Netherlands - Gender equality

Netherlands' bilateral ODA for gender equality

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Netherlands' bilateral ODA for gender equality by sector

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The Netherlands views the realization of women’s and girls’ equality as a prerequisite to the accomplishment of all other development goals

In 2018, the Netherlands spent US$1.9 billion (64%) of its bilateral allocable ODA on projects targeting 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, Dutch spending on gender equality was considerably higher than funding for the same in 2017, which amounted to US$1.4 billion, or 58% of total bilateral allocable 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.


‘Equal rights and opportunities for women and girls’ and ‘sexual and reproductive health and rights’ (SRHR) are two of the Netherlands’ eight overarching development priorities.

In service of realizing equal rights and opportunities for women and girls, Dutch development policy has four main sub-goals:

  1. Increasing women’s leadership and participation in political decision making;
  2. Giving women a greater say in the economy and improving the economic environment for women;
  3. Preventing and stopping violence against women and girls; and
  4. Strengthening women’s role in conflict resolution and peacebuilding.

The Netherlands supports organizations through two main funds aimed at promoting women’s safety, political influence, and economic stability:

  • Funding Leadership and Opportunities for Women (FLOW)’ fund, operated by Global Fund for Women, which works primarily in Asia to build women’s political organizations and was funded with €93 million (US$110 million) for the period of 2016-2020; and
  • Leading from the South, a feminist philanthropic fund supporting women’s rights activism at grassroots levels in the Global South and operated by African Women’s Development Fund, Fonod de Mujeres del Sur, International Indigenous Women’s Forum, and Women’s Fund Asia, funded at €40 million (US$46 million).

In the interest of promoting SRHR, the Netherlands funds health initiatives including the Global Financing Facility (GFF), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), and UNAIDS (for details, see sector: ‘Global Health’). The Netherlands also partners with organization that explicitly promote the rights of minorities and vulnerable populations in the context of SRHR, including sex workers and LGBTQ+ people, and funds projects which seek to address issues such as sexual violence and child sexual abuse.

The Netherlands is a key supporter of SheDecides, an international organization which galvanizes political support for women’s social and political rights to make informed decisions around their sexuality and reproduction. Sigrid Kaag, the Dutch Minister of Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, is one of SheDecides ‘champions’, a group of leading politicians and activists who work as spokespeople for the organization. The Netherlands also collaborated with the World Bank in 2018 to organize a Geneva-based conference focusing on trade and gender.

In addition, the Netherlands partners with UN Women to support women in the field of peace and security. The Dutch National Action Plan (NAP) 1325, for the period 2016-2019, was launched as a cooperation between the Dutch government and over 50 domestic civil society organizations with the goal of helping “break down harmful gender norms, enhance protection, and give men and women equal leverage in conflict prevention, resolution, peacebuilding, relief and recovery.” The 2016 NAP was the third iteration of this framework and carried over the strong emphasis on gender in peace and reconciliation processes. In 2018 the Netherlands put forward a UN resolution calling on governments to tackle gender-based violence and sexual harassment in their countries.

The Policy and Operations Evaluation Department (IOB) of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs gave a 2015 report analyzing the effectiveness of gender mainstreaming efforts from 2007-2014. IOB found that mainstreaming of women’s rights and gender equality “had not been consistent at a policy level”, and that women’s rights and gender equality had remained “virtually absent” from private sector development activities. The report recommended that the Netherlands utilize EU and multilateral channels to boost gender equality on the international development agenda. Another IOB evaluation study which aims to analyze the extent to which gender equality has since been integrated into policy development, implementation, and evaluation is underway as of 2020.

Dutch gender-focused ODA mirrors the policy priorities and sector allocations for the country’s bilateral ODA overall (see ‘ODA breakdown’); government and civil society and health and populations are overarching priorities for the Netherlands and receive the two greatest shares overall of bilateral ODA, (both 16%). Accordingly, the Netherlands spent the greatest proportion of its gender-focused spending on the sub-sectors of government and civil society (21%), followed by health and populations (19%). This is in line with Dutch policy priorities which emphasize the role of civil society and economic empowerment in development, especially women’s political participation and leadership, and which champions SRHR and humanitarian action as major priorities, especially in conflict regions.  Focus areas for the Netherlands’ gender equality work include Bangladesh, Mozambique, Yemen, South Sudan, and Uganda. The Netherlands has increasingly shifted the focus of its gender programming to supporting grassroots organizations in partner countries, seeking to empower and build networks among local women’s and girls’ rights groups.

Funding for gender equality is trending upwards, but allocations fluctuate yearly

The Netherlands was the fifth-largest relative spender in 2018 on gender-related ODA (including both principal and significant spending) and fourth-largest when only principal spending is considered. 2018 saw the most significant increase in gender-focused spending, with levels rising from US$1.4 billion to US$1.9 billion, in part due to a sustained push by Minister Kaag to continue prioritizing gender in development spending and to mainstream gender efforts in projects across all thematic areas.

Of the US$1.9 billion spent on gender equality in 2018, only 24% (US446 million) went towards projects and programs that targeted gender equality as a principal goal. This corresponds to 15% of Dutch overall bilateral allocable ODA and places the Netherlands in fourth place behind Spain, Sweden, and Australia for relative principal gender funding. The Netherlands’ funding for projects with a principal gender focus has been trending upwards since 2015 but with yearly fluctuations.

The Netherlands also spent US$1.4 billion (49%) of its bilateral allocable ODA on projects that included gender as a significant objective (DAC average: 38%). The proportion of bilateral allocable ODA spent on principal funding has steadily increased yearly since 2014 (excepting a 2% drop between 2017 and 2018 from 17% to 15%) but the proportion spent on significant funding has climbed more quickly, jumping from 41% to 49% between 2017 and 2018. This shows that although spending on activities that target gender as both principal and significant goals is increasing, significant projects have been consistently prioritized over principal. The relative decrease in spending on principal projects means that although gender-focused projects have seen increased funding, the majority of that funding has been for projects with gender as a significant, not principal, objective.
The remainder of Dutch bilateral ODA (36%, US$1.0 billion) was spent on projects that did not target gender at all. The Netherlands has been consistently accountable to the gender policy marker screening process; 100% of funds were screened against the marker every year since 2014. The government and civil society sector received the greatest proportion of gender funding at 21% (US$397 million), followed by health and populations (19%; US$356 million) and humanitarian assistance (12%; US$222 million).

Ministry of Foreign Affairs sets policy and budget; Sigrid Kaag leads internationally on messaging

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is responsible for all matters of development policy, budgets, programs, and program delivery (see: ‘Main actors’), including gender equality policies. Development Minister, Sigrid Kaag, is an outspoken advocate for girls’ and women’s rights, and for SRHR specifically. The Special Ambassador for Women’s Rights and Gender Equality is also a key figure in the ministry in relation to advancing this agenda. The other important role in this field is the Special Youth Ambassador for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights. These positions are currently filled by Ms. Mette Gonggrijp and Justine van de Beek respectively.