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June 2001

Gender sensitive indicators: A key tool for gender mainstreaming

Women in Development Service (SDWW)
Women and Population Division


This article gives an introduction to recent work of FAO on the use of gender-sensitive indicators for gender mainstreaming. Such indicators provide an effective mechanism to ensure that programmes and projects give due consideration to the different roles and responsibilities of different members of the society. These differences are often overlooked, yet crucial to the success of any development effort. A more comprehensive paper on indicators is being prepared for publication soon.


The FAO mandate for "gender mainstreaming", with an ultimate goal of gender equality, was established by ECOSOC (UN Economic and Social Council) as a requirement for all UN agencies. Over the last two years, FAO has made considerable progress in achieving gender mainstreaming in its programme and project work. The Women and Population Division has been the lead unit in this effort. A key strategy has been to introduce gender in the Organization's basic planning document, the Medium Term Plan. In the revision of the Medium Term Plan for the years 2002-2007, twenty-four technical divisions of FAO selected specific major outputs to incorporate a gender dimension. This involved the formulation of verifiable gender-sensitive indicators for monitoring and evaluating the implementation of their work.

Figure 1 gives short definitions of the four closely interlinked concepts of gender, gender analysis, gender mainstreaming and gender-sensitive indicators.

Gender-sensitive indicators: why, what and how


Gender mainstreaming is important because inequalities in the access to development resources and opportunities hamper economic efficiency and sustainability. Women and men have different roles, rights and responsibilities. Rural women often have less access to productive natural resources and opportunities such as education and training, credit, capital, land and decision-making authority.

Gender mainstreaming requires a planning process that promotes the well-being and empowerment of both women and men. Gender should be mainstreamed at the earliest possible point in the project or programme cycle, as it can fundamentally affect the entire project/programme concept and structure. It is not a one-time exercise during the project or programme planning phase, rather an integral part of the entire planning and implementation process and continues throughout the life of the project or programme.

The utilisation of gender-sensitive indicators allows for effective monitoring and evaluation of project or programme activities, which in turn will feed into more effective future planning and programme delivery.


Indicators are quantitative or qualitative benchmarks used for measuring or assessing the achievement of objectives or results. Indicators can assume the form of measurement, numbers, facts, opinions, or perceptions that illustrate a specific condition or situation measuring changes in that situation or condition over time.

Indicators measure the level of performance and can be described in terms of (1) The derived quality to be reached; (2) The quantity of something to be achieved; (3) The target group who is affected by or benefits from the programme or project; and (4) The time frame envisaged for the achievement of the objectives.

There are various types of indicators, including:

Gender-sensitive indicators are indicators disaggregated by sex, age and socio-economic background. They are designed to demonstrate changes in relations between women and men in a given society over a period of time. The indicators are a tool to assess the progress of a particular development intervention towards achieving gender equality. Sex-disaggregated data demonstrates whether both rural women and men are included in the programme or project as agents/project staff, and as beneficiaries at all levels. The approach allows for effective monitoring and evaluation.

Examples of gender-sensitive indicators are:




The following short guide1 explains in ten main points how gender-sensitive indicators can be developed, for example during a program planning process. The purpose is to illuminate the questions that need to be asked in the major output planning process to establish a solid basis for gender-sensitivity in the programme work of a Division. It also shows the role of quantitative and qualitative indicators that demonstrate successful efforts to "mainstream"gender issues in specific objectives, planned activities and outputs, and in longer-term outcomes for women and men. This example was developed to be applied in the Medium Term Plan of FAO.

A quick guide to planning gender sensitive indicators

  1. Ensure that the specific objective(s) identified for each major output includes a people-focus, as well as a technical and/or environmental component, and that the people-focus differentiates women and men. Gender-sensitivity in the major output planning process begins with the formulation of specific, short-term objectives that are people-relevant, as well as technically and environmentally sound. No specific objective can be assumed, without clear evidence and careful analysis, to be "gender-neutral." At the outset, it should always be assumed that there will be differences in the roles, responsibilities and resources that will affect the participation and/or the resulting benefits for women and men.

