The Project: Women’s Voice and Leadership - Pakistan
Women’s Voice and Leadership - Pakistan (2019-2024) is being implemented by Oxfam Canada in collaboration with Oxfam in Pakistan. It’s part of a worldwide Global Affairs Canada initiative that is currently running in more than 30 countries.
In Pakistan, women and girls are among the most at risk of having their human rights violated. Those who are also members of other marginalized groups face further discrimination. While Pakistan’s Constitution calls for equality, rights and protection for all, human rights violations are an ongoing concern.
Recently, Pakistan’s women’s rights movement has deteriorated to critical levels, with women's rights organizations and women's movements facing shrinking spaces in which to organize. Women’s Voice and Leadership - Pakistan seeks to increase Pakistani women and girls’ abilities to access human rights and to advance gender equality by strengthening the individual and collective capacity of women’s rights organizations, women’s rights activists and coalitions within the women’s movement in Pakistan.
Using a strategic combination of core funding and capacity strengthening, Oxfam is working to support strong, autonomous, and well-resourced women’s rights organizations, who are best placed to advance gender equality and women’s rights. This will ensure they can deliver programming on their own terms, better meeting the needs of the women and girls they serve. The project also improves the ability of women’s rights organizations and activists to work together more effectively toward gender-transformative policies.
This project takes place in Pakistan:
Oxfam and its partners designed the Women’s Voice and Leadership - Pakistan MEAL process with a feminist approach based on Oxfam Canada’s 10 feminist principles, which aim to centre women’s rights organizations as co-implementers of the project.
In a week-long workshop, the 12 organizations and Oxfam in Pakistan staff focused on learning and practicing feminist MEAL and developing a feminist MEAL system. One participant recorded this video (known as a cellphilm videoThis term means A cellphilm is a video shot entirely on a cell phone or tablet camera, often with no editing, just storyboarding the shoot beforehand. It’s intentional and conveys a message in a short time. For more information, refer to this series of resources. ), reflecting on Oxfam’s feminist principles and the project's objective to shift power, ownership and leadership to women’s rights organizations. This perspective and commentary illustrate a strong commitment to practicing feminist MEAL, whereby women’s rights organizations lead and define how change occurs.
The main challenge in this process was that the 12 women’s rights organizations who were engaging with the project had varying levels of skills, experience and resources when it comes to feminist MEAL. We overcame this challenge by facilitating a workshop that would bring everyone to the same collective level on feminist MEAL, and also give participants opportunities to practice feminist MEAL through participatory activities. In taking a collaborative, collective approach to the workshop, it created an opportunity for cross-organizational learning among the women’s rights organizations. As one participant noted: “We are hopeful that for the coming three to three and a half years, we will learn together and will transform ourselves into gender-just organizations and will be securing women’s rights as a whole.”
This workshop was part of the baseline assessment process for the Women’s Voice and Leadership - Pakistan project. The goal of the assessment, which took place over a period of a year, from September 2019 to September 2020, was to shift ownership of the process to the women’s rights organizations. They would be the ones to determine how to grasp the baseline conditions in Pakistan and how to measure project success on their own terms.
The assessment involved three key steps:
- A series of self-assessment workshops in December 2019 and January 2020 in which women’s rights organizations assessed their strengths and weaknesses at the outset of the project, using Oxfam Canada’s Capacity Assessment Tool for Gender-Just Organizational Strengthening.
- A mapping study (January to June 2020) that outlined the situation facing women’s rights organizations and movements in Pakistan.
- A co-creation workshop (March 2020) where the project’s indicators, targets and the baseline report structure were collectively decided on by women’s rights organizations themselves.
Oxfam Canada hosted the Women’s Voice and Leadership - Pakistan co-creation workshop over five days. It was an opportunity for staff from Oxfam Canada, Oxfam Pakistan and the 12 core women’s rights organizations to learn and co-create the project’s feminist MEAL system together.
