IFAD’s performance with regard to gender equality and women’s empowerment

01 December 2010

Corporate-level evaluation

Background and objectives

The Consultation on the Eight Replenishment of IFAD's Resources decided in 2008 that the IFAD Office of Evaluation (IOE) would undertake this corporate-level evaluation on IFAD's performance with regard to gender equality and women's empowerment. The objectives of the evaluation are to: (i) assess the relevance of IFAD's strategy in promoting gender equality and women's empowerment; (ii) learn from the experiences and good practices of other development organizations; (iii) assess the results of activities funded by IFAD related to gender equality and women's empowerment in its country programmes and corporate processes; and (iv) generate a series of findings and recommendations that will assist IFAD's Executive Board and Management in guiding the Fund's future activities in this area.


Four building blocks form the basis of the evaluation: (i) an analysis of the evolution of gender-related concepts and development approaches, and a comprehensive documentary review of the policy and evaluation documents prepared by other development organizations; (ii) an assessment of key IFAD corporate policy and strategy documents; (iii) a meta-evaluation of past operations based on existing evaluative evidence, a review of recent country strategic opportunity programmes (COSOPs) and ongoing projects, and five country visits to gain insight into the perspectives of partners in these countries and collect evidence from the field about the evolving approaches and results of IFAD-funded projects; and (iv) a review of selected corporate business processes that have implications for IFAD's performance in promoting gender equality and women's empowerment in partner countries. Section C in chapter I of the main report gives a more detailed account of the objectives and processes related to the evaluation's four building blocks.

Main findings

There has been an evolution globally in approaches to building gender equality and women's empowerment. Pre-1975 efforts were mainly addressed to men as producers and women as homemakers, which ignored the important role of women as farmers and food producers. Subsequently, there was a shift to women-focused approaches and approaches focusing on changing the relations between women and men. A recent and promising gender equality approach promotes the complementarity of women and men in family production and farmers' organizations (see paragraphs 11-19 of the main report).

The review of literature on the topic revealed that there are two major constraints to the effective application of lessons from previous operations: a reluctance to address gender as a major organizing principle of society and a failure to invest sufficiently. All development agencies with recent evaluations have revealed, at best, mixed success in implementing gender mainstreaming. There was a broad consensus among development partners that this was mainly due to the lack of: (i) results orientation; (ii) consistent leadership and follow-up by senior management and executive boards; (iii) staff incentives and accountability through performance management systems; (iv) a clear understanding of how best to address gender inequality; (v) adequate investment in gender equality expertise in operations; (vi) attention to gender balance in staffing; and (vii) an inclusive organizational culture. Some of the findings from these evaluations are also applicable to IFAD (see paragraphs 20-29).

Because it was established at a time of significant global attention to the need for development to include women, IFAD has always paid attention to gender equality and women's empowerment. Between its inception and 1992, it did so mainly through women-specific project components; since then, it has included women as beneficiaries and as actors more systematically in its projects (see sections A and B in chapter III).

The new millennium marked an increase in efforts to "mainstream" gender equality and women's empowerment in the design, implementation, supervision and evaluation of IFAD-funded operations. This was done mainly in connection with IFAD's Gender Plan of Action 2003-2006, and, subsequently, with the 2008 Framework for Gender Mainstreaming in IFAD Operations. These are two of the key documents that capture IFAD's corporate strategic approach to promoting gender equality and women's empowerment (see paragraphs 40-48).

IFAD's corporate strategic approach to gender is largely relevant and consistent, but fragmented across numerous documents, including the gender action plan and gender framework. Moreover, synergies with other thematic and corporate policies and strategies are not clearly articulated. Interpretations of the terminology and understandings of the topic also differ widely, which has led to alternative approaches in COSOPs and in project design and implementation (see paragraphs 63-76).

The evaluation found no evidence of systematic monitoring or reporting on progress related to gender equality and women's empowerment by either Senior Management or the Executive Board. Reporting is in fact largely confined to project-level activities. It is also fragmented across numerous documents, preventing a consolidated picture of the main results, opportunities and challenges associated with the topic. However, compared with comparator agencies, IFAD has done better in instilling a results orientation in its gender work (see paragraphs 73-74 and 78).

The evaluation reviewed older and recently designed IFAD-funded projects, five country programme evaluations, and five COSOPs developed last year. Overall, the performance of past IFAD-financed projects is moderately satisfactory, but this average rating masks significant variance among projects and countries in attention to gender-related dimensions of design and implementation. Performance in efficiency and promotion of innovations and scaling up is inadequate. The evaluation found a relationship between gender achievement and a project's overall achievements, a finding confirmed by evaluations in other organizations. However, the analysis does not reveal a causal relationship in either direction. Compared with earlier ones, newer COSOPs and project designs are paying increasingly more attention across the board to gender issues. On the whole, the evaluation considers that IFAD's performance is moderately satisfactory in achieving its first two corporate objectives related to gender, but moderately unsatisfactory in achieving the third objective1 (see sections B-E in chapter IV).

