ToC Academy > Not in any category > Post: Power and gender relations
Power and gender relations
by Changeroo
Share link


Change generally requires dealing with power relations. In fact, power inequalities can be an important cause of social problems, so shifting power relations may be part of the change you seek. In these situations, power and gender perspectives need to clearly and thoroughly inform the analysis of context, stakeholders, values and strategies.

A power analysis looks at how power is distributed, which forms of power and power dynamics are at play, and how the people we aim to benefit are embedded in and affected by them.

This Expert Lens helps you to account for power and gender relations within the social system you operate, and integrate such in your ToC.


Power analysis helps us to ask the right questions in a ToC process and to rethink deeply rooted assumptions. It provides entry points for change interventions and appropriate strategies. The outcomes will enable us to sharpen our definition of success, and to define our MEL priorities and process accordingly. Power analysis is an effective way to uncover the reasons for gaps between theory and practice, between policy and implementation, between proposed solution and actual outcomes.

Power Analysis

The two frameworks below have proven to be effective tools for power analysis. They can be used separately or in combination.

Four Expressions of Power

Power WithinPower within has to do with a person’s sense of self-worth and self-knowledge; it includes an ability to recognize individual differences while respecting others. Power within is the capacity to imagine and have hope; it affirms the common human search for dignity and fulfilment.

Power WithPower with has to do with finding common ground among different interests and build collective strength. Based on mutual support, solidarity and collaboration, power with, multiplies individual talents and knowledge. Power with can help build bridges across different interests to transform or reduce social conflict and promote equitable relations.

Power ToPower to refers to the unique potential of every person to shape his or her life and world. It is the capability to decide actions and carry them out.

Power OverPower over refers to power of hierarchy and domination.

* L. VeneKlasen & V. Miller, A new weave of power, people & politics, Practical Action Publishing.

Power Cube

The Power Cube is a three dimensional framework for analysing the levels, spaces and forms of power, and their inter-relationship. It helps to explore various aspects of power and how they interact with each other. It visually maps actors (including those implementing the initiative), relationships and forces. The mapping helps to consider possibilities for movement, mobilisation and change, and therefore entry points for action.

The FORMS dimension refers to the ways in which power manifests itself, including its visible, hidden and invisible forms.

Visible Power: Observable decision-making
This level includes the visible and definable aspects of political power – the formal rules, structures, authorities, institutions and procedures of decision-making.

Hidden Power: Setting the political agenda
Certain powerful people and institutions maintain their influence by controlling who sits at the decision-making table and what gets on the agenda. These dynamics operate on many levels to exclude and devalue the concerns and representation of less powerful groups.

Invisible Power: Shaping meaning and what is acceptable
Probably the most insidious of the three dimensions of power, invisible power shapes the psychological and ideological boundaries of participation. By influencing how individuals think about their place in the world, this level of power shapes people’s beliefs, sense of self and acceptance of the status quo – even their own superiority or inferiority. Processes of socialisation, culture and ideology perpetuate exclusion and inequality by defining what is normal, acceptable and safe.

The SPACES dimension of the cube refers to the potential arenas for participation and action, including closed, invited and claimed spaces.

Closed Spaces
Closed spaces are spaces where elites such as politicians, bureaucrats, experts, bosses, managers and leaders make decisions behind closed doors, without any pretence of broadening the boundaries for inclusion.

Invited Spaces
In many societies and Governments, demands for participation have created new opportunities for involvement and consultation, usually through ‘invitation’ from various authorities, be they Government, Supra-national agencies or Non-Governmental Organisations. Invited spaces may be institutionalized and ongoing, such as legally constituted participatory fora, or be one-off consultations.

Claimed Spaces
While much emphasis on citizen action and participation is on how to open up closed spaces, or to participate effectively with authorities in invited spaces, there are almost always examples in any society of spaces for participation which relatively powerless or excluded groups create for themselves. These spaces range from ones created by social movements and community associations, to those simply involving natural places where people gather to debate, discuss and resist, outside of the institutionalized policy arenas.

The LEVELS dimension of the cube refers to the differing layers of decision-making and authority held on a vertical scale, including the Local, National and Global. In each situation, there will be a different set of layers or levels that are important for the power analysis.

More information here.

Gender Analysis

A special kind of power relations are power relations and inequalities based on gender. We are all gender-biased, men and women alike. We have grown up with notions about our identity as women and men, or feeling that we did not fit these dominant social categories. We all internalised how our social and cultural environment viewed gender roles and what was appropriate for women and men to do, to be and to feel. Even when we have distanced ourselves from those notions, the way we see the world remains influenced by gender stereotypes.

Strategic gender interests relate to:

  • Changes in access to and control over resources;
  • Institutional changes such as laws, policies and resource allocation;
  • Changes in socio-cultural norms, beliefs and practices;
  • Changes in internalised attitudes, values and practices.

