Applying Gender Sensitive Situational Analysis to Your Project:
Five Steps

Getting Started

To work out how gender could be relevant to your research project, think about three domains: 

  • access to decision making
  • access to and control over resources; and
  • divisions of labour

This is a basic model of ‘Gender Sensitive Situational Analysis’ (GSSA). Working through the five steps below will help you apply the insights it generates, to each stage of your project.  You can also download a PDF version of this tool.

GSSA diagram

The Three Domains

Are women and men, and where relevant trans and non-binary people, equally represented in decision-making related to your project’s goals and themes in the context(s) or communities where your research will be undertaken and findings will be applied? (E.g. in urban planning decision making structures; local/national agriculture systems; health care planning; disaster relief responses etc). Do social attitudes, vulnerability to violence or discrimination limit access to decision making arenas?

Do women and men, and where relevant transgender and non-binary people have equal access to resources related to your project’s goals and themes, in the context(s) or communities where your research will be undertaken and findings will be applied? (E.g. if your work focuses on agriculture, energy or health –  do women, men and where relevant trans and non-binary people have equal ownership of and access to livestock/ land/equipment and training/ energy / food / healthcare?).

Do women and men, and where relevant transgender and non-binary people, perform the same labour in relation to the social/economic goals and themes of your research, in the context(s) or communities where your research will be undertaken and findings will be applied? Are different social groups performing, or assumed to perform, distinctive tasks and responsibilities? Are they performed in different spheres or locations (domestic/private or public)? What are these differences?

Applying this to your Project

Thinking about your project’s core aims (e.g. increased fire safety in shack settlements; higher yield livestock management practices) review the three domains: access to decision making; access to and control over resources and divisions of labour, to identify how gender could be relevant in your project.


To gather this information it may be necessary to:

  • approach a gender and development specialist with expertise in your thematic area to join the project team at the beginning of your proposal development;
  • approach local community/civil society partner organisations for input in project development (e.g. women’s civil society representatives; development NGOs specialising in your project’s thematic area);
  • undertake a literature review of NGO or academic reports on gender issues relevant to your project’s themes and goals, so that you have an overview of the current state of knowledge on gender issues related to your research;
  • consider participatory measures or literature review during your project’s inception (DFID PPA Learning Partnership Gender Group 2015).

Following this process should enable you to:

  • identify the local relevance of gender inequality in your project’s aims, and in turn identify:
  • any barriers to equal and meaningful opportunities for participation of people of all genders;
  • how the project might impact (benefit and losses) on people of different genders
  • potential risks to gender equality, including unintended impacts.

Planning out the next four phases of research involves responding to these kinds of insights.


Example – Gender Sensitive Situational Analysis of fire safety in refugee camps

A project examining fire safety in refugee camps undertook a literature review and consulted with local community groups and women’s civil society organisations to complete their GSSA during proposal development. These processes identified that: 

  • high levels of violence and lack of safety in temporary refugee camps prevented women from freely participating in decision making in public spaces;
  • fire was weaponised against women in an explicitly gendered way, and used in some communities against individuals identified as LGBTQI;
  • gender differences in literacy affected women’s access to knowledge and information;
  • women undertook a greater share of domestic care work including food preparation activities, meaning that any adjustments to fuel or stoves (a key fire risk) should be taken with explicit reference to women’s experiences and needs;
  • that women are more likely to be injured during fires trying to assist or rescue children or infirm family members.

Building on insights from step one, think about actions to enable equal and meaningful opportunities for people of all genders to participate in your project as respondents. This might include:

  • Adjusting fieldwork times to fit around the work or household duties of people of different genders (e.g. women collecting children from school or having to prepare meals at fixed times);
  • Choosing locations that are safe for women to travel to alone, or providing safe transport to venues for consultation;
  • Holding single sex focus groups;
  • Using researchers of the same or different gender as respondents, in line with relevant local cultural expectations relating to safety, privacy or modesty;
  • Adjusting the use of online fieldwork approaches to take account of gender differences in access to technologies and related privacy of use (or lack thereof);
  • Using local community or civil society groups to access hard to reach groups – for example religious organisations, men’s or women’s groups, co-operatives or residents associations.

Consulting with partners and/or civil society in target fieldwork sites is often the most effective way to devise the most appropriate measures. Consulting existing literature can also provide invaluable insights.


Example – Gender Sensitive Data Collection

In response to their analysis, the fire safety in shack settlement project team devised fieldwork plans in collaboration with local women’s associations and residents’ associations. Using existing trusted networks, the team were able to reach women whose participation in decision making in public spaces was hampered by high levels of violence and lack of safety in temporary refugee camps. In conjunction with local women’s organisations, researchers identified times of day and locations that women respondents found safe, accessible and private.

