Norway - Gender equality


Gender is a cross-cutting issue for Norway, for both development and humanitarian assistance

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) gender equality policy marker, Norway spent US$1,078 million on development activities that targeted gender equality either as a principal or significant goal. This represented 36% of its bilateral allocable official development assistance (ODA). Gender-focused funding increased by 39% since 2017, largely driven by a spike in funding for gender equality within humanitarian assistance which more than doubled from US$113 million to US$282 million.

While Norway’s funding for gender equality steeply increased over the past two years, the share of its overall ODA being spent on gender-related projects remained well below the 47% average among members of the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee (DAC). In its latest OECD DAC statistical peer review (2020), Norway’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) and Development Agency (Norad) raised concerns about their government’s stricter interpretation of the gender policy marker, in comparison with other DAC donors. They argue that this more stringent interpretation of the marker could explain Norway’s relatively lower levels of gender-related funding compared to other DAC donors. Nonetheless, Norway recently introduced a target for 50% of its development projects to address gender equality as a significant or principal objective. This suggests there will be growth in gender-focused funding in the coming years.

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.

Beyond mainstreaming gender issues across its portfolio, the Norwegian budget comprises an ‘Equality’ budget line that funds specific projects for women’s rights and gender equality. In 2022, it was set at NOK873 million (US$93 million) which is a decrease from NOK1.2 billion (US$128 million) in 2021.

Gender equality is one of four cross-cutting objectives of Norway’s ODA policy. Efforts are anchored in the ‘Action Plan for Women’s Rights and Gender Equality in Foreign Affairs and Development Policy 2016-2020’, which defines five thematic priorities: 1) the right of girls to education; 2) women’s political rights and empowerment; 3) women’s economic rights and empowerment; 4) a life free of violence and harmful practices; and 5) sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). In 2019, the government published its 2019-2023 ‘International Strategy to Eliminate Harmful Practices’, setting out efforts to support this area, with a focus on child, early and forced marriage, and female genital mutilation. In the context of its overall foreign policy (including within development cooperation), the Norwegian government published its ‘Action Plan for Women, Peace and Security’ (2019-2022), focusing on women’s participation and rights both in initial, informal peace talks and in formal peace negotiation.

In addition, gender is a key component of Norway’s humanitarian responses. Its 2019 humanitarian strategy states that the gender perspective is to be integrated into all humanitarian efforts, with a special focus on women’s rights (including protection against sexual and gender-based violence) and participation.

Norway’s ODA disbursements reflect these priorities: In 2019, humanitarian aid accounted for one-quarter (26%) of gender-focused funding. It was followed by projects in the field of education (also one-quarter, 24%), government and civil society (19%), health and population (11%), and conflict, peace and security (7%).

As for the rest of its ODA, Norway channels large shares of its contributions for gender equality through multilateral organizations. Norway is one of the largest donors to United Nations (UN) Women (US$11 million in core contributions in 2019, US$21 million reported as earmarked funding according to the OECD), and the United Nations’ Populations Fund (UNFPA; US$60 million in core contributions, US$47 million earmarked funding). In addition, the government sees its support to Global Financing Facility (GFF) as central to promoting universal access to SRHR (see sector: ‘Global health’).

Funding for projects with gender as their significant objective drove funding increases

Of the US$1,078 million spent on gender-related activities in 2019, US$172 million targeted gender equality as a its principal goal. This represents 6% of Norway’s bilateral allocable ODA, on par with the DAC average of 6%. Funding for projects with gender equality as the principal objective has been increasing steadily since a low of US$127 million (5% of bilateral ODA) in 2017.

Overall, increases in gender-related funding have been largely driven by funding for projects targeting gender equality as a ‘significant’ objective (see box for more information). Such funding stood at US$906 million in 2019 (30% of total bilateral ODA). ­­This was up from around US$647 million in 2018, when it made up 24% of bilateral ODA.

The remainder of Norway’s bilateral allocable ODA (US$1.9 billion or 64%) was spent on projects that did not target gender at all. Norway screens all of its bilateral allocable ODA against the gender marker (and has done so since at least 2014), a practice that not all DAC donors follow: on average, DAC donors screen 93% of their bilateral ODA.

MFA and Norad share responsibility for gender equality within international cooperation

The MFA is in charge of overall foreign policy. Under its leadership, the Minister for International Development is responsible for development cooperation, including on gender. Within the MFA, the section for Human Rights, Democracy and Gender Equality (within the Department for Multilateral Cooperation) is in charge of gender equality and it is also included in the work that the Section for Global Health, Education and Inclusion. Within Norad, the department for economic development, gender and governance is the most relevant.