Applying a "gender lens" to your work

Different genders are socially conditioned to occupy different roles. They face different expectations and challenges. These biases are often subtle or invisible. Often, they’re not intentional or malicious. Regardless, treating all people equally does not necessarily result in equal outcomes. In order to be fair, your organisation must be prepared to treat different genders differently; to remove barriers and to encourage inclusion. You can start this process by applying a “gender lens” to your activities.

If you wear glasses, then you understand how difficult it is to see things clearly without them. The road signs along the freeway, the words in a book, the emails on a computer screen – all the information is there, but without your glasses, it might as well be invisible to you.

If you don’t wear glasses, then think what it’s like to try to see underwater without goggles or a mask.

Looking at the world without a gender lens can be a bit like swimming without goggles or reading without glasses.

We live in a world where the default settings have been set by heteronormative men and for heteronormative men. The default gender-related assumptions that underlie our thinking are likely to remain invisible or blurry, and therefore they can mislead us, even without our realising it, unless we bring them to attention, question them specifically, and look objectively at precisely what lies before us.

It’s not just men who have blurry vision when it comes to gender. Both men and women are socially conditioned to see things a certain way.

Using a gender lens when analysing, planning, and making decisions means carefully and deliberately examining all the implications of our work in terms of gender.

A gender-wise program is one that considers the different needs and circumstances of people of all genders within the target beneficiary group.

The concept of gender applies to both men and women. It refers to our different socially constructed roles, our behaviours, our activities, the way we relate, share resources, make decisions, plan for the future and participate in our community. It is different from “sex”, which merely defines us in a biological and physiological way. (Adapted from a definition by Australians Investing in Women)

Is this only about girls and women?

The 2015 European Foundation Centre report Grantmaking with a Gender Lens responds specifically to the question, “When you talk about gender, do you mean just women?”

It says: “No. We mean looking at the different issues arising out of our experiences of being women or men or those identifying differently.

“Effective gender analysis requires engaging with and assessing impacts for people from across the gender spectrum, in diverse circumstances and with a wide range of other social characteristics.”

What we really want to get away from, however, is the situation where words like "standard" or "natural" or "neutral" really mean "heteronormative male". For example, it might be considered unremarkable for a board or council to be composed of seven men and one woman, but noteworthy for it to consist of seven women and one man, and newsworthy for it to include transgender people.

As a result of this “unremarkable really equates to male” bias, you are more likely to need to deliberately examine your program’s effects on and openness to other groups, including to women and girls. As the largest population of the excluded, and given its roots in the feminist movement, gender lens analysis tends to emphasise understanding policies and programs primarily in terms of their effects on females.

Why does it matter?

There are two excellent reasons why grantmakers should apply a gender lens to their work.

First, doing so will mean your work is fairer (because all potential beneficiaries are considered and included) and more effective (because your programs will be better targeted).

Second, funders are increasingly being asked to demonstrate that they have taken account of the persistent biases in society – in what they are, and in what they do. Your credibility may be at stake if you don't address this issue meaningfully.

Anti-discrimination efforts may begin with women, but should not end there. Women are not, of course, the only disadvantaged or marginalised group in our society. Organisations must also ask themselves whether there are barriers to participation affecting other groups – Indigenous people, people from non-English-speaking backgrounds, people in poverty and LGBTQI people, for example – along similar lines.

In what follows, our examples address the specific issues of women and girls. We hope you will be able to use these examples to suggest ways in which you might address other areas where our dominant culture renders discrimination invisible.

Equality versus equity: what’s the difference?

Imagine a running race between a cheetah, a leopard, an elephant, a dog and a beetle. All are in good health. The starter’s gun fires, and they all take off at exactly the same time. They’ve all got an equal opportunity to win the race, right?

No, clearly not.

A report by Girls Incorporated titled What’s Equal? Figuring Out What Works for Girls in Co-ed Settings (1993) urges organisations to examine their work in terms of:

  1. Equity of access
  2. Equity of treatment
  3. Equity of outcome.

"Levelling the playing field is more than simply opening more doors for girls and giving equal treatment to girls and boys; it is transforming the way we look at gender as it relates to girls' and boys' development," the report says.

