According to the study, funders with a ‘localist’ perspective focus on strengthening local research, while those with a ‘universalist’ perspective are dominated by the interests of Northern agencies.
All this is very relevant to research around the empowerment of women and girls, which is often framed using Northern assumptions about what gender inequality means.
Gender-related buzzphrases such as ‘economic empowerment of women’ and ‘transformational change’ fly around development agencies. But commendable as these notions may be, how do you capture them in research?
One just-published report commissioned by the UK think-tank the Overseas Development Institute offers an interesting comment on this issue.  The report criticises research that evaluates levels of women’s empowerment based on stereotypical notions of the roles and responsibilities of Southern women, such as asking about household and child-related expenditure patterns.
One of the report’s conclusions is that qualitative research can complement the quantitative methods that are often used to measure women’s economic empowerment.
The authors champion underused ethnographic research methods that are capable of unpacking complex dynamics over time.
For example, the authors cite an in-depth analysis of the impact of cash transfers in Uruguay as a good example of this type of evaluation. This long-term study explored the power relations between men and women within a community and with the state that provides the cash, capturing issues around violence and personal security that might otherwise be missed.
The report is right to highlight this important research method. Quick data-gathering visits to villages on shoestring budgets and tight deadlines will never accurately assess the type of intervention that is likely to transform women’s lives. Yet which donor has the patience or money for longer-term research? This is the crux of the problem facing aid agencies interested in championing women’s rights.
Henrietta Miers has worked across Africa and Asia as a gender and social development consultant for 20 years, specialising in gender policy. She is senior associate of WISE Development, a consulting company that focuses on boosting economic opportunities for poor women.