Being mindful of gender dynamics goes well beyond just counting men and women. Throughout the ToC process, we have to take into account gender-differentiated needs, benefits, capacities, risks, influence in decision-making, division of labour, etc.

Questions to Ask

A fully integrated gender analysis in a ToC process means that at all stages of the process, questions about strategic gender interests are posed. Questions such as:

  • Does the desired change benefit women and is it significant for them?
  • To which strategic gender interest(s) does it contribute? Why do we think so? (assumptions)
  • What gender inequalities are influencing the system?
  • What gender dynamics are at play here?
  • When we speak of ‘women’ and ‘men’: who do we mean? Which women, which men?
  • How is the current situation in terms of:
    • The status of women and their ability to exercise their human rights;
    • The gender division of labour and workload of women;
    • Access to and control over resources of women as compared to men (including mobility);
    • Influence of women in decision-making at household, community and society levels (as compared to men);
    • Self-determination of women over their body, reproduction and sexuality;
    • Social beliefs and norms about gender roles: what women and men should and should not do and be; images of women in society;
    • Violence against women;
    • Organisational capacity of women and representation of women’s interests.

More detailed questions, differentiated to the different stages of ToC development, may also help to integrate gender issues:

1. Problem Analysis and Mapping of the underlying Theory of Change

  • How is the desired change formulated? How do women benefit from this change and is it significant for them?
  • What does the outcome of the social, political, cultural and environmental context analysis mean in terms of what is needed to make this change beneficial to women?
  • Is the contextual and stakeholder/actor analysis explicit about gender specific factors, actors and values?
  • Are the assumptions about the causal relationships between actions and intended outcomes valid for women?
  • Do the selected areas of change, strategic choices and intermediate outcomes constituting the pathway of change address the specific needs and interests of women, taking into account the gender division of access to and control over resources, workload, decision-making, notions of what women should or should not do and be?
  • In view of the outcomes of the ToC analysis: are specific strategies needed to make the aspired change beneficial for women?

2. Objective

  • What is the objective of the intervention?
  • Is the objective as relevant for women as it is for men?
  • If not, how can it be made of relevance for women to contribute to greater equality outcomes between women and men? Reformulate the objective.

3. Target Group and End Beneficiaries

  • Who is being targeted by the proposed intervention?
  • Are the targeted groups, participants, and end beneficiaries, defined explicitly in terms of gender?

4. Needs

  • Are the needs of both women and men addressed through the proposed intervention?
  • What specific women’s needs are addressed? Are these made explicit?

5. Assumptions

  • What assumptions are being made by the intervention about gender roles, and the gender division of access to and control over resources, workload and decision-making?
  • What evidence is available that these assumptions are well informed?
  • Are assumptions made gender-specific for women and men?

Examples of Assumptions That Require Further Evidence

  • Household access to biogas contributes to a reduction of women’s workload
  • Improved rule of law guarantees improvement of the rights and position of women
  • Greater access to information contributes to women being better-informed and increased women’s participation in decision-making

6. Resources

  • What resources are being made available through this intervention?
  • (To what extent) Are women likely to have access to these resources, are women likely to manage them, and are women likely to control them?
  • What specific programme strategies are included to enhance women’s access to and decision-making power over resources?

7. Outcomes and Benefits

  • What are the outcomes – bearing in mind unintended outcomes – in the sense of benefits of this intervention?
  • (To what extent) Are women likely to have access to, likely to manage and likely to control these benefits?
  • What are the possible barriers for women – which specific categories of women – to participate and benefit from the intervention, and are these barriers being addressed?
  • What specific programme strategies are included to overcome barriers preventing women from benefitting from the intervention?
  • What human and financial resources are needed?
  • Are outcomes defined in gender-specific terms, with relevant gender-specific indicators?

Examples of Unintended Outcomes
Unintended adverse effects for women and girls are extra workloads, withdrawal of contribution by men, unsafe and unhealthy work and travel conditions, increased school drop-out rate for girls, violence, corrective rape, etc.

8. Strategic Gender Interests

  • Does this intervention address women’s strategic gender interests?
  • What is the intervention’s explicit potential to address women’s strategic gender needs?

Strategic Gender Interests
Addressing strategic gender interests requires structural changes in order to achieve gender equality in society and to increase women’s participation – in personal life, in the household and in society at large.
Structural changes include: changes in access to and control over resources; institutional changes such as laws; policies and resource allocation; changes in socio-cultural norms; beliefs and practices; changes in internalised attitudes; values and practices.
Structural changes and strategic interests require medium to long-term change processes and are about changes at the levels of outcomes and impact.

Other Sources

Power relations

Gender Relations