South Korea - Gender equality

South Korea’s funding for gender equality is low despite important policy commitments to gender equality

Only 12% of South Korea’s bilateral allocable official development assistance (ODA) or US$226 million was reported as gender-focused, according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD’s) Development Assistance Committee (DAC) gender policy marker, which donors can use to mark investments that name gender equality as either a significant or principal goal (see box). This is well below the DAC average of 47%. South Korea ranks as the 18th-largest DAC donor of gender equality in absolute terms and the second-lowest DAC donor to gender equality in relative terms of ODA as a share of gross national income (GNI), ahead of only Poland. Gender-related funding as a proportion of bilateral ODA has been relatively constant since 2016, however, volumes have increased in line with overall increases in 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.

Gender-related funding in 2019 was concentrated in South Korea’s priority sectors of education, water and sanitation, and health and populations. UNFPA opened a regional office in Seoul in February of 2019, intended to strengthen the organization’s engagement with South Korea on matters related to public health, sexual and reproductive health, and rights (SRHR), and an aging population. UNFPA and South Korea plan to cooperate in implementing South Korea’s 'Action with Women and Peace' initiative, launched in 2019.

In its ‘2022 Implementation Plan’, the government will focus on improving women’s economic and social status by strengthening women’s economic capabilities and promoting women’s human rights. In line with this strategy, the ODA budget allocated to the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family (MOGEF) has been increased from KRW7.25 billion (US$6 million) in 2021 to KRW8.7 billion (US$7 million). Gender equality is included as one of the six basic pillars for development in South Korea’s ‘Framework Act on International Development Cooperation’. KOICA’s Mid-term Sectoral Strategy 2021-2025 focuses on three strategic objectives for gender: economic empowerment; social status; and basic rights. Gender is included as a cross-cutting sector, critical to maximizing South Korea’s contributions to the SDGs. Gender mainstreaming is included within individual Country Partnership Strategies (CPS).

Consistent with South Korea’s focus on strengthening the education and health of adolescent girls and women, education received the largest share (US$61 million or 27%) of South Korea’s gender-focused funding (including both principal and significant spending). Water and sanitation received US$48 million (21%), followed by health and populations (US$38 million or 17%).

In addition to its bilateral contributions, South Korea channels some funding for gender equality through multilateral organizations. The Ministry of Gender Equality and Family contributed KRW4.9 billion (US$4 million) to United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) in 2022.  In 2022, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) will provide a voluntary contribution of KRW900 million (US$750 thousand) to UNFPA to implement the ‘Action with Women and Peace’ initiative. The Ministry of Health and Welfare will also provide contributions of KRW210 million (US$170 thousand) to UNFPA.

In recent years, South Korea has increased its collaboration with multilaterals on gender equality including through a partnership between KOICA, UNFPA, and UN Women, launched in 2018 to accelerate progress towards SDG 5 (“Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls”) through innovative country-level programming.

A third of gender funding principally targets gender equality; the majority of projects are screened but do not target gender equality

Most of South Korea’s bilateral ODA (US$1.6 billion or 83%) was spent on projects that were marked as screened but not targeting gender equality, while US$103 million or 5% was spent on projects not screened against the gender marker in 2019.

Of the US$226 million spent on gender equality in 2019, 33% (US$75 million) went toward projects and programs that targeted gender equality as a principal goal. This corresponds to 4% of South Korea’s overall bilateral allocable ODA, below the DAC average of 6%.

South Korea spent just US$151 million (8%) of its bilateral allocable ODA on projects that included gender as a significant objective, significantly below the DAC average of 41%. 

The Committee for International Development Cooperation has overall responsibility for promoting gender equality within South Korea’s ODA portfolio

Gender equality cuts across all sectors of development and therefore CIDC has primary responsibility. The key ministries and agencies that implement South Korea’s gender-related ODA are KOICA and the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family. In the 2021 Implementation Plan, the CIDC said it will try to strengthen gender awareness and sensitivity within other ministries and agencies responsible for implementing South Korea’s ODA. The ‘Mid Term Strategy for Development Cooperation (2021-2025)’ also states that South Korea will strengthen its support for vulnerable groups, including women, and its consideration for gender and human rights during policy and project design.