Australia - Gender equality

Australia's bilateral ODA for gender equality

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Australia's bilateral ODA for gender equality by sector

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Gender equality is a policy priority for Australia; allocation of gender-focused funds reflects overall policy priorities

In 2018, Australia spent US$1.3 billion (55%) 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%). In 2018, Australia’s spending on gender equality increased compared to 2017 (US$1.1 billion or 49% of bilateral ODA) but remained below 2016 levels (US$1.4 billion or 63% of bilateral ODA).


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.


Until May 2020, ‘Gender equality and empowering women and girls’ was one of Australia’s six development priorities. In the recently released ‘Partnerships for Recovery: Australia’s COVID-19 Development Response’ policy (launched May 2020), gender equality is not among the three main pillars of Australia’s development strategy, which is now completely oriented toward the COVID-19 response and recovery. Nonetheless, the policy commits to investing in gender equality and women’s economic empowerment, especially given that women are being disproportionately affected by COVID-19. Gender-based violence and sexual and reproductive health and right during the pandemic are also highlighted as priorities in this new policy.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s (DFAT) Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Strategy, released in February 2016, outlines three priorities to guide DFAT’s work on gender: (1) Enhancing women’s voice in decision-making, leadership, and peacebuilding; (2) Promoting women’s economic empowerment; and (3) Ending violence against women and girls.

In line with these priorities, in 2016, Australia spent more than any other DAC country on ending violence against women (US$38 million). A 2018 OECD Development Co-operation Peer Review commended Australia for its policy commitment to mainstreaming gender, underpinned by strong performance targets.

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; in the POA 2016/17, 77% of development assistance investments effectively addressed gender equality in implementation down to 75% in POA 2017/18. Education was the only investment priority area to meet the 80% target in both fiscal years.

Australia’s gender-focused ODA mirrors the policy priorities and sector allocations for the country’s bilateral ODA overall (see ‘ODA breakdown’). As with overall bilateral ODA in 2018, multisector activities received the largest share (US$305 million) of Australia’s gender-focused funding (including both principal and significant). The largest disbursement in this sector was to the Australia Awards, an international scholarship program.

Again, as in Australia’s development policy overall, the Indo-Pacific receives particular attention. An annual A$55 million (US$41 million) Gender Equality Fund was established in FY2015/16 to strengthen women’s economic empowerment in the region. Allocations for the Gender Equality Fund increased to A$65 million (US$49 million) according to the FY2020/21 budget.

In addition to its bilateral contributions, Australia channels some funding for gender equality through multilaterals. These include UNFPA (see Sector: ‘Health’) and UN Women (US$23 million between 2016 and 2020).

Despite a policy commitment to gender equality, cuts to Australia’s overall development budget (see ‘ODA trends’) undermine the country’s ability to meet its goals. Gender funding has been affected by the shift of ODA flows away from Asia (specifically Nepal and Pakistan) which had large gender components. Australia is also investing more heavily in large development assistance facilities (‘system strengthening’ investments), making gender equality targets more difficult to meet and more challenging to measure.

Funding for projects with a principal gender focus is increasing; screening of ODA against the gender marker has improved

Of the US$1.3 billion spent on gender equality in 2018, only 30% (US$388 million) went toward projects and programs that targeted gender equality as a principal goal. This corresponds to 17% of Australia’s overall bilateral allocable ODA and puts Australia far above the 2018 DAC average of 6%, behind only Spain and Sweden in a ranking of spending on principal gender funding as a proportion of bilateral allocable ODA. Australia’s funding for projects with a principal gender focus has been increasing since 2014 (US$137 million or 5% of bilateral ODA), rising most significantly (by US$153 million or 65%) between 2017 and 2018. This growth may have been due to the 76% increase in the number of projects marked as having a principal focus on gender equality.

In addition, Australia spent US$907 million (39%) of its bilateral allocable ODA on projects that included gender as a significant objective (DAC average: 38%). Given that overall spending on gender equality has remained somewhat steady, Australia’s financing of projects and programs with gender as a significant objective has declined as principal funding increased.

The remainder of Australia’s bilateral ODA (US$1.0 billion or 44%) was spent on projects that did not target gender at all, while US$21 million (1%) was not screened against the gender marker in 2018. OECD data reveals that Australia’s screening of projects has improved in recent years. In 2016, only 88% of bilateral allocable ODA was screened. This rose to 100% in 2017.

DFAT sets policy; Australia's Ambassador for Gender Equality promotes gender equality and women’s empowerment is central in diplomatic, development, and regional security efforts

DFAT manages development policy, budgets, and program delivery (see ‘Main actors’), including those with a gender equality focus. Currently, the Minister for Foreign Affairs (responsible for directing Australia’s development program), is also the Minister for Women. The Minister for Women’s role is to ensure 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 advocates for women’s empowerment internationally.