“Equity of access means that a program provides women and girls equal opportunity with men and boys to participate in programs and activities. Programs will not necessarily achieve equity of access simply by opening the door to all genders.”

Similarly, opening up the running race to five different species with different qualities is hardly a fair race – and that’s not even taking into consideration the socially conditioned biases and differences that come into play when we’re talking about humans instead of animals.

In seeking to uncover structural biases embedded within its work, a grantmaking organisation needs to take time for thoughtful reflection.

Gender lens checklists

It is impossible to prescribe all the questions your organisation should ask itself in order to gain a better appreciation of the gender implications of your work. However, you can use the following areas as a starting point and tailor the questions to your own circumstances and aims.

Not all of the following questions have right and wrong answers. There may be very good reasons why your programs are not reaching women and girls in equal numbers (you may be funding men’s health initatives, for example). In any case, it’s still important that you ask the questions.


Does your organisation serve all genders by:

  • Holding board meetings, retreats, staff meetings etc at times when people of all genders are able to participate fully?
  • Offering family-friendly benefits, such as family leave, job-sharing, family violence leave, and childcare?
  • Training board and staff members to recognise and address discrimination, equity and language bias regarding gender, race, age, disability and sexual orientation? Do your policies adequately and appropriately address sexual harassment, domestic violence, discrimination, and protections for those expressing grievances?
  • Seeking appropriate gender-related expertise or collaborations?
  • Taking into account the ways in which racial, ethnic and cultural dynamics affect the interests and needs of specific groups of women and girls?


Does your organisation include women and girls as active decision-makers by:

  • Ensuring they are adequately represented in staff, executive and board leadership positions?
  • Encouraging their participation in strategic planning, program planning, staff development and evaluation?
  • Demonstrating a commitment to women and girls in both budgeting and expenditures? For example, do you provide equitable and appropriate compensation with the opportunity for professional growth?

Grants programs

When designing grants programs, does your organisation consider gender equity by:

  • Timing any grant information sessions to ensure that all genders are able to participate? E.g. if you hold sessions in the evening, does that limit participation by people with parenting responsibilities? If you hold meetings during the day, does that preclude people who work?
  • Catering for particular groups of people who need extra help in applying for your grants because they are starting from a lower or different base of knowledge or experience?
  • Advertising and promoting your grants rounds in places that will ensure you reach all genders?
  • Encouraging organisations led by women and girls to apply for funding by providing support and feedback?
  • Utilising eligibility and assessment criteria and processes to select grantees who are best able to:
      • Plan and implement programs that encourage active participation, leadership and non-traditional roles for women and girls?
      • Account for the needs, interests and experiences of women and girls in program activities, from promotion and outreach to training materials and curriculum?
      • Provide the support structures (e.g., childcare, transport, domestic violence screening, counselling) required by women and girls to enrol and be successful within specific programs, linking effectively with organisations and services as necessary?
      • Support and prepare women and girls to maximise their current social and economic wellbeing?
      • Encourage women and girls to participate by providing support and feedback, and require outcomes that are meaningful to women and girls?
      • Use language (in promotions, advertisements and other published material) that will encourage (or at least not discourage) women and girls to participate?
      • Time their activities to ensure that all genders are able to participate?
      • Hold activities in locations that are accessible to people of all genders? Are they safe, appealing and welcoming to people of all genders?
      • Provide a setting and an environment in which all genders feel comfortable voicing their opinions?
      • Identify any other possible barriers to participation by women or girls? Are there any barriers to men, boys or people with non-binary gender identities participating? How can they be minimised or eliminated?

Outcomes and evaluation

  • Do you expect different outcomes from your programs for different genders, or the same outcomes? If intervention X leads to outcome Y for men, is the same true for women or people with non-binary gender identities?
  • How will you evaluate the impact of your funded projects or programs on men and on different genders? How will you ask grant recipients to report on it?

