Reflections on evaluating women-centred working

CHPR Blog October 2018 – Ruth Cross

One of the main research strands that we are engaged with in the Centre for Health Promotion Research is evaluating the impact and effectiveness of projects that are designed to enhance the lives and experiences of women.  We have carried out a number of different evaluations which demonstrate change at an individual level for the young women and girls that engage with the projects, and at organisational level for the people that work with them.  This has, more recently, included the work of Rape Crisis England and Wales https://rapecrisis.org.uk/ and Women’s Lives Leeds https://www.womenslivesleeds.org.uk/.   The research we do is eye-opening and humbling.  It brings to life the importance of the principles that we subscribe to as a research centre such as empowerment and participation.  In order for the young women and girls that we work with to be at the centre of what we do we have, in partnership with a range of stakeholders, developed a range of creative and participatory methods such as using story boards.  A recent paper discusses this approach in more detail https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26793981.

We believe that women-centred approaches are necessary and vital in practice and in research.  Whilst women’s experiences do vary we see common themes emerging in our work that consistently point to structural inequalities relating to gender.  For example, poverty, abuse, incarceration, separation from children, and domestic (or gender-based) violence – an issue that is often in the media as, for example, discussed on Women’s Hour recently https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0bgbhbc.  Such issues are not peculiar to Leeds or even the UK.  Our Sub-Saharan dissertation students often highlight similar concerns in their theses in contexts where women culturally have less social standing than they do here in the UK.

I recently had an opportunity to visit Iqaluit in Nunavit, Northern Canada.  On the flight up there I read about the high incidences of domestic violence against women, rape, suicide and unplanned teenage pregnancy in a local Nunavit newspaper.  In all of these indicators the figures for Inuit women are much worse than for average Canadians.  The reasons for this are historically and socially complex.  Against this backdrop I was able to visit a project run by women for women – Qulliit: The Nunavut Status of Women Council www.qnsw.ca.  The council has been in operation since 2001 and its purpose is to ‘advance the goal of equal participation of women in society and promote changes in social, legal and economic structures to that end’.  It was striking, talking to the women who work for the project, how women’s experiences are so similar despite contrasting cultural and environmental contexts.  It was also a great opportunity to hear about the fantastic work the Nunavut Status of Women Council are doing to enhance the lives and experiences of women in that region, just like the projects we are engaged with evaluating here at home.

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