Australia - Gender equality


Gender equality is a policy priority for Australia, funding increased in 2020 

In 2020, Australia spent US$928 million (44%) of its bilateral allocable official development assistance (ODA) on development activities that targeted gender equality as a principal or significant goal, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD’s) Development Assistance Committee’s (DAC) gender equality policy marker (DAC average: 45%). In 2020, Australia’s spending on gender equality increased by almost 20% compared to 2019 (US$774 million, or 38%, of bilateral ODA), bouncing back after dropping to a five-year low in 2019.  

Although gender equality is not among the three main pillars of Australia’s development policy, ‘Partnerships for Recovery: Australia’s COVID-19 Development Response’ (launched May 2020), commits to investing in gender equality and women’s economic empowerment, especially given that women are disproportionately affected by COVID-19. Australia’s focuses are 1) Gender-based violence; 2) enhancing women’s voice in decision-making, leadership, and peacebuilding; and 3) improving the capacity to collect, analyze, and make available, data on gender equality and women’s empowerment. The ‘Pacific Women Lead’ program, funded with A$170 million (US$117 million), is an important mechanism through which Australia is supporting gender equality in its region. In addition, the new five-year, A$300 million (US$206 million) ‘Women Together’ initiative is focused on gender equality efforts in Southeast Asia. These two initiatives fall under the larger A$1.5 billion (US$1 billion) investment in Australia’s gender equality-focused ODA for FY2022/23.    

Australia’s development performance framework outlines that at least 80% of DFAT’s development cooperation investments should effectively address gender issues. According to ‘Performance of Australian Aid’ (POA) reports, this target has never been met; the POA 2017/18 and 2018/19 indicate 77% of development assistance investments effectively addressed gender equality in implementation.  

Australia’s gender-focused ODA mirrors the sector and regional allocations for the country’s bilateral ODA overall (see ‘ODA breakdown’). Government and civil society and humanitarian assistance (the second and fourth highest funded sectors overall) were top recipients of gender-related ODA in 2020, receiving US$205 and US$156 million, respectively. As in Australia’s development policy overall, the Indo-Pacific receives particular attention. Australia’s ‘Gender Equality Fund’ promotes gender equality in the region and is funded with an estimated A$65 million (US$45 million) in FY2022/23. 

In addition to its bilateral contributions, Australia channels some funding for gender equality through multilaterals including the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA; see Sector: ‘Health’) and UN Women, amounting to US$31 million in annual core voluntary contributions to UN Women during 2022-2025 and an additional funding envelope totaling US$10 million for 2020-2022 for projects focused on ending violence against women and girls.  

Gender policy marker: Projects which “advance gender equality and women’s empowerment or reduce discrimination and inequalities based on sex” are tagged in the OECD’s Creditor Reporting System (CRS) database.

Recent research by Oxfam found that around 25% of projects self-reported by donors using the gender equality marker were mismarked. This has implications for the validity of funding figures.

The marker rates projects based on three possible scores:

  1. Principal, meaning that gender equality is the main objective of the project or program;
  2. Significant, for projects in which gender equality is an important and deliberate goal but not the main objective; or
  3. Not targeted, used in cases where programs do not target gender equality.

Not all projects are screened against the gender marker; this funding falls into the ‘not screened’ category.


Funding for projects with a principal gender focus increased slightly in 2020; screening of ODA against the gender marker has improved 

Of the US$928 billion spent on gender equality in 2020, only 16% (US$155 million) went toward projects and programs that targeted gender equality as a principal goal. This corresponds to 7% of Australia’s overall bilateral allocable ODA and puts Australia on a par with DAC average of 7%. Australia ranks ninth in terms of its principal gender spending relative to total ODA, a significant improvement from previous years. Australia’s funding for projects with a principal gender focus had been increasing since 2014, but had plunged to pre-2014 levels in 2019 before rebounding somewhat in 2020.   

Australia spent another US$773 million (37%) of its bilateral allocable ODA on projects that included gender as a significant objective (DAC average: 38%). Significant gender funding increased by 14% in 2020 compared to 2019.  

The remainder of Australia’s bilateral allocable ODA (US$1.2 billion, or 56%) was spent on projects that did not target gender at all. In 2020, all of Australia’s bilateral allocable ODA was screened against the gender marker, marking a significant success after years of continuous improvements in screening practices.   

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade sets policy; Australia's Ambassador for Gender Equality promotes gender equality and women’s empowerment in diplomatic, development, and regional security efforts 

Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) manages development policy, budgets, and program delivery (see ‘Main actors’), including those with a gender equality focus. The newly appointed Minister for Women, Katy Gallagher, is responsible for ensuring that gender equality and women’s and girls’ rights are taken into consideration in policy and program development and implementation, mainly at the domestic level. Meanwhile, Australia’s Ambassador for Gender Equality located within DFAT advocates for women’s empowerment internationally.