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Evaluation database

Evaluation report

2013 Global: Joint Evaluation of Joint Programmes on Gender Equality in the United Nations System

Author: MDGF Achievement Fund, UNFPA, UN Women, UNDP, UNICEF

Executive summary

With the aim to continuously improve transparency and use of evaluation, UNICEF Evaluation Office manages the "Global Evaluation Reports Oversight System". Within this system, an external independent company reviews and rates all evaluation reports. Please ensure that you check the quality of this evaluation report, whether it is “Outstanding, Best Practice”, “Highly Satisfactory”, “Mostly Satisfactory” or “Unsatisfactory” before using it. You will find the link to the quality rating below, labelled as ‘Part 6’ of the report.


The Joint Evaluation of Joint Programmes on Gender Equality in the United Nations System was undertaken in a context of transformation and change. Gender equality remains at the forefront of the global development agenda. The 2006 System-Wide Policy for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women1 paved the way for subsequent reforms and momentum towards system-wide accountability is growing. Gender, increasingly, matters.
Coherence in the United Nations is also gaining momentum. Spearheaded by the Delivering as One initiative, actors are now coming together at global and national levels to create synergies and work jointly, seeking to maximise resources and create better development results on the ground.
In 2012, seven partners - the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the Millennium Development Goals Achievement Fund (MDG-F), and the Governments of Norway and Spain - came together to examine the effects of these reforms on joint United Nations programmes on gender equality. The evaluation was conducted from May 2012 to November 2013. It is the first United Nations joint evaluation of gender of this scale.


The evaluation set out to assess the:
- Contribution of joint gender programmes to national development results on gender, including intended and unintended results and efficiency in achieving their objectives;
- Extent to which the objectives and results of joint gender programmes were relevant to national and United Nations development goals and policies;
- Sustainability of results of joint gender programmes, including the level of national ownership, national capacity development, and partnerships between the United Nations system and national partners;
- Extent to which joint gender programmes created synergies between and among United Nations entities and partners at national level; and
- Overall level of integration of human rights-based approaches.

The main intended users of the evaluation are United Nations agencies involved in joint gender programmes; the United Nations Development Group (UNDG); donor and partner countries; civil society.

SP Goal:

G1: to increase women's leadership and participation
G2: to increase women's access to economic empowerment and opportunities
G3: to prevent violence against women and girls and expand access to services
G4: to increase women's leadership in peace, security and humanitarian response
G5: to strengthen the responsiveness of plans and budgets to gender equality at all levels
G6: a comprehensive set of global norms, policies and standards on gender equality and women's empowerment is in place that is dynamic, responds to new and emerging issues, challenges and opportunities and provides a firm basis for action by Governments and other stakeholders at all levels


This evaluation’s unit of analysis was joint gender programmes operating at country level, designed and implemented after 2006. Of 113 joint United Nations gender programmes, 80 were eligible for review under this evaluation. A representative sample of 24 – across regions, thematic area, and context - was selected for in-depth desk review.
Field studies were also conducted in Albania, Kenya, Liberia, Nicaragua and the State of Palestine.3 Other sources of evidence included: over 150 interviews with stakeholders engaged in joint gender programmes in countries and at headquarters, including government, civil society, women’s groups and donor agency representatives; a web-based survey of United Nations staff at country level, plus national and donor partners; and deepened analysis and partner interviews on a joint gender programmes in Nepal.
Analysis took place against an indicative theory of change developed during the inception phase of the evaluation. The final, tested version of the theory is presented in the main report. Key limitations included the very limited information on results available and the constrained feasibility of comparison with single-agency programmes.

