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The Impact Blues

November 18, 2011

‘….Use a word like impact, wthout thinking it through

Because its impact any place, impact any time

Well you can find it around the corner, or much further down the line

But if you look for attribuiton, youre never going to loose

Those output, outcome, downstream, impact blues

Well worth watching in full


Taking the first steps towards a participatory monitoring and evaluation system

September 13, 2011

The following is a piece I was asked to write for the website and newsletter of the Mali Health Organizing Project (MHOP), my former employer. For more information on MHOP, also see ‘A snapshot of Sikoroni-Rights, development and NGO intervention‘. For some earlier thoughts on monitoring and evaluation, have a look at ‘What is monitoring and evaluation?’

Measuring the results and impact of its programmes has always been an important part of MHOP’s work; to provide staff with the information they need to improve and build upon existing work; provide information to its donors; and perhaps most importantly, ensure that it is held accountable to the people it serves within the community.

Earlier this year however MHOP began to draw together the different ways it measures impact, into more concrete monitoring and evaluation systems for its programmes.

Monitoring and Evaluation involves both routinely asking the small questions; ‘How many Radio shows did we produce this month?’, to ensure that programmes are on track, and then regularly stopping to plan how to use this information, and gather more, to answer the larger questions; ‘What has been the impact of Radio shows on relations between government officials and residents in Sikoro?’.

A participative approach

Critics of traditional monitoring and evaluation methods however see it as very ‘extractive’; surveyors coming into a community, asking questions, quantifying responses, and then this information disappearing into a report for a donor somewhere.  The approach of participative monitoring and evaluation however tries to take a more respectful approach, in which the actors the organisation engages with, staff at different levels, and participants, are involved in monitoring and evaluation efforts themselves.

Fundamentally, this approach is more respectful – it appreciates the knowledge and lived experiences of those who may be ‘surveyed’, and others involved in the daily running of programmes, and not just of a Monitoring and Evaluation specialist employed by an organisation.

Looking at the nature of MHOP’s work in Sikoro, in which MHOP attempts at all times to respect and involve Sikoro residents in programme design and implementation, this approach towards monitoring and evaluation is particularly important.

Since March therefore MHOP has begun to design and put in place systems, training sessions and tools that will permit representatives from Sikoro and all MHOP staff to engage with the different steps involved in monitoring and evaluation.

Read more…

Gender in Haiti – Problems, Solutions and Mainstreaming

August 31, 2011

At the end of September I’m heading to Haiti to take up a Monitoring and Evaluation position for 6 months. Much of my background reading in the past few days has involved trying to get to grips with the history and current issues surrounding shelter and land, WatSan and the Cholera epidemic. Behind all of these challenges however lies the issue of gender, and once you start looking at issues with a gendered perspective, it is hard to stop – Will x new project actually increase a woman’s daily work load? Will z new family planning project work if you don’t also target men and boys?

When looking at the narratives on Haiti however, on first sight many of the same predictable gender messages are (necessarily) repeated; ‘Not enough attention/funding is being paid to the needs of women and girls’, ‘There is a need for serious government and organisational gender policies and mainstreaming…’

‘Co-ordination’, ‘mainstreaming’ and ‘gendered policies’ often jump out from the pages. A number of recent reports and articles however highlight several key issues which lie behind the calls co-ordination and mainstreaming:

Security in the camps

The video ‘Rape in the camps: Sexual violence in Haiti after the quake’ paints an excellent picture of the vulnerability of camp residents to sexual violence;

People don’t have showers, they don’t have restrooms. If you find a place to pitch you have to get a basin in front of your tent to shower. That means that men take advantage of that

And of the attitudes that can discourage women from reporting the crime;

Sometimes when the women come to the police station, the men ask them weird questions which hurt the women’s feelings, The police sometimes ask them ‘what time were you raped? Wasn’t it at midnight? Isn’t it because you were walking out in the street too late that they raped you? Look at your big butt!’

How do you improve security in the camps, where a tent can easily be cut with a knife? An article from Refugees International in June 2010 reported that security committees carrying out sporadic patrols existed in many camps do exist, but are naturally troubled with corruption and/or a lack of basic training and funds. The report also highlighted the role of unsupported local women’s groups in holding self-defence and GBV awareness sessions, but stressed that the groups received many death threats for the work that they do. 