How can SmartyGrants help?

SmartyGrants is committed to helping grantmakers and grantseekers uncover and remove biases, creating fairer and more effective social change.

In 2016, SmartyGrants released a series of gender lens standard fields. When added to application forms and progress/final reports, they allow grantmakers to apply a gender lens to their work. They will also help you nudge your grantees in the right direction.

Here’s how the SmartyGrants gender lens questions help grantmakers (and grantees) to apply a gender lens to their work:

Demonstrating grantees understand what a gender lens is, and how they are applying it

Using the SmartyGrants gender lens standard fields, grantees can be asked to demonstrate the ways in which they will address (or have addressed) the needs of people of different genders in the design and delivery of their initiative. In answering these questions grantees are encouraged to tailor their thinking to their specific program. All genders can usually be included equally if grantees employ creativity in the process and bring to the surface hidden barriers to participation or inclusion.

Demonstrating how grantees will monitor the results of their actions

Using the SmartyGrants gender lens standard fields, grantees can be asked to show how they will measure (or have measured) the gender reach of their project/program. The simplest way for grantmakers and grantees to measure whether their efforts have been successful is to consider the gender of the people who have accessed, delivered, or participated in / benefited from their initiative. Grantees can collect this information by conducting simple actions such as including gender identification in their registration form or survey.

Grantees who are unable to quantify the percentage of beneficiaries who identified as women or girls, are prompted to think about collecting this information next time. Those who did not achieve parity in reaching women and girls are asked why they didn’t and prompted to consider what they could do differently next time.

Note: There may be a deliberate reason why grantees aren’t aiming for equal gender reach (e.g. working with people who have a sex-specific illness, or men’s mental health) You should encourage grantees to clearly articulate these reasons in their reporting.

Facilitating a shared commitment to continual improvement

The gender lens standard fields encourage grantmakers and grantees to reflect on their projects, and to consider achievements and any lessons learned.

Gender-wise funders appreciate information about what worked to create a project/program that has provided equal access regardless of gender. The best funders are also keen to learn about what did not work, or the challenges faced by grantees when accounting for gender differences. These might include structural influences (e.g. the initiative was held in a place not favoured by one gender or another, the language wasn’t right, no childcare options were provided, etc), as well as the influence of unconscious bias.

Information gathered when you use the gender lens standard fields can be used to drive continuous improvement, promote best practice and inform the design and implementation of future grants programs.

Reporting on projects designed specifically to address gender inequality

The above gender lens considerations apply to all initiatives, regardless of their purpose, but some programs aim specifically to address gender inequality, or do so as an unintentional addition.

The SmartyGrants gender lens standard fields also allow grantees to describe how their proposed project will address gender inequity, and then report on their progress towards this outcome on acquittal/progress reports.

Note: There are many different ways of measuring girls’/women’s empowerment, as it is multi-dimensional. It's likely that funded organisations directly addressing gender inequality will have a good understanding of how to report on their results. These tips are aimed at providing some examples for organisations looking for guidance when reporting on partial or unexpected outcomes that address gender inequality.

  • You will need to devise a way to evaluate and measure how the grantee's project has addressed gender inequality. This may incorporate participants' views of their own empowerment, rather than relying on an accepted norm or outcome. You can read more about evaluation methods in our 'Measuring what Matters' book.
  • In reporting on the effects of funded initiatives in reducing gender inequality, grantees may look at the personal level (e.g. higher-self esteem, greater access to personal capital), relational level (e.g. influence in the community, ability to control time devoted to care responsibilities), or environmental (e.g. breaking stereotypes, quality of health/legal services). These levels and corresponding characteristics are outlined in detail in Oxfam’s ‘How to’ Guide to Measuring Women’s Empowerment.
  • Grantees may want to outline the dimension in which their program is working (e.g. economic, legal, psychological, etc). The program may work specifically within one dimension, or incorporate a number of dimensions.

For more information about how the gender lens fields work in SmartyGrants, visit the SmartyGrants Help Hub.

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