Canada - Gender equality

Gender equality is the backbone of all of Canada’s international assistance efforts; funding for gender equality is increasing

In 2018, Canada spent US$2.4 billion (87%) of its bilateral allocable ODA on development activities that targeted gender equality as a principal or significant goal, according to the OECD Development Assistance Committee’s (DAC) gender equality policy marker (DAC average: 44%). This makes Canada the top funder of gender equality in relative terms (or seventh largest donor in absolute terms). Canada’s funding for gender equality has been steadily increasing since 2014 (barring a small dip in funding in 2016); most recently it increased by 21% from US$2.0 billion in 2017.


Canada's bilateral ODA for gender equality

For further details on methodology, see our Donor Tracker Codebook.

Canada's bilateral ODA for gender equality by sector

For further details on methodology, see our Donor Tracker Codebook.

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.


Gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls is the first ‘Action Area’ in Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy (FIAP), which came into force in June 2017. Within this area, Canada 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.

Gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls is the ‘core’ action area in the FIAP, meaning that gender equality is integrated across all areas of Canada’s development assistance. 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 fiscal year (FY) 2021/22. 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 policy focus, the humanitarian assistance sector received the highest share of the country’s gender-focused funding in 2018 (US$610 million or 26% of overall bilateral allocable ODA). Health and populations followed, receiving US$526 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 9% or US$220 million, in line with the government’s commitment to helping partner countries implement gender-sensitive policies and services. US$208 million (9%) 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 10 government partners of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women). In 2018, Canada contributed US$5 million in core contributions to the organization and US$7 million in other resources. Through its partnership with UN Women, Canada has worked to improve women’s political leadership and empowerment and women’s economic empowerment, as well as contributing to the development of gender indicators on health, education, employment, entrepreneurship, and asset ownership. 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. Advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment was a central theme of its G7 presidency in 2018. At that meeting, Canada recommended that at least 20% of international assistance should target gender equality as a principal objective. Canada is also the co-chair of the United Nations’ Group of Friends of Sustainable Development Goals Financing group; the 2X Challenge (an initiative of the G7 Development Finance Institutions to mobilize US$3 billion in funding for women’s economic empowerment); the Women, Peace and Security Agenda (a UN effort to increase the participation of women in peacemaking and conflict prevention); and Women Deliver 2019 (an effort championing gender equality and health rights for women and girls).

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

Of the US$2.4 billion spent on gender equality in 2018, only 6% (US$149 million) went toward projects and programs that targeted gender equality as a principal goal. This corresponds to 5% of Canada’s overall bilateral allocable ODA and puts Canada just below the 2018 DAC average of 6%. It also leaves Canada far off its goal of spending at least 15% of its bilateral ODA on projects in which gender equality as a principal objective by FY2021/22, as outlined in the FIAP. Even though principal funding remains low relative to overall funding to gender equality, Canada’s funding for projects principally focused on gender equality has increased significantly (by 178%) since 2016. Between 2017 and 2018 alone, a 133% increase was driven by growth in both the scale and number of projects with a principal gender objective.

In 2018, Canada disbursed US$2.2 billion on projects that targeted gender equality as a significant objective. Significant funding has also increased in recent years (59% between 2016 and 2018), in line with overall growth in Canada’s funding for gender equality overall.

Of Canada’s remaining bilateral allocable ODA for 2018, US$259 million was spent on projects that did not integrate gender at all while US$94 million worth of investments were not screened against the gender marker. This is the first year since the launch of the OECD DAC gender marker that Canada has left any funding un-screened. This may be due to a large disbursement (CAD77 million or US$59 million) in capital to FinDev, Canada’s Development Finance Institution, which was not screened.

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

Under the overall guidance of the Prime Minister, Global Affairs Canada (GAC) steers development policy which 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. Within GAC, 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.