The justice system and access to post-rape care

Receiving care and seeking prosecution after rape involves both institutional and logistical challenges, many of which are common issues in justice systems worldwide. Many women and girls may not be aware of the post-rape services available, or may be to traumatised or in fear of reprisals to seek support. In the event of receiving care, as of May 2011 only certain large hospitals in Haiti were authorised to provide the medical certificates needed for prosecution, which must be issued within three days of the rape. If deciding to seek prosecution, according to the article  ‘The Word on Women – Haitian justice struggles to cope with rape epidemic’

Rights groups say many police fail to treat rape as a crime and often assume the women brought it on themselves, for example by dressing provocatively. Human rights lawyers say corruption is rife, with families of the accused often paying judges to dismiss rape cases.

 The complexities of access to free health care

Indeed a new report by Human Rights Watch – ‘Haiti earthquake recovery failing women and girls’, released yesterday – stresses that although there are now unprecedented levels of free heath care in Haiti, access to pre-natal and maternal health care amongst women remains very low. The report highlights that although pre-natal care is often free, many women and girls can not pay for transport or associated costs of tests such as sonograms, summarising that three key types of delay exist which puts women at risk:

Delay in deciding to seek appropriate medical care; delay in reaching an obstetric facility; and delay in receiving adequate care when reaching a facility. For the women and girls we interviewed, these delays occurred because women and girls did not recognize signs of early labor or were unfamiliar with a new neighborhood; because the places where they previously received care had been destroyed in the earthquake; because of distance, security concerns, or transportation costs; and because of inadequate care at facilities [Page 7]

 Gender Mainstreaming

What then of gender mainstreaming? Gender mainstreaming – taking each intervention and policy and analysing the potential gender issues involved – takes continuous and long-term thinking in any organisation. It involves first thinking of what effect an intervention could have on women and girls, and how to take a gendered perspective in design; when installing new toilet facilities in a camp for example, will women and girls feel vulnerable walking along an ill lit path to the toilets at night? The safety of women in camps may seem like an obvious example, but then there are the mainstreaming questions where the answers are harder to predict; how do you include and support female headed households involvement in a cash for work or livelihoods programme? Would supporting a change in traditional gender roles potentially increase gender based violence within the household?

Gender mainstreaming however is also about resources, structures and co-ordination; ensuring that an organisation’s personnel, information management systems, and decision makers have not only received one of ‘gender trainings’, but are supported, and pushed to develop and use relevant gender indicators to integrate gender in the long term

But what happens then in a disaster context, where other needs, such as setting up a public information campaign to prevent the spread of a cholera outbreak, can seem more pressing?

It is for this reasons that the article ‘The Debating Chamber – Haiti: now is the time to work on gender issues’, by Dara Dara notes that:

The “we will take care of this when we can” soon became the current “we should be working on it, but…”. Very few of those interviewed by the HRI team were able to respond concretely and provide specific examples of effective work around gender……You can copy and paste the same paragraph in the gender section of every proposal and nobody complains. As in other crises, gender in Haiti is relegated to an element that donors like seeing in funding proposals but sadly is rarely implemented or monitored in practice


Specific examples of effective work however do exist. A brief by the US Institute of Peace on ‘Security After the Quake? Addressing Violence and Rape in Haiti’,  gives examples of the distribution of solar flash lights by the International Organization for Migration (30,000 as of November 2010), and of  thousands of whistles which can scare off potential rapists by the Haitian organization KOFAVIV.

Recommendations in most reports however continue to call for ‘Organisational gender policies with clear avenues for women and girls’ participation’ for example. While it is easy to roll your eyes at calls such as the above however, or for ‘co-ordination across local and international organisations’ , and while it is more appealing to read of ‘solutions’ in the form of whistle distribution, the narratives surrounding gender policies and mainstreaming continue to exist for a reason.

Gender mainstreaming and co-ordination are about the nuts and bolts of ensuring that actually, those whistles are distributed to women in camps as soon as the camps are set up, and that different agencies have agreed to co-ordinate this as a first step in improving camp security; that those solar lights are not seen as a one off solution to improving security in the camps, and that as an output they represent one indicator met amongst many in an organisation’s gendered response. And that finally, those issues and indicators are monitored and treated as an integral part of relief and recovery, alongside and as a part of any other intervention, whether it be shelter, WatSan or otherwise.

Just GiveDirectly to the poor?A few thoughts on targeting and empowerment

July 8, 2011

In June 2010 the book ‘Just Give Money to the Poor’ was published, arguing for the merits of direct cash transfers to the poor, guaranteeing them a basic daily income. The approach is based upon the core values of trust, and respect; trust that poor people will spend the money wisely, and respecting the poor to make their own choices over expenses. Cash transfers are not new, but the book successfully highlighted the increasing number of approaches towards development which are bypassing traditional aid-structures.

Just as micro-finance became a simple and attractive way for donors to target the poor through providing grants and loans for micro-enterprises, GiveDirectly has now created a system where donors can directly contribute to poor households in Kenya through mobile phone technology (Thanks to Roving Bandit for highlighting the charity).