In keeping with Oxfam Canada’s feminist MEAL approach, we encouraged collective ownership of the process – including what was going to be measured and reported on throughout the project. All 12 women's rights organizations came to a consensus on what success would look like over the course of the project. The workshop was also an opportunity for participants to practice methods like cellphim, photovoice, dramatization and community radio to generate knowledge, share learning and encourage collective reflection. In essence, this workshop was about linking theory with practice by and for women’s rights organizations.
Humaira is originally from Khairpur Tamewali, an underdeveloped area of South Punjab where patriarchal mindsets and gender discrimination are commonplace, such as the exclusion of women from decision-making, the control of their labour, income and movement, and the prominence of child, early and forced marriage, acid attacks, child labour, family violence and other violations of girls’ and women’s human rights.
In Humaira’s extended family, girls’ education was stigmatized, and her immediate family faced so much backlash and criticism as a result of Humaira going to school that they had to move from Khairpur Tamewali to the city of Bahawalpur so she could continue her education. With the support of her parents, Humaira continued to study despite the backlash and now has a Master’s degree.
After completing her Master’s in 2002, Humaira joined the development sector to work with women’s rights organizations on advancing girls’ education opportunities and ending violence against women and girls. Over the years, Humaira has worked with and supported female acid attack victims and, through this work, she has deepened her understanding of how to provide safe, secure environments for women to talk about their lives and rights, and how to advocate for women’s rights with community leaders, religious leaders and policy makers. Religious leaders in particular are significant and influential figures in her community who have the potential to be great partners in promoting women’s rights.
Further breaking down barriers to equality for women in her region, Humaira was elected as a local district councillor in Khairpur Tamewali in 2005 and has used that platform to promote women’s rights, end child, early and forced marriage and combat gender discrimination in her community. Over the years, she has made progress on local women’s rights issues and laid a path to improving education and employment opportunities for girls and women in the area. She has stopped several early marriages, supported victims of acid attacks in getting the care they need, promoted girls’ education and established a school for girls in Khairpur Tamewali.
As a result of her involvement in the Women’s Voice and Leadership - Pakistan project, Humaira is learning new approaches to women’s rights organizing and change-making at the community level. She’s had the opportunity to use new tools, like Oxfam Canada’s Capacity Assessment Tool for Gender-Just Organizational Strengthening, innovative safeguarding practices to protect women and children from exploitation and abuse, and feminist monitoring, evaluation, accountability and learning (MEAL) techniques.
Feminist MEAL is a new addition to Humaira’s skill set, which she learned as part of her work with Women’s Voice and Leadership - Pakistan. She now practices these techniques with her colleagues at PRWSWO and works with them to further develop these feminist MEAL skills. Taking part in a Women’s Voice and Leadership co-creation workshop in Islamabad in March 2020 gave Humaira the skills and tools she needed to transform her workplace into an environment that’s more conducive to promoting women rights. Specifically, Humaira has used social and religious references to explain to colleagues and community members how Oxfam Canada’s feminist principles – most significantly the principle of Do No Harm – could be applied to PRWSWO’s work in culturally-relevant ways, noting an important overlap between the Islamic hadith and Oxfam’s feminist principles.
As part of onboarding the full project team at the start of the Women’s Voice and Leadership - Pakistan project, Humaira introduced her colleagues to Oxfam’s feminist principles and trained them on feminist MEAL techniques – with a particular focus on using her preferred feminist MEAL tool of storytelling, which is locally acceptable and easy to do with communities.
Storytelling has been the most popular way of assessing women’s and girls’ perspectives on their rights before and after taking part in the Women’s Voice and Leadership project. According to Humaira, she uses this tool to build personal connections and rapport with women, help them reflect on their experiences and support them in sharing their change stories. Humaira can later anonymize these stories and use them in her advocacy work to mobilize other women and girls.
To date, Humaira hasn’t had as much success with other feminist MEAL methods, such as Photovoice or Cellphilm, because the women and girls in her community are reluctant to open up via technology. She hopes that this might change over the course of the project. In the future, she also hopes to use theatre as a feminist MEAL tool to assess the change that has taken root in women’s and girls’ lives and communities. So far, she has only used theatre for awareness-raising activities.
