How do we measure women’s empowerment?

Simone Lombardini Gender, Real Geek

Empowering women and supporting gender equality is the stated aim of many development projects. Often these projects are asked to monitor and evaluate the extent to which their work is contributing to achieving greater empowerment, but there is little guidance on how to do it. In this blog Simone Lombardini presents a new guide to measuring women’s empowerment in Oxfam projects, developed through five years of impact evaluations.

Since 2011, Oxfam GB has been conducting impact evaluations of large-scale development projects with the objective to better capture and communicate Oxfam’s impact and promote evidence-based learning. We call these evaluations Effectiveness Reviews.

In order to measure and assess the extent to which Oxfam’s projects have contributed to women’s empowerment, Oxfam developed a measurement tool based on a composite index, designed to measure this complex and hard-to-measure concept. David Bishop and Kimberly Bowman already shared critical reflections on the measurement approach back in 2014. Today we have published A ‘How To’ Guide to Measuring Women’s Empowerment: Sharing experience from Oxfam’s impact evaluations.

Oxfam recognises women’s empowerment as a multidimensional context-specific concept
Oxfam recognises women’s empowerment as a multidimensional context-specific concept, which is defined as a process whereby women and girls’ lives are transformed from a situation where they have limited power to a situation where their power is enhanced. The composite index measuring empowerment is constructed based on a framework which recognises three levels where change can take place: personal, relational and environmental.

Changes at a personal level refer to changes taking place within the person – changes in how the person sees herself, how she considers her and other women’s role in the society; their economic role and their confidence in deciding and taking actions concerning themselves. Changes at the relational level refer to changes in the relationships and power relations within the woman’s surrounding network. This includes for example, changes within the household, the community, markets, and local authorities. Finally, changes at environmental level take place in the broader context. These can be informal changes, such as social norms, attitudes, and the beliefs of wider society; as well as formal changes in the political and legislative framework.

The index provides a concise, but comprehensive, measure of women’s empowerment
While the framework remains unchanged, the characteristics and indicators that make up the index change from context to context, aiming to capture the characteristics of an ‘empowered woman’ in the socio-economic context of analysis. The index provides a concise, but comprehensive, measure of women’s empowerment, while also allowing breakdown of the analysis by level of change or the individual indicator.

The tool has been continually evolving in the last five years, continuously incorporating lessons from its application in the field as well as developments in the sector. As such, the guide should be considered a tool-in-progress that will continue to evolve and adapt in order to tackle new evaluation challenges.

In addition to describing the framework, the paper provides lists of common indicators, examples of questionnaire design for the most commonly used indicators, and examples of Stata code.

The aim for this paper is to be an easy and practical guide, supporting other evaluators and practitioners who seek to quantify this ‘hard-to-measure’ concept. The hope is for the reader to make use of the measurement tools and adapt it to their needs.

To date, this tool has been developed and used to measure women’s empowerment in impact evaluations of development projects, but we believe it can also be used as a tool for project design and monitoring.

Please do get in touch if you have comments, ideas, or experiences to share in measuring women’s empowerment.

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Annie Kelly