Findings and Conclusions:

The joint gender programmes analysed all prove contextually-relevant to broad national gender needs. They were all aligned with stated national strategies or plans and referenced normative frameworks whose commitments they aimed to serve.
However, due in large part to under-investment in the design process, relevance was compromised by the absence of a consistently clear line of sight to gender priorities on the ground and the lack of a systematic application of the human rights-based approach. These constraints arose from inadequate analytical underpinnings and risk-proofing, insufficient inclusiveness and consultation with intended clients/their representatives, limited identification of rights holders groups and scant disaggregation of vulnerable and disadvantaged groups. Designs were marked by high levels of ambition in efforts to tackle systemic and deep-rooted gender inequalities within short time frames, with limited resources and with little or no prior experience of the joint gender modality.
Many joint gender programmes therefore showed misplaced confidence in the capability of the national operating architecture and partners, and the capacity of the United Nations system itself, to absorb a joint modality. The challenges for implementation were therefore demanding from the outset, and the learning curve for partners both sharp and steep.

Most joint gender programmes reviewed integrated key dimensions of ownership. Many of the strategies for facilitating ownership were successful. However, these gains commonly lacked a clear understanding of what ownership meant in the context and the importance of a broad-based approach, with a tendency to focus on the joint gender programme modality as an ‘end in itself’. Capacity development efforts were individually significant within many joint gender programmes, but went uninformed by comprehensive capacity analyses and ungrounded in a broader strategic approach to capacity development for gender. Capacity development has not been explicitly framed under the broader principle of ownership.

Coherence, synergies and efficiency
As a new modality, most joint gender programmes experienced difficulties with coherence. Where the surrounding architecture of United Nations system reform was relatively mature, such as in Delivering as One contexts, joint gender programmes benefited from incentives and supportive external frameworks for coordination. The value of an extended design process, and the associated common visioning and partnership for gender, was also clearly demonstrated.
However, the opportunity to develop a common vision and partnership for gender has been missed in the majority of joint gender programmes, as part of the underinvestment in design. This compromised the potential for coherent implementation from the start.
Synergies among United Nations agencies, and between agencies and their partners, improved, but the implications of the joint modality for business practices and ways of working have been imperfectly understood. The absence of clear central guidance, combined with systemic barriers, have been contributing factors. Commitment to the joint modality has been uneven, with ‘business as usual’ prevailing. The roles of Gender Theme Groups and of UN Women have not yet been clarified.
Efficiency has remained unchanged overall. Despite some evidence of burdens transfer from national to United Nations partners, the ‘costs of coordination’ have been both unanticipated and high.

Some joint gender programmes made strong individual efforts to build a culture and practice of accountability for gender equality results. Yet overall, the principle has presented a significant gap. Limited attention was given to strategies for accountability at the design stage, including a lack of systematic monitoring. The primary ‘face’ of accountability was located upwards to the United Nations agency headquarters, rather than lying at national level. Mutual accountability, involving national stakeholders, and downwards accountability, to women and men on the ground, featured little. Host governments and women’s organizations did not always place sufficient demand on United Nations partners to act in a coordinated way. Current financing mechanisms (pass through and parallel) favour the individual accountability of the United Nations agency, rather than horizontal accountability to the joint gender programmes or the United Nations country team.

Sustainable results and added value
Despite difficulties in design and implementation, some joint gender programmes have delivered individually significant effects at country level. A few broadened and strengthened the gender agenda and supported governments to deliver normative commitments. The evaluation found examples of gender being raised on the political and policy agenda; legislative and governance reforms being stimulated; and contributions to an improved accountability environment. In these contexts, the comparative advantage of the United Nations as a development actor was demonstrated.

Added value
The joint modality created opportunities for added value, which some (more mature) joint gender programmes have seized upon. Examples include:
- Creating shared understandings of, partnerships for, gender equality;
- Increasing visibility and legitimacy of gender issues on the national agenda;
- Greater embedding of normative frameworks at national level;
- Expanding the opportunity for translating normative gender work into operations;
- Building outreach and synergies on gender;
- Permitting a more multidimensional approach to addressing gender inequality;
- Enhancing the visibility, credibility and resources for the national gender machinery; and
- Improving upstream, results on policy reform and advocacy.

Yet the evaluation finds that in aggregate, the composite body of joint gender programmes reviewed have not delivered results which comprise ‘more than the sum of their parts’. The use of managing for development results techniques has also been limited. The sustainability of the gains made is uncertain, given the lack of clear sustainability strategies embedded.


