Author: Ranjani K. Murthy, June 15 2015 - When I asked women and men from six Chennai [India] slums: "What are the changes - positive and negative - you have seen in the last five years in the institutions of marriage, family, markets and state?" they pointed to quite a few changes and recommendations. These are discussed first, followed by recommendations from evaluations of government schemes in the same city. The disjuncture between women’s evaluations and government evaluations is then contrasted, and, finally, recommendations are given to bridge the gaps so that gender relations and institutions change for the better.

Women’s evaluation of changes in five years

  • Marriage: Women reported an increase in “choice marriages”, a decrease in child marriages, a reduction in dowry and wife battering, and more sharing of work. These changes were attributed to investment in female education, economic expansions, greater opportunities and media coverage of gender-specific schemes. Media (news media in particular) was also reported to cover men who are brought to book for intimate partner violence. On the other hand, both women and men observed that there were greater fights over work timings, who earned more, and talking with colleagues of the opposite sex.
  • Family: Women and men interviewees reported that families were becoming more nuclear in the last five years. Son preference was less common than before. Women were beginning to stake a claim in natal family property, and domestic violence was lower. The women and men who were interviewed attributed these changes to migration, women’s better status due to their earnings (beyond work as domestic help), and media coverage on property rights of women. Police booths with women police personnel were located in all legal tenements, which made it possible for women survivors of domestic violence to get protection. At the same time, women reported that there was not any change in women’s contraceptive responsibility or sexual rights. Major decisions continued to be taken by men. With the increase in government-run liquor shops, there was an increase in adult male mortality and women-headed households in low income groups. Dominant construction of masculinities, as well as state strategy of earning money out of sale of liquor sales, were seen as the main reasons for some of the aspects contributing to changes for women lagging behind.
  • Community: Women and men observed that a greater proportion (though only 30-50%) of low income households live in their own house now, but generally the houses are owned by men. Safety of women and girls in the community, parks, workplace, and pathways to school/colleges had increased due to better roads and lighting and monitoring by police in the night. CCTVs [closed-circuit televisions] have been installed in important places like Cinema Halls. At the same time, safety in public transport was considered minimal. The plight of migrants who had come from comparatively backward provinces was bad, in particular women who worked as domestic help, in beauty parlors, etc. Problems for women include: the uneven development path; stereotypes that the transport industry exists for the convenience of men (few conductors and drivers were women; and the dominant perception that it is masculine to harass girls and women).
  • Markets: The labour market was suggested to be providing more employment opportunities for women from low income groups than before, with women leaving "domestic help" work and getting into garments, petrol bunks, nursing, retail work, data entry, information technology, etc. However, the majority of women continued to be in the informal sector, were underrepresented in unions, and did not earn as much as men with similar qualification or have equal access to promotions as men did. Education qualification and employment were not linked for both women and men, and lack of fluency in English was an issue.
  • State: Interestingly, the women and men expressed that public services like water, electricity, roads, drainage, garbage disposal, lights, pubic distribution system (rations), education, health services, police protection, etc., had improved over the last five years. However, this has been limited to only legal tenements. One third of the area was illegally occupied and did not have these provisions. Migrant women and men had lesser access to services than native residents. Two major irritants for the women are the expansion in outlets of state run liquor shops and displacement of slum dwellers in the name of beautification. As one woman said “The government gives a lot of dole, but takes it away through pushing us out of the city and the death of our men.”

Government Evaluations

Against these rich inter-institutional evaluations of marginalized women and men from low income slums in Chennai, government evaluations in the same area are sectoral and focus more on assessing implementation than outcomes. For example, the assessment of urban health posts covers staffing, infrastructure, coverage of maternal child health and family planning services and morbidity rates vis-à-vis routine and communicable diseases (sex-wise). However, provision of controversial safe abortion services, de-addiction services, health problems related to violence on women, and health outcomes are not reported. Neither is the linkage between water and sanitation services and health reported.

The evaluation of Jawaharal Nehru National Urban Renewal mission (which aims at strengthening drainage, solid waste management, water management, basic services for urban poor, working women’s hostel, women’s participation in planning) examines number of projects initiated, institutional capacities, percentage of projects completed and percentage of budgets released and spent. That is, the focus is on implementation and outcome. Issues such as displacement and access of migrant women and men to services are not addressed.

The assessment of Swarna Jayanthi Shahari Rozgar Yojana, an urban wage and self-employment scheme, assesses whether a survey of beneficiaries was conducted, whether an action plan for implementation exists and is implemented and whether funds flow and spending is as planned. Again, the focus is on implementation. The evaluation concludes that a survey of beneficiaries was not conducted, an action plan was not prepared and approved NGOs [non-governmental organisations] not used for training, and funds were diverted for community toilets and bathing spaces (a need of women and men!)


There are three conclusions. First, what women want (inter-sectoral and inter-institutional – see figure below) is different from what government evaluations recommend.


Source: Murthy, 2015, “Power, Institutions and Gender Relations: Can Evaluations Change Them?” on 24th, May, 2015 at Canadian Evaluation Society, 2015, Montreal.

Second, government evaluations of the present kind cannot transform power, institutions and gender relations. They focus on one sector, assess individual and not institutional impact; they assess implementation and not (adequately) outcomes or impact; and they rarely assess changes in gender and social relations within implementing agencies. They push the burden of development on women and do not examine issues of masculinities and development (other than in the context of HIV and violence against women).

Third, government in consultation with gender-experts may, in addition to sectoral evaluations,

  • Evolve indicators of changes in gender relations at marriage, household, markets and community level, as relevant to India and to the context of marginalised groups. (Beyond Social Institutions and Gender database)
  • Carry out an assessment of changes in gender relations at marriage, household, market, community and state level, as relevant to low income/marginalised groups, and capture their recommendations every five years.
  • Evolve legislation and policies - sectoral and beyond, based on findings and recommendations.

Based on presentation by Ranjani K Murthy: "Power, Institutions and Gender Relations: Can Evaluations Change Them?" on May 24 2015 at the Canadian Evaluation Society, 2015, Montreal, Canada.