Local LGBTQI networks were also used to undertake interviews with LGBTQI residents who were afraid of revealing their sexuality/identity publicly. This maximised the safety and anonymity of these research respondents. A female researcher was used to interview women in their homes, taking account of local people’s preference not to spend time alone with a stranger of the opposite sex. Single sex focus groups, arranged through local residents’ associations in suitable, local locations were also arranged using existing networks.

As a result, the project team could understand and address the role of gendered divisions of labour in fire safety and barriers to women’s access to knowledge generated from the project. This data collection also enabled the team to describe expected gender impacts of the project, for example, highlighting that increased fire safety could potentially reduce fears amongst the LGBTQI populations and women and decrease the likelihood of these more vulnerable groups injury in fires. The project team also identified deepening gendered asymmetries in access to information about fire safety, as a potential unintended negative consequence of their project. To ameliorate this the team sought collaboration with local women’s NGOs and published articles detailing the gender issues that were relevant in their project and lessons learned.

Comparative international research shows that participation in research in many disciplines is characterised by a ‘leaky pipe line’ where by the participation of women dwindles toward the top of the profession (Genovate 2016; Massatchusetts Institute of Technology 1999; Massachusetts Institute of Technology 2011; UNESCO 2018).

Women and STEM graphic

Figure 3.1: Global proportion of male and female graduates in tertiary education by programme level and those employed as researchers, in STEM, in 2014 and 2008. (Source: UNESCO 2018, Cracking the Code Girls and Women’s Education in STEM p. 23.)

Most research institutions including the University of Edinburgh, have policies in place to support gender balance in scientific research. In many instances though these policies suffer from a lack of implementation.

To encourage gender balance on your research team, ask yourself the following five questions  (adapted from Swedish International Development Agency 2016; and GARCIA 2015):

  • To what extent are women and men, and where relevant transgender and non-binary people, involved in the planning, design and evaluation of research within each research partner organisations?
  • What hinders an increase in the participation of women and men, and where relevant transgender and non-binary people, within each research partner organisation/university? For example, do working conditions (e.g. working hours, fieldwork organisation) accommodate women equally? This could also include factors outside your control – such as social attitudes, or gender specific safety concerns.
  • How does each research partner organisation/university handle staff safety and gender-based violence on their premises? Can staff report if they have been victims of sexual harassment or other types of discrimination? Is there a mechanism to meaningfully respond to these reports?
  • What risks to gender equality do the above factors present? For example, could discrimination or violence on campus mean that LBGT people or women cannot easily participate on your research team, or advance professionally? Could lack of access to child-care facilities prevent people with caring responsibilities being able to travel to conferences or attend meetings? See also the box below for examples.
  • What concrete plans do research partner organisations have to tackle problems or barriers identified in the proceeding questions?


To find answers to these questions it may be necessary to:

  • consult and discuss relevant institutional or national gender equality policies in place in your own, and partner institutions;
  • consult staff involved in your project. This usually provides the best chance of identifying gendered barriers to career progression, and elaborating the most appropriate measures (Genovate 2016; Massachusetts Institute of Technology 1999; Massachusetts Institute of Technology 2011);
  • consult local, national or regional women in STEMM or discipline specific gender equality promoters (e.g. EQUATE Scotland, GenderInSite, Women in Bioinformatics and Data Science Latin America; relevant local UNESCO field offices; The African Gender Institute; Women Engineers Pakistan, African Academy of Sciences) to discuss relevant barriers to equal participation and measures that would help, or for signposting to partners who could be relevant;

This should enable you to:

  • identify relevant barriers to equal and meaningful participation in partner research institutes;
  • devise measures to promote equal and meaningful participation in your project within research institutes and scientific teams.

Common measures to support gender-equal participation in research projects include actions such as:

  • funded fellowships reserved for female researchers if they are under-represented in your discipline;
  • networking/mentoring (and including budget resources for this) support for female researchers if they are under-represented in your discipline;
  • the provision of funding to cover child care costs during international research conferences (see UKRI GCRF 2017; International Veterinary Vaccination Network 2018; AWARD n.d.; The Roslin Institute 2017);
  • adjustments to working patterns to support parent’s participation at work; and
  • responding to social constraints or safety concerns limiting women’s participation in fieldwork by facilitating female-only fieldwork teams.
  • discussing LGBTQI safety specific security measures with research partners
  • incorporate mutual commitments to gender equality into partnership agreements and memorandums of understanding with partners to formalise shared commitment to the implementation of gender equality measures.


