Issue Deep Dive: South Korea/Gender Equality

Last updated: January 10, 2023

ODA Spending

ODA In Context

South Korea ranks as the 15th-largest DAC donor of gender equality in absolute terms and the lowest DAC donor to gender equality in relative terms.

28% of South Korea’s bilateral allocable ODA was reported as gender-focused, or on projects related to gender equality in 2020, well below the DAC average of 45%.

Gender-related funding as a proportion of bilateral ODA more than doubled, from 12% in 2019 to 28% in 2020.

ODA Breakdown

Bilateral Spending

In 2020, most of South Korea’s bilateral ODA was spent on projects that were marked as screened but not targeting gender equality (67%), while US$100 million, or 6%, was spent on projects not screened against the gender marker.

Of the US$503 million spent on gender equality in 2020, 12% (US$61 million) went toward projects and programs that targeted gender equality as a principal goal. This corresponds to 3% of South Korea’s overall bilateral allocable ODA, below the DAC average of 7%.

South Korea spent US$442 million (24%) of its bilateral allocable ODA on projects that included gender as a significant objective, compared to the DAC average of 38%.

While overall gender-related funding grew in 2020, the proportion of principal funding for gender decreased from 4% in 2019 to 3% in 2020. The net increase can be attributed to the share of ‘significant’ gender-related funding tripling from 8% in 2019 to 24% in 2020.

Mutlilateral spending and commitments

UNFPA opened a regional office in Seoul in February 2019, intended to strengthen the organization’s engagement with South Korea on matters related to public health, SRHR, and an aging population. UNFPA and South Korea plan to cooperate in implementing South Korea’s 'Action with Women and Peace' initiative, launched in 2019.

In addition to its bilateral contributions, South Korea channels some funding for gender equality through multilateral organizations. MOGEF supports UN Women and considers UNFPA a priority multilateral, making multiple contributions specifically for the ‘Action with Women and Peace’ initiative.

In recent years, South Korea has increased its collaboration with multilaterals on gender equality including through a partnership between KOICA, UNFPA, and UN Women, launched in 2018 to accelerate progress toward SDG 5 ‘Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls’ through innovative country-level programming.

The table below summarizes South Korea’s more recent commitments to multilaterals working on issues related to gender equality. Some of these commitments are considered core funding to multilaterals while others will be earmarked (bilateral) funding from South Korea.

Funding and Policy outlook

While 2020 saw a slight increase in the proportion of gender-related funding, funding for gender equality could decrease with new President Yoon Seok-youl's ‘anti-feminist’ platform and increased focus on global health. 

Under the new leadership of Yoon Seok-youl, the prioritization of gender equality remains a concerning question for development advocates. The former conservative prosecutor considers himself an ‘anti-feminist’ and called for the abolition of the MOGEF. He has blamed the low birth rate in South Korea on feminism and leveraged sexist sentiments among the electorate to win votes in the election. He has also stated that he does not believe that gender-based systemic and structural discrimination exists in South Korea.

In its ‘2022 Implementation Plan’, the government focused on improving women’s economic and social status by strengthening women’s economic capabilities and promoting women’s human rights. In line with this strategy, the ODA budget allocated to the MOGEF increased from KRW7.25 billion (US$6 million) in 2021 to KRW8.7 billion (US$7 million).

Gender equality is included as one of the six basic pillars for development in South Korea’s ‘Framework Act on International Development Cooperation.’

KOICA’s ‘Mid-term Sectoral Strategy 2021-2025’ focuses on three strategic objectives for gender:

  • Economic empowerment;
  • Social status; and
  • Basic rights.

Gender is included as a cross-cutting sector for maximizing South Korea’s contributions to the SDGs, and gender mainstreaming is included within individual CPSs.

In the ‘2021 Implementation Plan,’ the CIDC commited to strengthening gender awareness and sensitivity within other ministries and agencies responsible for implementing South Korea’s ODA.

The ‘2022 Implementation Plan’ stated that the government will focus on improving women’s economic and social status by strengthening women’s economic capabilities and promoting women’s human rights. The ‘Mid Term Strategy for Development Cooperation (2021-2025)’ also stated that South Korea will strengthen its support for vulnerable groups, including women, and its consideration of gender and human rights during policy and project design.

Key Bodies

Qi Liu

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