Woman holding glass of water in Bangladesh

How to create real change for women

What’s the best way to achieve gender equality? Don’t just focus on women alone.

We know that gender isn’t about only working with women—we won’t see change without engaging with everyone around them, from families to communities and even governments.

We looked at projects reporting impact at multiple levels—women’s individual agency, the power relations which affect them, and the structures which perpetuate injustice. What did we find? The majority of projects which were proactively promoting equality across all areas of women’s lives also scored highly on CARE’s Gender Marker, a tool which helps us measure the quality of programs.

So what do these high scores mean in reality? For women like Salma in Bangladesh, projects like SHOUHARDO focusing on gender equality has made a world of difference to her life. Married at 15, a mother at 17, she was entirely dependent on her husband and the family often went hungry to repay their loans. 15 years later, she has built a house on her own land, works in the community, makes money from raising animals on her land and has even run in a local election.

The third phase of the SHOUHARDO program in Bangladesh is one of eight projects* reporting impact across agency, relations and structures in CARE’s Project & Program Information and Impact Reporting System (PIIRS), which CARE reviewed against our Gender Marker. These were analyzed by CARE’s Gender Justice team for what common features they share.

What changes for women when gender equality is at the heart of the project?

·       Women and girls have more control over their lives and bodies: In Benin, Projeunes halved the proportion of young women married before 18 and halved the birth rate among adolescent girls aged 15-19.

·       Men are more supportive: In Bangladesh, the percentage of women surveyed by the SHOUHARDO project who reported their husbands help with household tasks more than doubled, from 37% to 85%.

·       People are less vulnerable: The APEAL project in Uganda targeted extremely vulnerable individuals; the percentage engaging in high-risk behaviors and negative coping strategies dropped from 54% to 13%.

·       Women are speaking up: In Ethiopia, 83% of rural women actively participated in a local committee and women occupied more than 50% of leadership positions in SAA groups.

·       And local authorities are listening: In the same project in Ethiopia, the proportion of people engaging with local government who said their requests were considered and acted upon tripled.

What did we learn?

·       Advocacy and social norms change together can be powerful: All but one project included both advocacy and promoting social norms as key approaches.

·       Addressing GBV is critical: All of the eight projects either fully focused on GBV or mainstreamed this within their project.

·       Men must be included: All projects engaged men and boys in their programming to some extent.

·       Working in partnership is important: Six projects worked with partners explicitly focused on advancing women’s rights or gender equality, with three of these project partners being women-led organizations.

·       Real change takes time: The highest scoring projects lasted more than one year or contributed to longstanding humanitarian programming. This included both humanitarian and development projects.


Want to learn more?
Check out the Learning Brief for further details. 

*The 8 projects reporting impact across all domains of a woman’s life are:

•       Strengthening Household Ability to Respond to Development Opportunities (SHOUHARDO) III – Bangladesh

•       PROJEUNES – Benin

•       COVID-19 – Cameroon

•       Shelter Assistance and Protection against GBV (APVBGRH) – Chad

•       Water for Food Security, Women’s Empowerment and Environmental Protection (SWEEP) – Ethiopia

•       Economic and Social Development of Women through Renewable Energies in the Sahel (DESFERS) – Niger

•       Access Protection Empowerment Accountability and Leadership (APEAL) for Refugees & Host Communities In Western & Northern Uganda – Uganda

•       Women Lead in Emergency: Lifesaving Protection, Leadership & SRMH support for Refugees (Uganda)