Humaira is grateful to have the support and encouragement of the leadership at PRWSWO, which has given her the courage to explore feminist MEAL practices and adapt them to her community’s specific context. While practicing feminist MEAL, Humaira continually reflects on and exchanges thoughts with her project team and accesses their support wherever needed.
“I am hopeful that, together, we can transform the lives of girls and women by enabling them to realize their individual and collective power,” says Humaira.
Humaira dreams that one day all of the women and girls in her community will be respected and able to access their human rights as a result of her and others’ women’s rights work.
Learn more about how we did this, and explore how our MEAL approaches and methodologies impacted the outcome.
Our Methods Explained
Feminist MEAL methodologies allow participants to challenge traditional ways of gathering information, as well as the typical power dynamics within data collection. The power shifts to participants through the process of producing information about their projects by and for themselves.
Here are some typical approaches:
- Cellphilm: Cellphilming is the act of taking a short video of yourself (typically between 1-3 minutes) with a cell phone, tablet or other device. The goal of cellphilms is to share a message that represents your way of looking at a particular issue in your everyday life. It can raise awareness, promote dialogue, be a form of activism and allow you to reflect on your own role in advancing gender equality and women’s rights.
- Photovoice: Photovoice is a visual methodology that uses photography to capture, represent and reflect on reality from your own perspective. Photographs can communicate significant people, events and attitudes, prompt discussion, raise awareness and challenge social norms surrounding gender equality and women’s rights.
- Dramatization: Dramatizations, such as theatre or performance, can be powerful tools to creatively represent alternative viewpoints, social justice messages, raise awareness and challenge social norms related to gender equality and women’s rights. Dramatizations are powerful tools because they can be participatory, engaging, visual and moving.
- Community radio: Community radio is one of the most important forms of media to reach a wide number of people, foster community participation and challenge social norms about gender equality and women’s rights. Broadcasts from the community can be used to allow people to participate in discussions, facilitate dialogue, reach isolated communities and break down language barriers.
- Storytelling: Storytelling methodologies have many different forms, including narratives, writing poetry and drawing. Stories capture experiences. Storytelling is a way to share your own individual or collective organizational journeys, pass knowledge from one generation to another and inspire action and change to forward gender equality and women’s rights.
The feminist MEAL data from the reflections that took place during the Women’s Voice and Leadership co-creation workshop showcase participants’ learning and understanding about the benefits, challenges and practical applications of the different feminist MEAL methodologies. For example, in a feminist MEAL cellphilm video from the last day of the five-day workshop, a participant described the reasons why cellphilm is a useful technique for women’s rights organizations:
“At the closing of each of the days of the co-creation workshop was time for practicing feminist MEAL activities. So today’s technique is cellphilming, and I am sharing today’s learning with you. This participatory feminist MEAL technique is very interesting to convey our knowledge and learning experience; it is a reliable, easy to access and cost-effective means of transferring knowledge.”
The feminist MEAL data from the workshop demonstrates a deepened commitment to practicing feminist MEAL on the part of women’s rights organizations in Pakistan.
Reflecting on the baseline process, staff from Oxfam Canada, Oxfam in Pakistan and the women’s rights organizations agreed that adopting a feminist approach within the project had been a highly rewarding and beneficial experience. When asked about their experience implementing the project baseline and its goals of shifting power and ownership through feminist MEAL, staff from the women’s rights organizations repeatedly described the process as being collaborative, inclusive and providing a sense of ownership that is unlike other projects on which they have worked. The lessons learned below encompass our learning from the entire baseline process, in addition to the co-creation workshop specifically.
The Strength of Learning Together:
Participants said that the co-creation workshop format we used as part of the Women’s Voice and Leadership - Pakistan baseline process provided an opportunity for peer-to-peer learning, networking and alliance-building among the women’s rights organizations. In a cellphilm video from the last day of the five-day co-creation workshop, a participant said that, after the workshop, she felt more connected to the other staff from the women’s rights organizations and that they felt a collective sense of hope.
“We are hopeful that for the coming three to three-and-a-half years, we will learn together and will transform ourselves into gender-just organizations and will be securing women’s rights as a whole.”
