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How we’re using a gender lens to increase social sector partners’ impact

Integrating gender considerations into research practices can help disrupt disparities and inequities – and it doesn’t have to be expensive.

Respondent interviewed during data collection. @IDinsight.


Women frequently confront challenges that are distinct from those encountered by men, including gender biases, societal norms that reinforce traditional female roles, and discriminatory laws and regulations that impede equality. In low-and-middle-income countries especially, women are less likely to own land, have lower access to finance and technology, and are more burdened by household work and caretaking responsibilities.1 Using reliable data and evidence is crucial in identifying these barriers, paving the way for more equitable societies. As a result, there is a need for more widespread gender-sensitive research practices to inform policy. In this blog post, we share guiding principles for conducting gender-sensitive research and give examples of what we are learning as we use these principles. While the focus of the blog post is gender, we recognize the importance of intersectionality and that experiences can vary within gender across other societal divisions. The guidelines we follow can be applied to study any sub-groups.

1. What does it mean for research practices to be gender-sensitive?

Research practices that ignore differing realities between genders—for example, treating the household as the smallest unit of inquiry and asking male heads of households to respond on behalf of the entire family— are considered gender-blind, and have historically been the norm.2 On the contrary, research procedures that recognize the distinct experiences of men and women throughout the entire research process are considered gender-sensitive

2. What are the consequences of not considering gender in research which aims to inform policy?

Gender-blind research practices overlook important differences between the experiences of men and women and may misinform policy decisions. For example, 

  1. When we don’t disaggregate program or policy impacts by gender it can lead to misleading narratives about the impact of the program. For example, JPAL’s analysis of educational programs suggests that girls benefit more from interventions to increase school attendance.3 Therefore, looking at aggregate impacts for all children may underestimate the value of those interventions for girls – which could lead decision-makers to de-prioritize these programs when resources are constrained. 
  2. Household surveys that interview household heads (who are typically men) may produce results that are not representative of women’s experiences. Respondent selection within the household has been shown to impact survey results, especially when it comes to reporting on the experience of other household members.4  
  3. When we don’t consider longer-term equity implications in impact evaluations it puts us at risk of inadvertently contributing to regressive gender norms.  For example, Das et al. 2013 examined a livestock transfer program that improved household incomes in the medium term but reduced the probability of women working outside their homes. Though reduced employment might be defensible in certain contexts due to safety concerns, it can also limit women’s future autonomy and affect their future engagement in political processes.

3. What is IDinsight’s approach to integrating a gender lens?

At IDinsight, our fundamental mission is to deliver research services finely tuned to meet our partners’ distinct needs and amplify their impact through evidence. We are committed to collaborating closely with our partners, addressing their pertinent questions, and as part of the process, uncovering new perspectives that might inform their work. This requires us to be flexible,  nimble, adaptable, and targeted in our research design.

What our partners can do depends on the resources available. For those operating under budget constraints, even small additions to project activities5 may uncover valuable insights on how men and women experience the program differently and whether there are any unintended consequences. When partners have more resources available, they can glean more precise measurements of differential impacts across genders and more deeply examine the root causes of any differences such as gender expectations, culture, laws and regulations, etc. 

Our methodology for weaving in gender along with other intersectionality considerations, is part of that goal. To that end, we’ve collated a “menu” of strategies (shown below) based on our own experiences, literature review, and consultations with gender experts, which IDinsight teams can select according to their partners’ needs. We offer it here with the hope that other researchers and peer organizations may find it a useful resource to draw on. If you have other items that should be added to the menu, please add them in the comments.


4. What is the value of the lens if there are no differences in outcomes/impacts between genders?

The goal of using a gender lens is not to data-mine for gendered impacts or create gender-different narratives where they do not belong. Rather, gender should be considered as an important factor when studying how a program or policy affects beneficiaries. At times, there will be no differences in how men/women (or other groups) will interact with a program. The important part is to pay attention to social divisions that may affect experiences with programs so that nothing is overlooked.

