United Kingdom - Gender equality

The UK's bilateral ODA for gender equality

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The UK's bilateral ODA for gender equality by sector

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Gender mainstreaming of development activities is enshrined in UK law; girl’s education is an important focus

According to the Organisation for Development Assistance Committee’s (DAC) gender equality policy marker, the UK spent US$6.5 billion (58%) of its bilateral allocable ODA on development activities that targeted gender equality in a principal or significant way in 2018. This makes the UK the third-largest donor in absolute terms and the sixth-largest in relative terms. The UK’s spending on gender equality has steadily increased since 2015, both in volume and as a percentage of total 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.


The UK sees itself as a world leader on gender equality. In 2014, the UK parliament passed the International Development (Gender Equality) Act with cross-party support, making it a legal requirement that UK development assistance delivers poverty reduction in a way that also contributes to reducing gender inequality. The Former Department for International Development (DFID)’s ‘2018-2030 Strategic Vision for Gender Equality highlights the governments 5 key priorities:

  1. Addressing gender-specific barriers to inclusive economic growth;
  2. Increasing the number of women in informal and formal decision-making structures, including conflict prevention and peacekeeping;
  3. Girls’ education, particularly girls with disabilities;
  4. Promoting universal sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR); and
  5. Eliminating gender-based violence.

The UK’s National Audit Office reviewed DFID’s ‘2018 Strategic Vison’ in early 2020 and concluded that it was “ambitious and wide-ranging” but not designed in a way that enables DFID to assess its progress or value for money. They also questioned the accuracy of the UK’s reported spending on gender equality.

The themes of the UK’s ‘2018-2030 Strategic Vision for Gender Equality’ are largely reflected in the sectoral split of the UK’s gender-focused funding. The largest share of ODA to gender equality in 2018 went to health and population (16%), followed by humanitarian assistance (15%), financial services and business support (15%), and education (10%).

In addition to its bilateral contributions, the UK channels funding for gender equality through multilaterals. The UK is one of the largest contributors to UN Women, contributing US$185 million between 2011 and 2018. The UK seeks to drive efficiency in the programs it supports – since 2018 30% of its core funding to UN Woman has been contingent on delivering mutually agreed milestones and targets. The UK is also a major contributor to UNFPA, providing US$153m in 2018 (including core and non-core contributions).

Most of the UK’s funding flows to projects with a significant focus on gender

Of the US$6.5 billion spent on gender equality in 2018, only 9% (US$598 million) went toward projects and programs that targeted gender equality as a principal goal. This corresponds to 5% of the UK’s overall bilateral allocable ODA, close to the DAC average of 6%. The UK’s funding for projects with a principal gender focus has fallen since 2015 (from US$754 million or 8% of bilateral ODA).

Growth in gender-related funding has mostly come from projects that include gender as a significant objective. 53% of the UK’s bilateral ODA went to projects that significantly target gender equality in 2018, up from 37% in 2015 and above the 2018 DAC average of 38%. 40% of the UK’s bilateral projects in 2018 were screened and found to not have a gender focus. 2% of bilateral projects were not screened.

DFID was responsible for leading the UK’s gender-related international development policy

DFID was primarily responsible for ensuring the UK’s development policy actively promoted gender equality. As part of its ‘2018-2030 Strategic Vision for Gender Equality’, it committed to helping its staff and delivery partners integrate gender equality into policies and programs across sectors. It also committed to working with the rest of the UK government to ensure gender equality is embedded within the UK’s development, diplomatic, defense, and trade policies. How this will be taken forward under the new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) is not yet clear.