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Moving the needle on women’s empowerment through embedded evidence units in Indian state government

An IDinsight surveyor conducts an interview on maternal and child health as part of a survey for an Indian state government department. ©IDinsight

Decision-maker’s challenge

A look at the Sustainable Development Goals India Index set up by NITI Aayog, the policy innovation arm of the Indian government shows that India has struggled to reach its mark for Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) five: Gender Equality. As per the index, gender equality is the second most underperforming score after SDG three, Zero Hunger.

The intersecting socio-economic crises posed by COVID-19 have further highlighted the structural gaps in improving outcomes for women. With less than a decade left to achieve the 2030 SDG goals, much needs to be done to fast-track the current progress. Several Indian states are investing heavily in various initiatives to tackle this issue, which requires a multi-pronged approach. However, even when there is the political will to work on women’s issues in a state government department, bureaucrats and politicians lack timely support to make evidence-based decisions for effecting change. Equipped with timely decision-support to select evidence-backed interventions that work, recommendations for programmatic pivots to make interventions more effective, and a reliable understanding of whether indicators of women’s health and empowerment are being achieved, can make a significant difference for policymakers.   

Impact opportunity

The federal structure of governance in India allows a considerable potential for impact by supporting states in implementing evidence-informed policies and programs. A long-term solution would be to empower state-level policy-making bodies with embedded evidence units. These units can help state governments and departments with technical expertise to measure key indicators for women’s empowerment and create frameworks for evaluations, capacity building, and program design. 

IDinsight collaborates with a large state government in India and their respective departments to strengthen service delivery through an embedded evidence unit. As the sole technical partner for an evidence unit set up by the state on gender, IDinsight leads the unit’s work by advising and problem-solving with government officials.

We estimate that this engagement can improve at least 400,000 to 600,000 lives annually.

Our approach

IDinsight works closely and responsively with the state government, providing support to think through several initiatives. They include: developing training resources for improving nutrition data collection and use; a new large-scale menstrual hygiene management (MHM) program; and launching larger high-profile projects such as a study to understand the declining sex ratio at birth, evaluating several government-funded initiatives or gender-transformative schemes aimed to improve women’s empowerment, education, health, and employment. These insights will help various stakeholders assess the current progress on women’s empowerment outcomes.  


Through rigorous data-driven assessment of several women’s empowerment schemes that address various issues such as education, employment, health, and skill-bridging, IDinsight is helping the government department with gender-responsive budgeting, implementing M&E guidelines including comprehensive monitoring frameworks, co-developing training modules and capacity-building of staff.

This work includes efforts to facilitate collaboration with evidence-driven funders, experts, and development partners. One component is live dashboards for real-time data collection, parameter assessment, data analysis, and course correction for select gender-transformative schemes in the State. These insights will help various stakeholders assess the current progress on women empowerment outcomes.