5. How can the development sector become more gender-intentional? 

For a gender lens to be incorporated consistently and for it to become a norm in research (to the point we no longer refer to it as a “gender lens”) it will take a shift in the larger ecosystem. There is a role for funders and international agencies to play in considering it as a requirement for NGOs and research grantees. Some funders already require gender considerations in all funded work6, and we encourage others to include it as well. 

6. In which projects have you used a gender lens and what have teams learned about applying gender-sensitive research practices? 

With support from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, we have been able to apply gender-sensitive research on projects that would not otherwise have used it. 

For example, Our client in India introduced a new program that accurately measures and bills households for electricity. We suggested using a gender lens to look at how experiences with this new system differ for men and women. We used a framework outlined by the Energy Sector Management Assistance Program (ESMAP) to comprehensively examine gender considerations in the sector. Predominantly, we did not find differences in the experiences of men/women with the new bill payment infrastructure. However, we did find that improved monitoring of electricity costs – the main component of the program – increased the electricity bills and compelled household members to cut on electricity usage. For women, making these cuts had more severe consequences since they reduced the usage of electric kitchen appliances substituting for more labor-intensive cooking practices, exacerbating the burdens of domestic work. Since men use electricity for entertainment such as viewing television, their daily lives were impacted less. This indicates that cost-tracking measures disproportionately burdened women, an unforeseen side effect of a program. If our analysis had focused solely on the household as a single unit (and we interviewed only household heads), the results would have missed an important gendered adverse effect. 

In our West North Africa (WNA) region, we are evaluating the impact of the Teaching at the Right Level (TaRL) method in schools. Though the primary focus of the program is on enhancing students’ literacy and numeracy, this initiative may also reshape classroom dynamics, particularly gender-based expectations. For instance, as girls gain a better grasp of academic content, their participation and assertiveness in class discussions may increase. This heightened engagement could alter teachers’ perceptions, challenging the conventional view that girls are less outspoken. The team is creating an innovative instrument based on Implicit Association Tests (IAT) for gauging teachers’ unconscious predispositions regarding gendered behavior. This addition will assist our partner organization in refining their programmatic approach to reform gender expectations. 

In South Africa, we have teamed up with the Instructional Leadership Institute (ILI) to conduct a randomized controlled trial (RCT) assessing ILI’s program to improve school management practices, and, more broadly, student learning. Our theory of change analysis suggests that the program’s effectiveness hinges on the ability of trained leaders to change practices and culture within their schools, which can be particularly challenging for female leaders. To delve into this matter, we have expanded our research scope to investigate gender-related challenges within the education sector and differences in program implementation between male and female leaders. Through focus group discussions and one-on-one interviews with program participants, we have identified specific challenges that may hinder female leaders from driving change in their schools. We found that women leaders lack confidence, particularly the older cohort, and women feel like they have to exert additional effort to gain the same level of respect as their male counterparts. Armed with these insights, ILI aims to continue supporting school leaders in overcoming these personalized obstacles.

In addition, we have recently completed several projects that focus exclusively on women: documenting challenges women face in leadership in the financial sector using in-depth qualitative interviews in Kenya, Ethiopia, India, and Nigeria; providing technical assistance to the Indian state governments to women’s health and nutrition; Generating evidence on access to credit for  Women Enterprise Fund (WEF) in Kenya; Working with our partners to inform how data can be used to close the gender gap in education; collaborating on solutions to improve accessibility to health information for new and expectant mothers.

Findings from these projects are illustrative of both the value of using this approach, as well as what is lost when we don’t. We hope these insights offer perspective into the importance of prioritizing a gender lens in development work and look forward to learning from others working to improve methods that unveil gender biases.

  1. 1. E.g. Jayachandran 2015, IFPRI 2023, GSMA 2023
  2. 2. E.g. health research Greaves et al. 2022; food security FAO; political science research Rabinovici 2022
  3. 3. JPAL Roll Call Policy Brief 2017
  4. 4. E.g. Masselus et al. 2024
  5. 5. E.g. qualitative interviews at the end of the program evaluation or additional quantitative survey modules that measure program perception.
  6. 6. E.g. Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, MGF, UNICEF, Rockefeller Foundation, Co-Impact