Reflections on Gender in the DFATD Evaluation of Canada’s Afghanistan Development Program

By Sarah Tuckey

In March 2015, the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development released the Synthesis Report: Summative Evaluation of Canada’s Afghanistan Development Program. On April 14, CIPS and its Fragile States Research Network (FSRN) held a panel to discuss the evaluation’s methods, findings and recommendations. This series of blog posts by Nipa Banerjee, Stephen Baranyi, Sarah Tuckey and Christoph Zuercher summarizes key issues discussed at the event, with the aim of fostering informed debate and learning about Canada’s involvement in fragile and conflict-affected states.

DFATD’s evaluation of the former CIDA’s Afghanistan Development Program directs significant praise at CIDA’s focus on gender equality and its use of a gender mainstreaming approach through the transformation of the program from generalized development spending across Afghanistan to focused spending within Kandahar through the Whole of Government-supported Provincial Reconstruction Team, and back to a national focus with the phasing out of the Canadian military in 2011.

Overall, the evaluation concludes that Canada’s gender mainstreaming approach was a success. Of the five major recommendations that result from the evaluation, the fourth calls for Canada to “continue the focus on gender mainstreaming while adapting it to ensure improved responsiveness to socio-cultural values and principles, to the extent possible” (DFATD 2015:7).

When lessons cannot be pulled from the most conflict-affected region of Afghanistan, where Canada’s whole of government approach was meant to shine, future directions of training involving male stakeholders may only continue to reproduce a gender equality approach that is broad, divisive, and unclear.

This assessment and recommendation are problematic, however, for three major reasons:

1) The evaluation’s use of “gender mainstreaming” lacks a solid definition, and does not address the current international critique of the concept;

2) In Kandahar, where state fragility was at its worst and the whole of government approach was entirely focused, very little programming that targeted gender equality was conducted; and

3) Future directions remain unclear regarding male stakeholders and the complications that inevitably arise from attempting to incorporate a gender equality perspective into a nation that is gender-segregated and power-imbalanced.

To focus its analysis, the evaluation considers a sample of 50 initiatives out of the total 310. These cover a disbursement of $852 million out of the total $1,546 million, resulting in the final evaluative target of approximately 55% of overall disbursements made from 2004 to 2012. A “gender aware” methodology is applied to these 50 initiatives, because, according to the evaluation’s guiding principles, “the evaluation approach should be gender aware i.e. gender should be mainstreamed in the evaluation approach” (DFATD 2015:78). Like the program it was assessing, the evaluation wants to utilize gender equality as a cross-cutting methodological priority.

However, the use of “gender mainstreaming” leaves the evaluation open to criticism, as there is marked debate in theory and practice over the clarity and applicability of the concept. Indeed, the evaluation is not immediately clear regarding how it defines “gender mainstreaming” and the various gender focused indicators it uses. Nor is it particularly attuned to the current international, academic understandings of what “gender” has come to mean: an intersectional conceptualization (i.e. incorporation of race, class, ability, sexual orientation, cultural and social context, and other categories where oppression, domination and discrimination can occur) of a multitude of genders that goes far beyond the binary of men and women. When we talk about gender, who are we talking about? What other limiting factors are present? What forms of masculinity and femininity are under scrutiny?

This leads to the second issue, which is that through a cross-cutting gender equality methodology, the evaluation finds very little gender equality targeted programming conducted in Kandahar. Following the program’s lead, the evaluation assesses the 50 initiatives according to Canada’s four-dimensional classification code:

a. Gender equality ‘specific’ initiatives;

b. Gender equality ‘integrated’ initiatives;

c. Limited gender equality results; or

d. No gender equality results (DFATD 2015:80).

In Table A.6.2, there appears to be an inverse relationship between gender equality ‘specific’ programming and Kandahar: a lot of gender ‘specific’ initiatives were not centered in Kandahar, while a lot of initiatives specific to Kandahar produced no gender equality results.

What do these findings mean for the conclusions and fourth recommendation found in the evaluation? First, it may be a stretch to call Canada’s gender mainstreaming efforts in Afghanistan a success when the concept itself is unclear, and there is little evidence of that in Kandahar and in the whole of government approach.

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Second, the findings highlight the difficult cultural and social context within which gender mainstreaming must penetrate in this highly conflicted and culturally traditional (i.e. male-centric) part of Afghanistan. That difficulty is acknowledged in Canada’s response to the fourth recommendation: “while the Program certainly agrees to continue with the focus on gender mainstreaming, it must be recognized that in Afghanistan, there is continued limited acceptance of women’s participation in the economic, social and political spheres of society. This limited acceptance is a barrier to effective gender mainstreaming” (DFATD 2015:141).

Interestingly, there is a push for the years following the whole of government approach in Kandahar (i.e. from 2014 onward) to build on current international understandings of gender and “explore innovative approaches to adapt the objective of gender equality to the cultural reality of Afghanistan including the importance of engaging men, boys, women, girls, religious leaders and social authorities. New approaches will be based on comprehensive gender equality analysis to understand the gender dynamics, to develop applicable initiatives, and to mitigate the associated risks” (DFATD 2015:141-142). This kind of response from Canada is encouraging, particularly considering that specific gender equality training will be offered to staff at headquarters in Kabul.

However, the lack of definition about the meaning of gender mainstreaming leaves doubt that the quality and effectiveness of such training can be critically assessed in the future. Clear definitions of gender mainstreaming and similar gender focused indicators based on current international theory and practice will help situate Canada and the evaluation among its peers, and push the evaluative scope of the analysis. And when lessons cannot be pulled from the most conflict-affected region of Afghanistan, where Canada’s whole of government approach was meant to shine, future directions of training involving male stakeholders may only continue to reproduce a gender equality approach that is broad, divisive, and unclear.

Sarah Tuckey is a PhD Candidate in Public Administration at the University of Ottawa.

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