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Tool Name: Social Relations Approach

Tool Name: Social relations approach to gender analysis

What is it?

A method for analysing gender inequalities regarding the distribution of resources, responsibilities and power and for designing policies and programmes that enable women to be agents of their own development.

What can it be used for?

·       Project to policy level development and planning.

·       Examining how gender inequality is formed and reproduced in individual institutions.

·       Examining how gender (and other) inequalities cross-cut each other through the interaction between different institutions.

What does it tell you?

·       Relationships between people and their relationship to resources and activities.

·       How these relationships are reworked through institutions such as the state or the market.

·       Shows change over time.

·       Highlights gender relations.

Complementary tools

Venn diagram; Causal flow diagrams.

Key elements


·       The goal of development is human development.

·       Using simple tools can ignore or simplify various different social relations.

·       Uses concepts rather than tools.

·       Social relations.

·       Institutions (state, market, community, family / kinship).

·       Structural cause analysis.

·       Focus on organisations means they must examine themselves

·       Holistic poverty analysis through taking into account cross-cutting inequalities (race, class).


Data/ information

This tool generates data so the only requirement is data to identify sampling frame.


If developed out of planned participatory research or qualitative research, this tool can be applied in a single week, In cases where there is no significant qualitative work planned, a thorough exercise would involve two to three weeks of research.


Sociological or anthropological training is helpful, with an in-depth understanding of gender roles and relations in context.

Supporting software


Financial cost

When combined with other qualitative work, the incremental cost of gender analysis can be as low as $10,000. When no qualitative work is planned, costs can be up to $25,000.


Holistic nature of the approach – analysis can be very complicated.

High level of knowledge of the context is needed.

Gender can get lost in other categories of analysis.

Focus on institutions can downplay individual agency.

Difficulty agreeing on clear definition of institution.

Political nature of the framework may lead to difficulties in some contexts.

References and applications

- Bolt, V. and K. Bird (2003) The Intra-household Disadvantages Framework: A Framework for the analysis of Intra-household Difference and Inequality. CPRC Working Paper No.32. Available at:

- International Labour Organisation (1998) A conceptual framework for gender analysis and planning. Available from:

- March, C., I. Smyth, M. Mukhopadhyay (1999) A Guide to Gender-Analysis Frameworks. Oxfam, Oxford.



Social relations approach: Procedure and examples




Step 1: Selecting local analysts and key informants


The sampling procedure used to select any local analysts or key informants should reflect the needs of the research.


Step 2: Introductions and explanations


When interviewing local people to gather data, the researcher should begin by introducing themselves and explaining carefully and clearly the objectives of the research and the tool being used. Check that the local analyst understands and is comfortable with what is going to be discussed.


Step 3: Using the social relations approach


The framework uses concepts rather than tools to analyse relevant issues. It can be used to examine an individual institution to highlight how gender inequality is formed and reproduced in individual institutions; or applied more broadly to focus on several institutions in a particular context in order to examine how gender (and other) inequalities cross-cut each other through the interaction between different institutions and lead to situations of specific disadvantage for individuals. The approach has five concepts:


Concept 1 – Development as increasing human well-being


This views development as being about more than economic growth and productivity improvements – human well-being concerns survival, security and autonomy. Examine how development interventions, at whatever level, contribute to these broader goals. For example, how will a policy affect a person’s ability to fully participate in decisions that will impact on their choices and opportunities in life? How will a programme affect all the activities that contribute to human well-being (e.g. caring for other people or caring for the environment etc.)? Think broadly about these activities and include “non-market” activities.


Concept 2 – Social relations


This refers to the dynamic structural relationships that create and reproduce systematic differences in the positioning of different groups of people. They determine people’s roles, responsibilities, claims, rights, resources and the level of control over their own and other people’s lives. Social relations include gender relations, as well as those of class, race, ethnicity etc. The approach suggests that unequal social relations produce unequal relations to resources, claims and responsibilities and result in poverty. However, social relations (e.g. networks of family and friends) also enable many poor people to survive. Social relationships based on patronage and dependency may provide poor people with access to resources, but only by exchanging their autonomy for security.