The learning curve for the first tranche of joint gender programmes has been sharp and steep. Yet the evaluation ends with a note of optimism. In a shifting global landscape, going back to an ‘old world’ of bilateral design and implementation, limited coordination and compromised development effectiveness is not a realistic option. This is especially the case for a transversal, and universal, issue such as gender.
The evaluation finds that, while joint gender programmes remain an accepted, and indeed integral, part of the future development cooperation landscape, they also require reform. Change is essential; more of the same, or business as usual, present risks in themselves going forward. The report’s recommendations seek to support this process under three main headlines:

  • Joint gender programmes need to be firmly grounded at the country level and to take place in a climate of solidly-founded development effectiveness;
  • National and United Nations partners need to make joint gender programmes a strategic option rather than a default choice; and
  • The strategies of the 2006 System-Wide Policy must be brought back clearly into view, viewed through a country-level lens and ‘given teeth’ to drive forward the agenda for gender equality on the ground.

Overarching recommendation 1: To United Nations agencies
Ensure a clear strategic rationale for joint gender programmes and firmly ground designs in development effectiveness efforts at country level.
Overarching recommendation 2: To host governments and citizens
Ensure full ownership of and accountability for joint gender programmes, as part of wider strategizing and capacity development for gender.
Overarching recommendation 3: To donors
Accompany demands for rigour and results in joint gender programmes with supportive guidance and a partnership-oriented approach.
Overarching recommendation 4: To UNDG
Provide more specific guidance on joint gender programmes while advocating for systemic change.

Lessons Learned:

Despite these limitations, the first round of joint gender programmes has generated much knowledge and new partnerships, which offer optimism for, and insight into, the possibilities for the future. Major lessons include:
- Delivering as One environments provide a conducive setting for joint gender programmes, supporting harmonization and coordination and helping clear the pathway towards results;
- Successful implementation and the delivery of results within joint gender programmes is strongly connected to a robust analytical basis;
- A detailed and inclusive design process of a joint gender programme is central to developing a common vision to which partners can align and a precursor for results;
- Realism is essential when seeking coordination and coherence across individual United Nations agencies with their own diverse systems and ways of operating;
- Working to ensure the understanding, capacity and commitment of partners to coherence is key, particularly at leadership level;
- In most instances, the optimal number of United Nations agencies participating in a joint gender programme is no more than four or five;
- The potential for coherence is maximized where the capacity, capability and empowerment of the lead entity is analysed from the outset. The role of the Resident Coordinator, and any existing Gender Theme Group, has the potential to form powerful stimulus for coordination;
- Ownership and sustainability are maximized where accountability is grounded within the national context and understood as truly mutual and core to the development partnership; and
- Clear planning for and designing-in of risk management strategies in advance is essential, particularly in fragile or conflict-affected situations.

The evaluation identified some limited examples of promising practices from the evidence. These include: the establishment of standard joint governance structures; the systematic distillation and dissemination of lessons learned; locating joint gender programme coordinators in government ministries/departments; the use of performance norms to hold individual agencies and the joint gender programme to account for harmonization; and the development of a common spirit of jointness and an inclusive approach.

Summary and Lessons:

Portfolio Analysis of Joint Gender Programmes in the UN System represented the preparatory work of this joint evaluation.

The Joint Evaluation on Joint Gender Programmes (JGPs) in the UN System Case Studies are presented below:

JGP Albania Case Study
JGP Kenya Case Study
JGP Liberia Case Study
JGP Nicaragua Case Study
JGP Palestine Case Study

You will find the Joint Evaluation on Joint Gender Programmes (JGPs) in the UN System report below labeled as follows:

  • Synthesis Report - "Report"
  • JGP Annexes - "Part 2"
  • JGP Brief [English] - "Part 3"
  • JGP Brief [French] - "Part 4"
  • JGP Brief [Spanish] - "Part 5"
  • GEROS quality review - "Part 6"

Full report in PDF

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Report information




Joint Thematic Evaluation

UNICEF, UNFPA, UNDP, MDG-Fund, Cooperación Española and Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs 


Summary & Lessons:
Portfolio Analysis of Joint Gender Programmes in the UN System represented the preparatory work of this joint evaluation

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