Italy - Gender equality

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Italy shows leadership on gender equality, but contributions are moderate

In 2020, Italy spent US$416 million (39%) of its bilateral allocable official development assistance (ODA) on development activities that targeted gender equality in a principal or significant way, according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) Development Assistance Committee’s (DAC) gender equality policy marker (DAC average: 45%). In 2020, Italy’s spending on gender equality increased compared to US$401 million in 2019, but did not return to 2018 levels (US$441 million). The overall percentage of bilateral allocable ODA for gender dropped from 42% in 2019 to 39% in 2020.


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.


Italy’s ODA to gender equality remains relatively low; Italy was the 16th-largest donor to gender equality in 2020 in absolute terms and the 18th-largest donor in relative terms, compared to other members of the OECD DAC.

Multilaterally, Italy provides funding to the United Nations Populations Fund (UNFPA). It gave US$6 million to UNFPA in 2021 (US$3 million in core contributions and US$3 million in non-core contributions), making Italy the 22nd-largest donor in overall contributions to the organization in 2021. Italy has collaborated with UNFPA on projects seeking to end forced genital cutting, and preventing or responding to gender-based violence, including in humanitarian contexts.

In 2020, Italy mainly gave gender-focused funding to ‘humanitarian aid’ (US$76 million), ‘agriculture’ (US$66 million), ‘industry, construction, and mining’ (US$65 million), and ‘health and populations’ (US$51 million).

Under Italian law, gender equality and the promotion of equal opportunity are enshrined as goals of Italian development cooperation. AICS, the Italian development agency, aims to integrate gender-mainstreaming in all its programs. Gender equality is not mentioned as a main objective in the latest available ‘Programming Guidelines’ for 2021-2023 but is rather a cross-cutting theme. AICS manages gender-focused projects and has set up a network of gender focal points that work to mainstream gender in project designs, monitoring, and performance evaluations. A 2019 ‘OECD Peer Review’ recognized Italy’s work on gender equality; the ‘Peer Review’ notes that Italy recently piloted a gender marker for NGO projects.

Only a small proportion of Italian bilateral allocable ODA spending has gender as a principal goal

Despite Italy’s work toward gender equality through development, only 3% (US$34 million) of the US$416 million it spent on gender equality in 2020 was channeled toward projects that targeted gender equality as a principal goal (half of the DAC average of 7%). Italy’s funding for projects with a principal gender focus dropped significantly from 2019 (US$66 million, or 7%).  

Italy spent US$381 million (36%) of its bilateral allocable ODA on projects that included gender as a significant objective, just below the DAC average of 38%. Italy’s financing of projects and programs with gender as a significant objective increased in both absolute and relative terms from 2019 (US$336 million, or 35%).

US$521 million (or 49%) in 2020 was spent on projects that did not target gender and a total of US$129 million (or 12% of bilateral ODA in 2020) in project funding was not screened against the gender marker at all, nearly double the DAC average of 7%. This represents an improvement in screened funding, which was 18% in 2019. 

Within AICS, the Department of Human Development leads on gender equality 

Priorities are set by the Directorate-General for Development Cooperation (DGCS), within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Development (MAECI). AICS oversees program implementation. The Department of ‘Human Development’ at AICS leads the work on gender equality.