GiveDirectly is selling its approach on being efficient – (costing only 10% of each $), transparent (users can ‘see exactly where their money goes’), but most importantly, respectful. In GiveDirectly’s words:

 Respect means treating the people we help as we would want to be treated: as fellow human beings who are capable of making important decisions for themselves. We demonstrate this respect in a tangible way, by letting them decide how to spend the money that you send them. The poor all have needs and opportunities, but each person’s needs and opportunities differ. Cash transfers empower the poor to meet their most pressing needs and invest in the best opportunities.

Usually, I shy away from the word ‘empowerment’, as it is often over, and inappropriately, used. In this case however it seems appropriate in taking an approach which traditional micro-finance didn’t – give the poor the opportunity to use a loan as they see fit, and wish. Micro-finance has been a success storey for many individuals since its inception, lifting a few out of poverty, and providing a supplementary income which makes daily survival easier, to many more. Not everyone however is capable of, or in the right situation to become a micro-entrepreneur, and as Portfolio’s of the Poor demonstrated, not everyone wants to – using the mechanism of financial diaries, the authors showed that in many cases households took and used a loan to meet households needs, rather than start a business, as this approach was more practical for their situation.

Read more…

UK Aid Match – Should the public have a say?

July 6, 2011

On 30th June DFID launched ‘Aid Match’, which is, in its own words:

 A demand-led fund which will match public donations to appeals for projects focused on poverty reduction and the pursuit of the Millennium Development Goals

Once accepted into the scheme,  DFID agrees to match all funds raised during a public fundraising appeal by a UK based NGO. To qualify, the appeal must be expected to raise at least £100,000, and achieve 400,000 opportunities.

The purpose of the scheme, according to DFID is ‘to allow the UK public to have a direct say in how an element of the aid budget is spent on NGO projects’

The scheme is the latest tool used by the Government in its push towards ‘accountability’ of, and public confidence in, aid spending. Although arguably focusing too much on a results and numbers based agenda in its current form, accountability – both to the British public, and arguably, more importantly to beneficiaries, is an important goal. Publishing data on the projects DFID funds was a valuable, and symbolic step in public access to aid spending information. Similarly, in an era of intense spending cuts to the UK public sector, arguing for maintaining spending on aid is a tricky, and important task.

Should, however, the British public have a direct say in how an element of the aid budget is spent, particularly when this is not the case with UK public spending? Before coming to power, the UK Conservative party announced that, if elected, they would launch a scheme called ‘MyAid’ in which UK citizens could vote for the funding of different international development projects, depending on their perceived need. I haven’t heard anymore about the old scheme, but the new Aidmatch is working upon the same basis, just instead of voting in an online project poll, it is asking the public to vote with its purse-strings.

The scheme is a great fundraising opportunity for certain charities which have the capacity to launch large appeals, and which are fundraising for projects which have a clear cut ‘result’ and appeal in the eyes of the public. DFID gives as an example of a project which could launch an appeal for funding the distribution of bed nets – what could be considered by voters as a nice clear cut issue, a way to immediately save lives, yet which has many possible pitfalls, not least use of the bed nets for their intended purposes. Is the provision of legal assistance and support to victims of domestic violence, or trafficking, likely to gain as many votes however? Evidence on the amount of public support sexual violence charities are able to galvanize in the UK, compared to animal charities, suggests not.

By launching AidMatch, DFID is allocating a portion of spending of public money over towards the public’s inherent biases, and the capability of an organisation’s public relations and fundraising team. These are issues with which the fundraising departments of NGOs no doubt have to deal with every day when sourcing public donations, but, if the Government really wants to increase confidence in aid spending, DFID should take a long step back from.

Measuring danger for women? Why measurement matters

June 17, 2011

On Thursday TrustLaw published the results of a poll measuring the five most dangerous places to be a woman in the world. As Keshet Bachan points out in a blog piece, in a male dominated media environment, the survey did a great job in raising awareness of the dangers women face around the world. Afhanistan came top, followed by the DRC, Pakistan, India and Somalia – all countries in which women face violence, whether it be in the form of rape or domestic abuse, or a lack of healthcare for pregnant women.

The statistics, and quotes, are appropriately shocking:

In Afghanistan, there is still no law criminalising rape. Haiti only criminalised rape in 2005. And Pakistan fails to recognise marital rape and severely punishes women having sex outside marriage.

And indeed, the report has served it’s original purpose well; it has grabbed media attention, it has shocked, and it has raised awareness. Working in a field where you are confronted with and are working on women’s rights issues every day, its easy to forget that the whole world isn’t as aware about the prevalence of FGM, or the immense dangers involved in child birth for many.

