE – we need to expand safe spaces for continuous questioning of who we are and what we are doing, for dissent/challenges/questions, and more consistent and organized action-learning around what constitutes good empowerment work
  • We need far more support of staff to help them go into their communities as gender change agents
  • Develop training/staff outreach materials around the reality that sustainable impact on women’s empowerment requires progress in all three dimensions – agency, structural, relational – and embed these ideas in new guidelines/advice for program design and evaluation.
reflections on implications for an industry
Reflections on Implications for an Industry?

We know that, more broadly in CARE and certainly in the development industry where organizations as diverse as the World Bank and Women in Black deploy the language of rights, there is all manner of subterfuge around just what we mean... Empowerment, good governance, participation, sustainable development... social justice. It is far too comfortable for us to claim these virtues in our work with sliding scales and unmeasurable goals.

CARE’s drive to make our intentions explicit, to open our definitions up for public scrutiny, and to be challenged in particular by the people we claim to serve is an essential cornerstone without which rights-based approaches is just another bit of window-dressing to hide confused and contradictory agendas. We endeavor to challenge the comfortable silence that surrounds questions of accountability in our business, and that works for everyone except, of course, for the poor.

the challenge is complex but also very simple
The challenge is complex, but also very simple

. . . if you know where you stand.