Making Evaluation Work for Gender Equality and Social Justice: Why We Need More Feminist Evaluations

Claudia Olavarria
08 March 2024
A hand holding a poster that says Equality in Diversity
For evaluation to support transformation towards gender equality, evaluators will need to make a shift towards conceptual and methodological approaches that are more responsive to context, culture, and power dynamics.

Claudia Olavarria is a consultant for the Feminist Innovations in Monitoring and Evaluation (FIME), a project launched by the Global Evaluation Initiative (GEI) in partnership with Global Affairs Canada to promote a gender-transformative approach to strengthening national monitoring and evaluation (M&E) systems.


As we experience the impacts of multiple crises compounded by persisting inequality, poverty, and exclusion, the need for evidence-based decision-making has never been more urgent. In the face of development challenges, high levels of uncertainty, and limited resources, governments and organizations will have to make decisions that are well informed by evidence. But for real transformation to occur, evidence must capture and represent the voices of all sectors of society. No individual, group, or territory should be left behind for all of us to make sustainable progress towards gender equality and social justice.

The world is not moving towards gender equality fast enough 

Today, as the world commemorates International Women’s Day, we are once again reminded of the persisting factors that prevent women and girls from fully enjoying their rights and the benefits of development. These inequalities are rooted in social systems and cultural norms. They intensify in times of crisis and disproportionally affect women. The situation is much worse for those belonging to marginalized groups such as rural communities, religious minorities, persons with disabilities, indigenous communities, youth, and migrants, among others.  

The latest United Nations report on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) states how the climate crisis, ongoing wars, a weak global economy, and the lasting effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have hindered progress towards achieving the SDGs.

For gender equality and women empowerment - or SDG 5 - progress has been painfully slow. According to available data, only 15% of the indicators for SDG 5 are on track to achieving the 2030 targets.  At this rate, it will take 140 years for women to be represented equally in positions of power and leadership in the workplace, while equal representation in national parliaments will take 47 years to achieve (UN, 2023).

How can evaluation support gender equality and social justice?

In recent years, the global M&E community has increasingly emphasized the role that evaluation can play to support transformational change. The World Bank's Independent Evaluation Group defined transformational change as "deep, systemic, and sustainable change with the potential for large-scale impact in an area of a major development challenge."

Transformational change requires a culture of evidence-based decision-making built on principles, approaches, methods, and tools that can bring about systemic change. There is increasing consensus that the meaningful inclusion of diverse voices in evaluation processes is imperative to provide evidence that supports the improvement of all lives, without exception.

Why the need for feminist evaluation? 

For evaluation to support transformation towards gender equality and social justice, evaluators will need to make a shift towards conceptual and methodological approaches that are more responsive to context, culture, and power dynamics. And no other approach has a more comprehensive focus on these attributes than feminist evaluation. 

From a feminist perspective, the lived experience of every individual matters, not just women and girls, but people from all sectors of society. The feminist lens studies the dynamics of all human interactions with the goal of identifying and eliminating the causes of oppression and exclusion. As such, feminist evaluation provides a set of conceptual and methodological approaches and tools that aim to support transformation by identifying, understanding, and recommending action paths to tackle development gaps. It implements participatory and empowering evaluation processes, based on a deep understanding of social systems and power dynamics. 

In a review published on the BetterEvaluation platform, authors Donna Podems and Svetlana Negroustoueva said that feminist evaluation constitutes a way of thinking about evaluation that is not limited to a certain framework or specific approach. Moreover, it is compatible with a wide set of approaches, allowing room for complementarity.  

Feminist evaluation embraces the gender equality and social justice agendas by promoting the participation and empowerment of groups and individuals during evaluation processes. It focuses on those who are excluded. Feminist evaluation provides analytical tools that facilitate a deep understanding of how interventions impact individuals and groups differentially based on gender, race, ethnicity, disabilities, and other categories that serve as a basis for discrimination. It highlights how interventions take place in social, cultural, and political contexts that are embedded within power dynamics and need to be understood within their system of ideas.  

Aside from providing a deeper understanding of what works, under what circumstances, and for whom, feminist evaluation aims to input transformation towards gender equality and social justice. Advocating for the use of evaluation results is one of its distinctive components. 

How can you contribute? 

GEI, with the support of Global Affairs Canada, is undertaking the Feminist Innovations in Monitoring and Evaluation (FIME) project, which aims to promote and facilitate the use of gender-transformative practices in the global M&E community. You can contribute and participate by joining our activities and taking part in the debate. For further information, contact the author at