Despite the fact that I can recognise the importance of the survey and of the attention it has received, the survey itself sits uneasy with me.

Natasha Lennard in a piece in The Salon has critiqued the survey,  both for its methodology, and for the fact that ‘it was always going to point to Non-Western countries as the most dangerous for women’. Keshet Bachan hits back, asserting that ‘It doesn’t even matter if the survey is scientifically accurate or not’.

Scientific accuracy in this sense seems absurd and deeming, to attempt to measure the rights abuses women face in this way would detract from the lived experiences of the women in the countries.

Measurement however, does matter, and this is what sits uncomfortably with me about the survey – gender ‘experts’ are asked to place values upon the rights abuses of women.

Measurement matters because it is a question of voice; it allows one party, by drawing upon their perceptions, to make a judgement about the situation of another, often placing a label upon their situation – DRC as ‘the rape capital of the world’, for example.

How women’s rights abuses are measured and reported is a crucial question for the women’ rights movement, because it has the potential to let women’s voices shine through, to give women the opportunity to express the nuanced violations of these rights, in their own words. Rape is undoubtedly a problem in the DRC, but what about the women who haven’t been raped, but have experienced other abuses? Or of the men who have? How do women themselves see violations of their rights; what are the biggest dangers they see in their own lives?

And, more importantly, how do they fight against these?

The TrustLaw survey has taken a great first step in raising awareness, and attracting attention, but I hope the attention trapping demands of media advocacy in the future don’t detract from the importance of nuance, from moving beyond labels, and from thinking critically about measurement, voice and reporting.

UPDATE: Rosebell makes some excellent points here

A snapshot of Sikoroni – Rights, development and NGO intervention

June 4, 2011

Sikoroni is, in many ways, picturesque. My favourite part of the day is walking down the hill from the office back towards Bamako – you can’t help but be struck by the immense colour – the roads of bright red soil, the orange, crumbling buildings, the green, blue and yellow water containers waiting to be filled, the pieces of bright clothing strung out to be dried, all framed by rocky outcrops of Sikornoni’s hills.

Sikoroni is however technically a ‘slum’. I don’t like the word ‘slum’ – too dehumanising, too many associations. People don’t think of the vibrancy, the colour, and the people who live there, but of the lack of services, the poverty, maybe even the crime. I often wonder if you didn’t tell people that it was a ‘slum’ area if their first impressions would be different – how much of what you see is already coloured by preconceived ideas?

The colour that I love so much however does serve to mask the many difficult realities of daily life, the reasons why the neighbourhood has in fact been categorised as a slum. The colourful containers waiting to be filled in fact represent the huge burden of water collection that fill each woman’s everyday life. The crumbling walls, vulnerable homes, not built to last. The bright red roads, the difficulty of transport access.

93% of Mali’s urban population in fact live in slums (UN Habitat) – areas categorised by a lack of safe, accessible water sources and sanitation facilities, secure tenure and durable housing.  As is typical of many slum areas, many residents originally migrated here from rural areas, ended up staying, and built temporary housing on land that they don’t own. Pressures on land continue – hike up to the top of the hills and you will see small plots already marked out with stones and chalk, ready for houses to be built on top of them.

The informal, and illegal, nature of settlements in the neighbourhood however also means that traditionally Sikoroni has lacked government services. ‘Slum deadlock’ arose out of a situation where residents refused to pay taxes because they were not receiving any services, and the government refused to provide services because they were not receiving any taxes. In reality this means that it was only a few years ago that public water taps were provided on the main routes. A minority of lucky households have access to a well for water, however for most days are spent collecting water from one of the public taps, or, when water shortages are experienced in the dry season, waiting for their share of water from one of the large tankers that makes its way up the hill each week. Others pay boys to cart tanks of water up the rocky hills to their house, but at up to 200 CFA a container (30p), this can represent a large chunk of your daily income.

It was only a few years ago that the main road became passable by vehicles, and in particular sotramas – the most common form of public transport in Bamako. The rocky cliff side roads, normally an everyday annoyance and difficulty, can however become something more dangerous in the case of medical emergencies and childbirth, when the nearest clinic is 4km away. Each morning, at 8am, these streets become filled with men, all walking in one direction – out of Sikoroni, and towards the economic opportunities that the rest of Bamako promises.

Sikorono is, in these senses a typical slum case study – an example of how a portion of a growing city is marginalised in terms of services, economic opportunities, and rights. And it is the latter that holds the key for the neighbourhood. The word ‘slum’, being in my mind in some ways dehumanising, easily glosses over the importance of those that live there in mobilising to claim their rights to improve the conditions in which they live.

Read more…

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