How to integrate gender in research planning

Anam Parvez Gender, Methodology, Research

Anam Parvez Butt and Irene Guijt from Oxfam’s research team introduce our latest research guidelines for development practitioners.

Research cannot be high quality if it is gender blind.
High quality research is critical for evidence-informed advocacy and development programming. But research cannot be high quality if it is gender blind. For Oxfam, ‘putting women at the heart of everything we do’ is only a wish unless practical action follows.

Our new guideline on Integrating Gender in Research Planningcan help anyone designing and commissioning research. It guides the user to make explicit how a gendered perspective will shape their research, so this can be carried out independently of a gender expert, and irrespective of whether they have gender in their job title.

The guideline is based around a gender rubric: a sliding scale with five stages stretching from ‘gender blind’ to ‘gender transformative’. Each stage has accompanying criteria to identify how integrated gender is in the research, and what is needed to progress to the next stage.

While all of our research should aspire to being gender transformative, we recognize that the extent of gender integration in any given research process will depend on many variables. Moving towards gender transformative research is a journey.

Moving towards gender transformative research is a journey.

So, if it’s a journey, what does the destination look like? Gender transformative research is rooted in feminist principles. In practice, this means that the researchers and research process should: 

  • seek to explicitly overcome gender biases and social inequalities
  • recognize and examine the structural causes of these inequalities, including social norms and unequal power relations
  • provide an opportunity to hear the experiences of marginalised women and minorities and work with them as agents of change
  • use an intersectional and contextualised approach
  • take a collaborative and participatory approach, recognizing that research itself can be an act of power between researcher and participants.

In a gender transformative research process, these principles are present in all stages of the research cycle: from concept, design and data collection—right through to analysing and influencing with the findings.

Organisations like Oxfam conduct research to inform policies, programmes and campaigns. A strong gendered perspective is critical. Without this, people’s realities are misrepresented or missing. And inequalities are perpetuated or made worse, rather than challenged.

Need more convincing? Here are just a few examples of the power that gender transformative research can have.

Highlighting the value of women’s work

Feminist economists have worked for decades to highlight hidden inequalities and injustices. They have developed and used innovative analytical frameworks and methodologies to make visible the economic contributions of women’s work, intrahousehold gender inequalities, and the gendered impacts of policies.

Seeing these inequalities has helped shift global understanding of the economy, and what we count and value, for example through labour force surveys. Unpaid care is now embedded in the global development agenda through Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5.4.  

Documenting and fighting injustices

The Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD) has worked with grassroots organisations of rural, indigenous, migrant and urban poor women in nine South and South East Asian countries. They have used Feminist Participatory Action Research to document injustice, build movements, and demand change.

Examples of their work include: Bihari women in India organising to shift social norms promoting gender-based violence (GBV); women garment workers lobbying factory owners and government officials for a living wage in Myanmar; and rural women in Nepal beginning a movement to secure land rights.

Challenging harmful gender norms

Research on social norms carried out in Latin American Countries, Sri Lanka, Tunisia and Nigeria has informed the Enough! campaign. This campaign is led by feminist and women’s rights organisations, local partners, young activists and Oxfam. It focuses on transforming belief systems and gender norms that drive different types of violence against women and girls (VAWG).

The strategies to shift these norms are context-specific and evidence-based. And at a global level, these experiences are channelled upwards to help influence wider conversations about VAWG.

In Bolivia, the research identified the norm that jealousy and control are forms of love. To address this, the campaign ACTÚA Detén La Violencia has carried out two social experiments developed with young activists, in order to shape public discourse on relationships.

The ‘Not on my Bus’ campaign launches in Sri Lanka this month. This focuses on shifting two norms around sexual harassment in public places, as identified in the research. The first is that bystanders should not intervene. The second is that responsibility for action rests solely on the survivor.

We are very excited about this new guideline, which has been tried and tested by colleagues. We hope it can generate much more research with a clear gender perspective. Let us know how it goes! And any tips on improvements are always welcome.

Here is the full list of published research guidelines, some of which are also available in French and Spanish:

View and download all of the Oxfam Research Guidelines

Anam Parvez

Anam Parvez is the Head of Research at Oxfam GB


Irene Guijt