Example – Ensuring meaningful participation of all genders in research institutes

In a Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) project with five partners in so called Low and Middle Income Countries (LMICs), patterns of gender segregation varied highly. In one country, women’s participation in fieldwork was significantly hindered by safety concerns and gossip about women traveling with white male colleagues from the Global North.

To respond to these issues and facilitate women’s participation on the project, the PI committed to organising a proportion of fieldwork trips in female only teams and took local advice on measures to ensure security. One PhD studentship, was reserved for female candidates from LMIC countries. This was backed with mentoring from a team participant at the University of Edinburgh and in the researcher’s own resident country. University of Edinburgh funds to pay for childcare during conference visits were made available to female LMIC researchers so they could travel to professional conferences.

Encouragements to devise gender equality and sexual harassment policies were written into all partnership agreements and memorandums of understanding between institutions. Although these were not enforceable, these functioned as an initial, awareness raising measure.

genderED has written guidance on building a theory of change that takes gender issues into account. It details the differences between Results; Impact; Outcomes; Outputs and Activities.

Many of the research projects undertaken at an institution like the University of Edinburgh are fundamental scientific projects, which may have quite a distant relationship to communities. As a result, we caution against unrealistic impact claims and argue primarily for a coherent narrative that connects your activities to the desired change, through a logical sequence of intermediate results. Whether these are called ‘outputs’ or ‘outcomes’ will often depend on the specifics of your project.

Terminology table

Figure 4.1: Key Terms in Theory of Change Approaches. Source: University of Edinburgh Using a Theory of Change Guidance

It can also be helpful to think about four ‘levels’ of impact targets: the International development community; national policy makers and NGOs; communities; and individuals.

The results of Step 1 (the conceptualisation of your project) should have helped you identify any relevant gender inequalities that your project might affect and how. You can feed this into a gender sensitive description of the intended results, impacts and outcomes that your project will generate, in your impact statement and/or dissemination plans. You should consider, for example, any identified differences in the use of the technologies that your project will develop or the knowledge it will generate. Gender differences in access to decision-making or education on the other hand, should shape your dissemination plans.

Building on the results of Step 1 consider the following questions:

  • What gender inequalities will your project ultimately impact upon?
  • How will your project’s outcomes affect these gender inequalities?
  • What could affect the likelihood of your project delivering gender equal impacts, or positive impacts on gender equality (where relevant)?
  • How will you encourage equal access to your project’s knowledge outputs for women and men, and where relevant trans and non-binary people? (See also your responses to Step 1).
  • What outcomes and outputs could you measure with data disaggregated by age and gender. What would be meaningful but proportionate (see step 5)?

N.B. the elaboration of new knowledge or theoretical frameworks that incorporate an understanding of gender inequalities and their relevance into academic, practical, political, or technological perspectives could in many instances be a key project output/ impact, if you have sought to thoroughly incorporate gendered analysis into your project. Where relevant, you could consider publications discussing and detailing gender relevant insights and lessons learned. This kind of contribution can be a key ‘unique selling point’ of your research project.


To find answers to these questions it may be necessary to:

  • consult women’s community groups or civil society organisations for insights into the best methods and channels to ensure that women benefit directly from research findings.
  • consult community NGOs for insights into the best methods to ensure equal benefit for different religious or ethnic groups, thereby targeting, for example, differently positioned men where relevant, women from different religious or ethnic groups, and trans and non-binary people, where relevant.
  • consult women’s community groups or civil society organisations, and community NGOs, to solicit their views on meaningful measures of outcomes and outputs.
  • decide on any relevant measures of outputs or outcomes using data disaggregated by age and gender.

The answers you gather will help you work out and explain:

  • the expected impact of the project (benefits and losses) on people of different genders, both throughout the project and beyond;
  • how your project will document gender equality in impacts (benefits and losses) produced;
  • methods to ensure dissemination and knowledge transfer strategies do not replicate or exacerbate asymmetries in access to knowledge;
  • the types of outcomes and outputs you should be capturing (see Step 5);


Example – Gender equality in impact and dissemination

A large interdisciplinary project on disaster risk reduction (DDR) elaborated a multi-level impact strategy disseminating results to the international development community; national/local government and communities. Results included new interdisciplinary knowledge on DDR that examined relationships between hazards (e.g. landslide and flood). Assessment of gendered differences in vulnerabilities to disaster risks was incorporated into this knowledge.