  2. Ensure that the Description field for each major output refers to women and men, their existing roles and responsibilities, and the gender inequities that will be addressed by the specific objective. How are existing gender roles and responsibilities relevant to the specific objective and the main activities through which the major output will be achieved? a) Do women and men (gender) have different and/or cross-cutting roles and responsibilities that are relevant with regard to this objective or to these activities? b) How will the specific objective and the planned activities address relevant gender inequities in women's and men's roles and responsibilities?

  3. Ensure that the Description field refers to the way in which the planned activities will address these different needs and priorities, including women's access to the resources necessary for their participation and benefit. Rural women and men generally carry out different roles, have different responsibilities and have differential access to the resources necessary for agricultural and rural development. As a result, they also have different needs and priorities. How will the varying needs and priorities of women and men, particularly women's common lack of access to crucial resources, be taken into account in the activities undertaken in response to the specific objective?

  4. Ensure that the Description field refers to the way in which both women and men will be involved in the planned activities. Consider how existing gender roles and responsibilities might affect the involvement of both women and men in the planned activities, or the particular avenues that would need to be explored to reach both women and men. Have appropriate activities been formulated to reach both women and men? As it is often harder to reach women in rural areas, has particular attention been paid to designing activities to reach women?

  5. Ensure that the immediate impact or benefit and the longer-term outcome for both women and men are included in the discussion of Effects. Specific objectives that have been understood to be 'gender neutral' have often resulted in outputs and outcomes with different implications for men and women, and especially, in outputs and longer-term outcomes that were negative for women. Has the immediate impact or benefit of the major output for women and men been considered, and have both the major output and the longer-term outcomes been planned to be relevant and beneficial for both women and men? Have possible unplanned effects and outcomes that might be negative for women or men been anticipated and addressed?

  6. Ensure that both women and men, and organizations and institutions with a gender mandate are included in the User Focus. When women's roles, responsibilities, needs and priorities are recognized at an early stage, it is more likely that these issues and concerns will be effectively addressed. A useful avenue for this prioritized designation is through a broad consideration of potential user groups. Has the potential usefulness of the major output for both women and men been considered? Also, has a broad base of potential users been identified, including UN agencies such as UNIFEM and INSTRAW that deal primarily with gender and women's issues, and/or NGO's that work primarily with women?

  7. Identify quantitative and/or qualitative indicators to measure the gender-sensitivity of the specific objective, the activities undertaken, and the immediate impact or benefit of the major output for women and men. Ensure that at least 2 of these indicators deal with the immediate impact or benefit of the planned major output for women and men. Gender-sensitive indicators allow for the clearest possible demonstration that gender roles and responsibilities, and particularly the needs and priorities of women, have been carefully considered and addressed through well-designed objectives, activities, outputs, and eventual outcomes. Consider the specific objective, the planned activities, and the proposed output. What indicators will best identify the attention paid to gender issues in the formulation of the objective, in the planned activities, and in the major output?

  8. Identify relevant quantitative and qualitative indicators to measure the participation of women and men at each stage of the planned activities. Have sex-disaggregated, measurable indicators also been developed to show that both women and men have been included as agents and/or staff in the activities undertaken to meet the strategic objective?

  9. Identify relevant quantitative and/or qualitative indicators to measure the outcome of the major output for women and men after three to five years. There is an important difference between planned outputs and eventual outcomes. Consider the longer-term goal(s) which this specific objective is intended to address. How could success with regard to the impact of the major output be demonstrated after three to five years? What outcomes would demonstrate successful impact for both women and men after this time interval?

  10. Ensure that appropriate plans have been made, including appropriate budget allocations, to allow for the sex-disaggregation of data at all levels of the major output. Has anything been missed? Have appropriate plans been made to have all relevant data concerning inputs, target groups, activities, effects, user groups, be disaggregated by sex to make effective monitoring and evaluation possible?

1This guide was developed by Professor Bonnie Kettel, York University, Toronto, Canada. Prof. Kettel was a Visiting Expert at FAO from March to May 2001.

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