The review of corporate business processes found that factors that support IFAD's work on gender equality and women's empowerment include a recognition of the importance of the issue at the most senior levels (in Management and the Executive Board); operational systems and processes that have a reinforced quality enhancement and quality assurance system; direct supervision and implementation support; and wider country presence. IFAD has established an elaborate results measurement framework including gender indicators for design and implementation, but this framework consists of multiple layers and systems and requires streamlining. Independent evaluations assess gender as part of the various evaluation criteria applied (e.g. relevance, effectiveness, etc.), but do not have dedicated gender indicators and/or questions that are applied in each evaluation (see paragraphs 48 (i), 166 and 181-183).

In terms of knowledge management, few efforts have been made to aggregate results coherently at the regional or corporate levels, and lesson-learning and cross-fertilization of experiences on gender issues is limited and ad hoc. Like some of the comparator agencies, IFAD does not invest sufficiently in learning from its experience and building on its successes. Some initiatives to ensure learning and knowledge management are taking place, but they are not systematic or adequately resourced. Their analysis of what has contributed to or prevented progress on gender equality and women's empowerment needs to be strengthened. The role of communication in highlighting IFAD's work related to gender equality and women's empowerment is generally positive (see paragraphs 176, 184-185 and 189-190).

There are some good examples of policy dialogue by IFAD on gender issues in partner countries. However, in spite of this, on the whole policy dialogue performance at the country level is variable, but generally unsystematic, with little analytic underpinning and not backed by the required human and financial resources. On the other hand, IFAD has played a useful role in selected global policy and advocacy platforms (e.g. farmers' associations) by drawing attention to the plight of rural women and their central role in smallholder agriculture and rural development processes (see paragraphs 186-187).

Partnerships with civil society organizations and NGOs working on gender issues are generally positive. Some good examples of relations with borrowing-government agencies that deal with gender equality and women's empowerment were also found; this varies considerably from country to country. Partnerships with donor governments have been good in terms of the supplementary funds mobilized at the corporate level, but generally limited in terms of discussion of content issues with bilateral aid agencies involved in operations. However, IFAD representatives actively participate in the gender networks of the United Nations and those of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development/Development Assistance Committee. No significant partnerships devoted to gender were apparent with the private sector, apart from a handful of initiatives at the project level and with the Farmers' Forum (see paragraph 188).

In terms of gender architecture, the gender desk within the Policy and Technical Advisory Division has spearheaded the process of ensuring attention to gender in project design and implementation, and supports other corporate processes such as communications and fundraising. In the five geographic regions covered by IFAD operations, the gender desk has provided support to leaning and knowledge management, but resources for this function are variable and inadequate. The contributions of the thematic group on gender were influential in the early years of the gender action plan, but more recently, there are indications that the group needs revitalization through the development of clearer results-oriented objectives and workplans. The role of gender focal points is unclear, and their accountability and working relationships also need review (see paragraphs 168-170 and 177-178).

Arguably, the greatest challenge in IFAD's gender equality and women's empowerment work relates to its human resources management and corporate culture. Historical data reveal that the ratio of women to men in the organization is rather traditional, with many women in support staff positions and few in leadership functions, even though in 2010 IFAD hired its first woman Vice-President and first woman Director of the Office of President and Vice-President. There are an encouragingly high proportion of women in the more junior Professional category. Even though there is room for further improvement, IFAD nevertheless compares well in terms of its gender balance in staffing with selected United Nations organizations and international financial institutions. Although IFAD's Human Resources Policy explicitly makes reference to ensuring gender balance in IFAD's workforce, the guidelines for consultants' recruitment makes no such provision. In fact, the evaluation found that few women and gender experts were recruited as consultants in the teams responsible for COSOP development and key phases of the project life cycle (e.g. design and supervision missions, including evaluation) (see paragraphs 193-200).

IFAD's human resources policy includes anti-harassment provisions and a variety of work-life balance policies. The evaluation found poor uptake of the options provided in formal policies (e.g. special leave without pay). IFAD's informal culture has not traditionally encouraged the inclusion of perspectives and ways of working that are women-friendly or family-friendly, although these are important for building an organization capable of delivering on gender equality and women's empowerment (see paragraphs 202-204).

Similarly, there are no specific incentives for attention to gender equality in staff, consultant or divisional performance; and no accountability or negative consequences for lack of attention. Performance in this area does not figure in individual workplans, which tend to be largely activity-based. In other words, the type of results orientation that is strongly advocated in IFAD-funded operations is not applied to an equal degree in individual work planning and human resources management (see paragraphs 176 and 179).