As thorough GSSA had revealed specific risk factors for women and girls, the team sought to build awareness of these into their formal models and their policy recommendations. GSSA also revealed that in many communities, women held indigenous knowledge on disaster prediction, and that the project risked undermining their status as holders of this knowledge. To mitigate this risk the team took care to gather this knowledge and acknowledge it in their publications and policy briefs.

Predicted project impacts included the production of gender sensitive modelling techniques, better disaster risk reduction strategies and increased safety for all. Outputs included gender sensitive models, briefings and publications that explained the relevance of gender and which included indigenous knowledge on disaster prediction and acknowledged women’s cultural status as holders of this knowledge. Outcomes included community empowerment, achieved through the use of Citizen Scientists who were involved in data collection.

These Citizen Scientist teams were gender balanced, ensuring women benefited equally from direct knowledge and empowerment gains. Dissemination activities included single-sex meetings held at women’s civil society organisations.

A gender sensitive project will monitor any relevant gender equality risks and evidence outputs/outcomes with data disaggregated by sex/gender as appropriate. The previous steps should have helped you identify any risks to gender equality associated with your project. This final step helps you ensure that you can monitor these risks; and identify any relevant outcomes and outputs with data disaggregated by sex/gender. Robust measures of gender impacts often need to draw on contextual knowledge or information, rather than abstracted data sources. For researchers in STEMM used to the prioritisation of objective measures, this is sometimes a new approach.


Example – Monitoring gender equality outcomes

A five year project on the development of environmental governance frameworks devised a monitoring framework that included two innovative measures of impacts: 1) the number of legislative proposals or court cases; 2) and advocacy or litigation initiatives, that the team influenced. The project aimed to incorporate gender sensitivity into these measures.

The project’s GSSA, undertaken during proposal development noted that the economic contributions of women are often underestimated or ignored in policy, and that women’s needs and interests were largely unknown and infrequently mentioned in existing mainstream academic studies. The project therefore risked duplicating this erasure of women’s roles, interests and economic contributions. To respond to this risk, the research team held focus groups with women in local communities discussing their roles, interests and economic contributions, gathering meaningful qualitative data on the immediate and potential gender impacts of the project.

The team aimed to influence 1) legislative proposals or court cases and 2) advocacy or litigation initiatives. Assessing this influence the team examined the presence or absence of meaningful acknowledgements of women’s roles, interests and economic contribution, to see how effective they had been in disseminating findings on the relevance of gender in environmental governance. The team also gathered quantitative data on participation of women at community dissemination events and on participation in research teams including citizen scientist teams.

Questions to consider devising your monitoring framework:

  • Referring to previous steps, what actions have you taken to mitigate any relevant risks to gender equality including unintended consequences, which you identified? How could you monitor and capture these in a meaningful and proportionate way?
  • Reviewing previous steps, what actions have you taken to ensure gender equality in data collection and consultation? How could you monitor and capture these in a meaningful and proportionate way?
  • Reviewing previous steps what actions have you taken to support gender balance on the team and participation in fieldwork (including mitigation of any gender specific saftey concerns)? How could you monitor and capture these in a proportionate and meaningful way?
  • Reviewing your impact and dissemination plans in Step 4, what actions have you taken to maximise gender equality in dissemination? How could you monitor and capture these in a proportionate and meaningful way?

Following this process should enable you to explain:

  • what outcomes and outputs you will measure with data dis-aggregated by sex/ gender. What would be meaningful but proportionate?
  • how you will mitigate risks to gender equality and monitor any risks and unintended negative consequences to gender equality;
  • how you will monitor meaningful participation of people of different genders throughout the project;
  • how you will evidence the expected impact of the project on people (and between people) of different genders in a manner that is meaningful and proportionate;
  • how you will measure any relevant outcomes and outputs, with data dis-aggregated by sex/gender.

Key Terms

Gender is a social scientific term used to describe shared social ideals of femininity and masculinity, associated behavioural expectations and relations between the sexes. These shared ideas vary across time and place, and between cultures. They are reproduced in individuals (e.g. gender identity), institutions and wider society. The two most common gender identities are ‘man’ and ‘woman’. Recently, transgender and non-binary gender identities are becoming more visible in some societies. We use ‘people of all genders’ as an inclusive term, in keeping with UKRI language.

Sex is biologically determined and refers to reproductive organs and characteristics. Male and female are the most common sexes and small proportion of the population, have intersex characteristics.

Intersectionality is a social scientific term used to draw attention to the ways that different identity markers (such as race, caste, disability, age, migration status, or sexuality) intersect with one another to structure privileges and disadvantages.


At genderED we have drawn on many sources to create our materials. For further information on this process, take a look at more about the project