Facilitators from Oxfam in Pakistan also participated in the feminist MEAL reflection exercises. In another cellphilm video from the same workshop, a facilitator from Oxfam in Pakistan reflected on her own learning and appreciation for feminist MEAL:
“These [techniques] were completely new for me, and were very helpful. It gives ownership and power to participants to talk about their own journey and success, and the reason for failure or areas of improvement. This is, I think, shifting power to people who are actually change agents.”
Time and Technical Requirements:
Many of the baseline activities took longer than expected because a feminist approach requires a deeper level of consultation, engagement and participation from all project partners than more traditional approaches. All of the baseline activities also needed to be extensively documented, and the amount of qualitative data was massive. Consolidating, transcribing, analyzing and validating this data with all of the partners required high levels of technical expertise, and highlighted that there was more capacity or skill in terms of data collection than analysis.
Resourcing, Capacity and True Co-creation:
The baseline process served as a reality check for what it actually means to co-create a project with small and under-resourced women’s rights organizations when the funder is operating similar projects in thirty countries around the world. This is a challenge for feminist MEAL because the program requires that we use the same indicators and outcomes worldwide.
The 12 core women’s rights organization partners for Women’s Voice and Leadership - Pakistan have varying levels of organizational experience doing feminist MEAL and complex project reporting. For this reason, the project team devoted additional time and resources to help guide staff from the partnering women’s rights organizations, as needed. Conversations with Oxfam Canada and Oxfam in Pakistan revealed that much of this work fell to the Oxfam in Pakistan team, which is not a sustainable approach. Going forward, Oxfam Canada will discuss this issue openly and candidly, develop strategies to meet the needs of both Oxfam in Pakistan and women’s rights organizations and also promote the use of feminist MEAL methodologies to reduce reporting burdens throughout the rest of the project.
Feminist MEAL Foundations
The process involved in developing the Women’s Voice and Leadership - Pakistan baseline report integrated all of Oxfam Canada’s feminist MEAL foundationsThis term means Feminist MEAL: Is an approach rather than a process, is an integral part of transformative change, shifts power to partners and participants, highlights the evaluator as a facilitator, values collective, context-driven knowledge generation, provides a learning orientation to evaluations, is rooted in safe programming, guided by ‘do no harm.’ Read More. to varying degrees.
In particular, the following foundations were prominent in this work:
Oxfam Canada’s role throughout developing the Women’s Voice and Leadership Pakistan baseline report was that of a facilitator, who provided technical support and posed questions to stakeholders. Oxfam sought to continually acknowledge power dynamics and practice reflexivityThis term means Reflexivity refers to examining one’s own beliefs, judgments and practices during research or evaluation processes and how these may have influenced data design, collection and analysis. Reflexivity involves questioning one’s own taken-for-granted assumptions. In Feminist MEAL, using a reflexive approach requires evaluators and organizations to acknowledge their own power and how this power could potentially impact (intentionally or not) the evaluation exercise. For more information, refer to Warwick University’s discussion of reflexivity, as well as Oxfam Canada’s Guidance Note on Feminist MEAL. . One women’s rights organization participant said: “This is a unique experience, as it did not feel as a donor-partner relationship – rather, we felt equal in making decisions for ourselves.”
The Feminist MEAL approach used in the Women’s Voice and Leadership Pakistan baseline report was oriented to learning and not just data collection, and it prioritized strategic program learning to strengthen collective ownership of the project.
The collaborative process during development of the Women’s Voice and Leadership Pakistan baseline report was guided by ethical and safety standards that centered on the principles of ‘do no harm’ and ‘nothing about me without me’. Key considerations included that participants had the right to terminate their involvement at any time and that participants were fully aware of how their data was being used. One women’s rights organization participant commented: “The first day of the workshop was very informative as we learned how to align the guiding principles of Oxfam with our respective organization. The special message of today: ‘Nothing about me without me’ will also guide us in future project preparation and implementation.”
Learn More about Feminist MEAL Foundations
Read about our Feminist MEAL Foundations in more depth in Oxfam Canada’s Guidance Note on Feminist MEAL.