Examine how a development intervention aims to support those relationships that build on solidarity and reciprocity, and increase autonomy for poor people, and reduce those that produce or maintain unequal relations.


Concept 3 – Institutional analysis


The approach recognises that inequality is reproduced across a range of institutions from the macro to the micro level and is not confined solely to the household. Four key, inter-related institutional locations are used (state, market, community, family/kinship) which produce, reinforce and reproduce social relations, and therefore social difference and inequalities.


Examine how a change in policy or practice within one institution will affect and cause changes in the others. Ask how they interact with each other and they change over time. How do policies at state level affect interventions at household or community level, and vice versa. How will an intervention or change at community level affect the household?


Five inter-related dimensions of institutional social relationships are identified in the approach that aid the process of analysing who does what, who gains and who loses.


  • Rules – these may be written or unwritten; formal or informal; expressed through norms, values, laws, traditions and customs. Examine how rules enable or constrain what is done, how it gets done, who does it and who will benefit. How do they change and how can they be changed?
  • Activities – these may be productive, distributive or regulative. Examine activities by asking who does what, who gets what and who can claim what? For example, do particular social groups undertake particular tasks? Do different activities (e.g. childcare and fishing) get valued differently? If so, why? Do they get rewarded differently? Does this reinforce inequalities?
  • Resources – these might be human (e.g. labour, education), material (e.g. land, money) or intangible (e.g. networks, goodwill) resources. Examine how institutions mobilise and distribute resources and how the distribution of resources corresponds to an institution’s rules.
  • People – institutions are selective in terms of who is allowed in or excluded; who is assigned resources, tasks and responsibilities; and who is where in the hierarchy. Examine how these selections are determined by social factors such as class, gender, ethnicity or social inequalities. Who has which jobs, for instance? To what degree and in what circumstances do different social groups mix with others?
  • Power – the unequal distribution of resources and responsibilities, combined with rules that promote and legitimise distribution, ensures that some institutional actors have control and authority over others. Examine who decides what and whose interests are served.


Concept 4 – Institutional gender policies


Policies are classified according to the degree to which they recognise and promote gender issues. They are not mutually exclusive and one may be a precursor to another.


Gender blind policies do not recognise any distinction between the sexes, tend to incorporate existing biases and are often implicitly male-biased. Gender aware policies recognise differences and conflicts between men and women’s needs, interests and priorities. Gender aware policies can be sub-divided into gender-neutral policies (do not change existing distribution of resources and responsibilities; target interventions to practical gender needs of both men and women), gender-specific policies (take into account gender differences to target practical gender needs of men and women within existing gender division of resources and responsibilities) and gender-redistributive policies (aim to transform existing distributions, create more balanced relationships between men and women, address both practical and strategic gender needs).


Examine which categories development interventions fall under. How can gender blind policies move towards being gender-aware policies? What problems might be faced in moving towards gender-redistributive policies?


Concept 5 – Immediate, underlying and structural causes


Examine the immediate, underlying and structural factors that cause the problems and their effects on the different actors involved in relation to the four types of institution. This can be presented in matrix form or as a narrative.



Long term effects


Intermediate effects


Immediate effects


The core problem


Immediate causes at level of

·    Household

·    Community

·    Market

·   State


Intermediate causes at level of

·    Household

·    Community

·    Market

·   State


Structural causes at level of

·    Household

·    Community

·    Market

·   State




Step 4: Ending the process


Check again that the local analysts you have spoken with know what the information will be used for. Ask the analysts to reflect on the advantages, disadvantages and the analytical potential of the tool. Thank the local analysts for their time and effort.


Points to remember


The approach is aimed at enabling policies and programmes to be designed in ways that enable women to be agents of their own development.




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Poverty Analysis Monitoring Team, DFID and Social Development Department, World Bank

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