NOTE: The views expressed here belong to the individual contributors and not to Princeton University or the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Farewell to Robertson: Thinking beyond metrics

Payal Hathi, MPA

I met with a woman this week that came into my office with huge bruises on her arms and face. She has been married to the man who gave her those bruises for 16 years, and they have two children together. She believes that she deserved what happened, that although she called the police for help in making the violence stop, she couldn’t actually tell them the truth about what was happening in her home; that if she just stays quiet and stays in the basement, her husband won’t get angry; and that all she needs to do is wait for 5 more years until her daughter is old enough to go to college. Then it will all be over.

Violence against women is not something that comes up often in policy circles – domestic violence in particular is often considered a family issue, or one that is generally addressed by activists. But there is certainly a place for policy to play a role. Societal portrayals and beliefs of women – from the media to childhood socialization to educational and job opportunities – all play a role in allowing the feminine to be seen as the inferior. In addition, the general attitude of blaming the victim and the cultural stigma often attached to women who “can’t keep their families together” perpetuates not only intergenerational cycles of violence, but also silence and shame around the issue.

A major part of the problem is that in the world of metrics and quantitative measures of success that we live in today, it often seems that there is little space or value given to work that cannot be counted using numbers. When I am asked how many women with whom I work have finally left their partners, found a job, or have secured housing for themselves, it seems much of the rest of the work that I do is invalidated because I cannot quantify what it means to get a woman to believe that she has the right to live free of fear or that she deserves to earn a living wage for her work. Of course the importance and power of statistics and clear, concise, and concrete information is critical in making policy issues relevant to people. But having worked in the violence against women movement for over a year now, it is clear that an additional system of evaluation is necessary if we as policymakers are to make the world a safer and more just place.

I came into graduate school with a background in quantitative evaluation work, hoping to gain the skills to enable small non-profits to incorporate evaluation as a routine practice to improve their own work. Through my work this past year with women facing human rights and economic justice violations in almost every aspect of their lives, I have become acutely aware that as policymakers, it is not enough to think about the efficiency with which different ideas can be put into practice, or the cost-effectiveness of one approach versus another. Rights, and the way in which they are put into practice in our families and daily interactions—while not easy to measure—must form the foundations of our policy frameworks in order to make meaningful impacts in the communities we serve. As I graduate, I recognize that as we look towards more sophisticated ways to evaluate the work of service providers, we cannot diminish the work that instills in people an awareness of their rights and gives them the tools to exercise them.

Payal Hathi worked at Sakhi for South Asian Women from 2010 to 2011. If you or someone you know has an issue with domestic violence, please go to Sakhi’s website or call their helpline at (21) 868-6741.

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