EU - Gender equality

EU's bilateral ODA for gender equality

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

EU's bilateral ODA for gender equality by sector

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

EUI are gradually increasing share of gender-equality focused projects 

In 2018, European Union institutions (EUI; including the EU and European Investment Bank, EIB) spent US$6.7 billion (37%) of their bilateral allocable ODA on development activities that targeted gender equality in a principal or significant way, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) Development Assistance Committee’s (DAC) gender equality policy marker (DAC average: 44%). This makes the EUI the second-largest donor to gender equality. The share has gradually increased since 2014 when only 20% of the EUI’s overall ODA targeted gender equality but is below the EU outlined a target of 85% (See below). 


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 EUI have been increasing policy emphasis on gender equality. In 2015, the EU released its new framework ‘Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment: Transforming the Lives of Girls and Women through EU External Relations 2016-20’ (the Gender Action Plan or GAP II). Gap II is aimed at promoting, protecting, and fulfilling the human rights of women and girls through EU external relations and is mandatory for the EU and its member states. 

Gap II is focused on four pivotal areas; of which three are thematic and one is horizontal and are aimed at: 

  • Ensuring girls’ and women’s physical and psychological integrity; 

  • Promoting female economic and social empowerment; 

  • Strengthening female voice and participation; and 

  • Shifting the EC’s services and institutional culture to effectively deliver on EU commitments. 

Gap II aims for all elements of EU’s external relations to support gender equality and thereby, mandates that:  

  • EU and member states apply the OECD gender policy marker at the budgetary approval stage; 

  • EU and member states deliver on gender commitments through regular and compulsory reporting on results; 

  • EU’s programs, priority sectors, and external action in partner countries (including fragile and conflict-affected states) undergo a systematic gender analysis; and 

  • Projects with no gender dimension must always be justified.  

According to the targets outlined in the Gap II action plan, 85% of new programs should have a gender focus, but the EUI failed to meet this target in 2018. However, the EUI are certainly making strides in this direction. For instance, between 2015 and 2017, the number of new EU-funded initiatives in low-income countries with a gender focus increased from 52% in 2015 to 66% in 2017, according to information from the EC. In 2017, the EU pledged €500 million (US$590 million) to the Spotlight initiative, a global, multi-year partnership between the European Union and the United Nations to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls by 2030. Additionally, in 2019, European Commission (EC) President von der Leyen announced in her political guidelines that building a ‘Union of Equality’ was one of the EC’s major priorities. Furthermore, in March 2020, the EC presented its new European Gender Equality Strategy for 2020-2025, which includes targeted measures to achieve gender equality through development cooperation, EU trade policy, and advocacy in international fora. In the EC’s proposal for Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument (which falls under the proposed Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) that will guide ODA funding allocations for 2021-2027), gender is to be addressed in a number of ways through the Global Challenges budget line, including support to sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), child protection systems, and protection against gender-based violence, particularly in situations of instability. 

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

Only 3% (US$592 million) of the EUI’s bilateral allocable ODA was directed toward projects and programs that targeted gender equality as a principal goal, far below the DAC average of 6%. In absolute terms, the EUI ranks fourth among donors when considering absolute spending on principal gender funding. The EUI’s funding for projects with a principal gender focus remained consistent between 2014 and 2017 at 2% of bilateral allocable ODA.  

In addition, the EUI spent US$6.1 billion (33%) of its bilateral allocable ODA on projects that included gender as a significant objective (DAC average: 38%). The EUI’s financing of projects and programs with gender as a significant objective has consistently increased since 2014 when it stood at US$2.8 billion or 19% of bilateral allocable ODA.

The remainder of the EUI’s bilateral allocable ODA (US$6.8 billion or 37%) was spent on projects that did not target gender at all, while US$4.8 billion (26%) was not screened against the gender marker in 2018. The EUI has fluctuated in its consistency of using the OECD gender policy marker: Although all bilateral allocable ODA was screened in 2017, 26% was not screened in 2018.

In November 2020, the EC and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy put forward the EU's new Action Plan on Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment in External Action 2021–2025 (GAP III). GAP III will be based on five pillars:  

  • 85% of all new actions throughout external relations will contribute to gender equality and women's empowerment by 2025: under which the EU will aim for all external assistance across all sectors, including infrastructure, digital, energy, agriculture and blended funds, etc., to be integrated into a gender perspective, for supporting gender equality. 

  • Shared strategic vision and close cooperation with Member States and partners at multilateral, regional and country level. 
  • Accelerating progress by focusing on the key thematic areas of engagement including : under which the EU aims to focus on key thematic areas including on 1)Ending gender-based violence,2) Sexual and reproductive health and rights; 3)Economic and social rights and empowerment; 4)Equal participation and leadership; Women, peace and security; and 5)Green and digital transformations 
  • Leading by example: under which the EU is called to lead by example, including by establishing gender-responsive and gender-balanced leadership at top political and management levels. 
  • Measuring results: under which the EU will set up a quantitative, qualitative and inclusive monitoring system to increase public accountability, ensure transparency and access to information on its assistance to gender equality worldwide.  

DG DEVCO’s Directorate on People and Peace leads policy development on gender 

The EC’s Directorate-General for International Cooperation and Development (DG DEVCO) leads the European EC’s policies on gender equality. DG DEVCO is led by the Commissioner for International Partnerships, Jutta Urpilainen, and its Director-General Koen Doens and its two Deputy Director-Generals Marjeta Jager and Martin Seychell. Gender equality policy falls under DDG Jager’s remit under the unit DEVCO.B: People and Peace, which is led by Henriette Geiger. Its sub-unit is B1: Gender Equality, Human Rights, and Democratic Governance. 

DG DEVCO’s gender equality work is guided by the ‘European Consensus on Development’ and the ‘EU Global Strategy’, which identify equality and women empowerment as a cross-cutting issue for all EU policies. Priorities include empowering women and girls, ending violence against women and girls, and ending harmful practices.