Canada - Gender equality

Canada is an explicitly feminist donor

In 2019, Canada spent US$2.2 billion (89%) of its bilateral allocable ODA on development activities that targeted gender equality as a principal or significant goal, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Development Assistance Committee’s (DAC) gender equality policy marker (DAC average: 47%). This makes Canada the second-highest funder of gender equality in relative terms after only Iceland (or seventh largest donor in absolute terms). Since the implementation of its Feminist International Assistance Policy (FIAP) Canada’s funding for gender equality has increased. Between 2018 and 2019, however, gender-related funding fell by 8%.

Gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls is the first ‘Action area’ in Canada’s FIAP, which came into force in June 2017. Within this area, it commits to four key actions:

  1. Addressing sexual and gender-based violence;
  2. Providing support for local women’s rights organizations and movements;
  3. Helping governments in partner countries improve policies and service to better address the differential needs of women and men; and
  4. Stepping up its commitment to evidence-based decision making.

The policy outlines the government’s belief that empowering women and girls is a cornerstone of economic and social development in all sectors. The FIAP commits to spending 95% of Canada’s bilateral ODA on investments that target or integrate gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls by FY2021/22. In 2019, Canada released a set of ‘Key Performance Indicators’ (KPIs) to track progress on all six of the FAIP’s Action areas, as well as complimentary indicators to track gender equality efforts specifically.  

In line with Canada’s overall policy focus, the humanitarian assistance sector received the highest share of the country’s gender-focused funding in 2019 (US$539 million or 25% of overall bilateral allocable ODA). Health and populations followed, receiving US$477 million (22%) in funding for gender equality. This is not surprising given Canada’s firm commitment to health, particularly sexual and reproductive and health and rights (SRHR) and maternal, newborn, and child health (MNCH; see Sector: ‘Global health’). Government and civil society accounted for 13% or US$290 million, in line with the government’s commitment to helping partner countries implement gender-sensitive policies and services. US$264 million (12%) was spent on gender-focused funding to education (See sector: ‘Education’).

Canada is also a firm supporter of multilaterals in this sector. Canada is among the top ten government partners of the UN Women. According to UN Women, in 2019 Canada was the 10th-largest total government contributor with US$14 million. Canada also supports gender-related health initiatives through the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and ‘She Decides’ (See Sector: ‘Global health’).

Canada’s commitment to women and girls extends beyond its financial contributions. At the 2021 Generation Equality Forum, Canada co-led the Action Coalition on ‘Feminist Movements and Leadership’. At the March 2021 event in Mexico City, Mexico, Canada, and the Ford Foundation, suggested the formation of a multi-stakeholder Global Alliance for Sustainable Feminist Movements to increase and sustain resources for feminist movements. Canada also promotes gender equality at the G7.

Funding for projects with a principal gender focus has increased significantly but remains below the government’s target of 15% by FY2021/22

Of the US$2.2 billion spent on gender equality in 2019, 10% (US$209 million) went toward projects and programs that targeted gender equality as a principal goal (see box). This corresponds to 8% of Canada’s overall bilateral allocable ODA (DAC average: 6%). Canada’s funding for projects principally focused on gender equality has increased significantly (by 292%) since 2016. Between 2018 and 2019, it increased 41%.

In 2019, Canada disbursed US$2.0 billion on projects that targeted gender equality as a significant objective. Significant funding has also increased in recent years (42% between 2016 and 2019), in line with overall growth in Canada’s funding for gender equality overall during that period. Between 2018 and 2019 significant funding fell by 11%.

Of Canada’s remaining bilateral allocable ODA for 2019, US$274 million was spent on projects that did not integrate gender. All of Canada’s funding was screened against the gender equality policy marker in 2019.


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.

Global Affairs Canada (GAC) sets policy; Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of International Development are supported by Minister for Women and Gender Equality

Global Affairs Canada (GAC), in particular, the Minister of International Development, steers development policy that includes gender equality as a cross-cutting objective. GAC is committed to ensuring that women and girls take on an active and meaningful role and participate in decision-making for all international assistance initiatives, including in project implementation, monitoring, and evaluation. Both the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of International Development work on gender equality abroad, with support from the Minister for Women and Gender Equality. Both GAC and the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) are responsible for the implementation of gender-focused development projects.