Another shortcoming is that IFAD is unable to track in its loan investments the amounts allocated to advancing gender equality and women's empowerment, and there is no evidence that it has taken concrete steps to address this problem. Similarly, there is no indication of the funds allocated ex ante for this purpose in IFAD's annual results-based programme of work and budget. The evaluation also found that there has been a disproportionately high reliance on supplementary funds and grants for core gender activities. Access to such sources of funding is not secure – and, for supplementary funds, specific efforts are required for additional periodic reporting to the concerned donors. The Board, on its part, has not asked IFAD to provide information on the amount of resources the organization is investing in promoting gender equality and women's empowerment (see paragraphs 165, 172 and 191-192).


IFAD's strategic approach to gender is relevant, but guidance is fragmented in several corporate documents. The Fund's effectiveness in meeting one of its three strategic objectives (improve women's well-being and ease their workloads by facilitating access to basic rural services and infrastructure) is moderately unsatisfactory. Moreover, results of IFAD-financed operations are moderately satisfactory on the whole, even though there is significant variability across projects and countries. A number of key corporate business processes that are essential for supporting IFAD's gender work remain weak. In sum, as far as the promotion of gender equality and women's empowerment is concerned, there seems to be a gap between rhetoric and practice, which raises the question of whether IFAD is indeed "walking the talk".


The evaluation makes the following recommendations:

  • Develop an evidence- and results-based corporate policy on gender equality and women's empowerment. IFAD should develop its first overarching corporate policy on gender equality and women's empowerment, for submission to the Executive Board in 2011. The policy would be IFAD's principal reference document on gender equality and women's empowerment, bringing under one umbrella the Fund's main strategic objectives and priorities in this area. The recommended policy should indicate how key corporate business processes will be adjusted for better results on the ground.
  • The gender policy should include a section on who within IFAD Management will be responsible for implementation, oversight and reporting. IFAD should produce a consolidated annual progress report, covering the results achieved in the implementation of the new policy, lessons learned and adjustments made to key corporate business processes that affect performance in gender-related activities. The policy should also include an overarching results measurement framework for IFAD's gender work, and specify how the Executive Board will fulfil its role in providing guidance and support, as well as oversight on results.
  • Knowledge management, learning and analytic work. IFAD needs to invest in building a common evidence-based understanding among staff of the theory of gender equality and women's empowerment, and its related terminology. Among other issues, this should include attention to the systematic documentation and cross-fertilization of lessons learned and good practices across projects, countries and regions, and at headquarters as well as in the field.
  • Innovation and scaling up as key principles of engagement. The corporate-level evaluation on innovation recommended that IFAD define an IFAD-wide innovation agenda at the corporate level that consisted of a few selected themes or domains. The themes or domains selected, "big bets", should be in areas of the agriculture and rural sector where there is a proven need for innovative solutions and where IFAD has developed (or can develop) a comparative advantage in successfully promoting pro-poor innovations that can be scaled up. In this regard, this evaluation recommends that gender equality and women's empowerment be included as one of the "big bets" in IFAD's corporate innovation agenda until 2015. IFAD should, however, remain open to promoting gender-related innovations at the country or project level that respond to context-specific challenges. COSOPs and project designs should outline the specific efforts needed to ensure that successful innovations can actually be scaled up for wider impact on gender equality and women's empowerment.
  • Policy dialogue. Policy dialogue and advocacy work should focus on the selected "big bets", but also on specific thematic areas that might require attention in a given country context. Furthermore, staff competencies and skills will need to be enhanced for effective engagement in policy processes, which also requires continued attention to partnerships with multiple stakeholders for advocacy at global and country levels.
  • IFAD's gender architecture. The evaluation recommends that Management conduct a dedicated, comprehensive review of IFAD's overall gender architecture to ensure that the organization has the required human resources and funds to achieve the desired results on the ground in borrowing countries. The review should include not just the Programme Management Department (PMD) but all other departments in the organization. The evaluation makes specific recommendations for the gender architecture, which may be seen in chapter VI of the report.
  • Tracking investments and budgets. It is recommended that Management undertake an analysis of spending on gender equality and women's empowerment in a regionally based sample of projects that have good gender equality results. This would allow it to determine the level of costs incurred in the past, which can serve as a guideline for future project designers. In addition, efforts should be made to indicate the amount of administrative budget being devoted annually to gender-related activities.
  • Training. While gender-specific training and awareness-raising is needed on key concepts, it is also recommended that a gender perspective be incorporated in training events organized by PMD on operational aspects and by the Human Resources Division on core competencies and in staff induction programmes. A gender training programme should be developed as soon as possible and implemented from the beginning of 2011.
  • Assessment of gender equality and women's empowerment in evaluations. It is recommended that IOE develop specific indicators and key questions for assessing gender equality and women's empowerment in country programme and project evaluations. 2 In addition, it should include a dedicated section in all evaluation reports in order to provide an overall account of performance on this indicator and to highlight the proximate causes of good or less good performance. The same recommendation is also applicable to the various components of IFAD's self-evaluation system.

1/ Box 5 in the main report contains the three corporate objectives for gender equality and women's empowerment.

2/ That is, in the context of project completion report validations and project performance assessments.




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