In 2021, ODA targeting projects related to gender equality from OECD DAC donors sat at US$47 billion. This figure represents only a 2% increase compared to 2020, but a 27% increase compared to 2017.
In 2021, Germany and the EUI were the largest donors of gender-related ODA, including both principal and significant funding. Japan rose above the US and the UK, ranking third in terms of total gender equality-related development spending.
In 2021, Canada maintained its top position as the donor which most strongly prioritized gender equality-related projects, spending 90% of bilateral allocable ODA on projects with a significant or principal gender equality goal, far exceeding the DAC average of 42%. The Netherlands fell from second to fifth place in this ranking between 2020 and 2021.
Analysis on gender equality-related donor finance typically looks at all funding tagged with the gender equality policy marker, meaning both principal and significant funding. While these analyses are important for understanding the broader finance landscape, they tend to give an inflated impression of donors' commitment to gender equality. This is in part because when the gender equality policy marker is applied, the whole value of a project gets counted as "gender-related" funding, even if only a small component of the project is actually furthering gender equality goals.
Because donors are required to meet higher standards to qualify funding as 'principal', principal-tagged gender funding serves as a better, though still imperfect, indicator for assessing donors’ actual commitment.
In 2021, the top donors of principal gender equality funding were the EUI, followed by the Netherlands, the US, and Germany.
Looking at principal gender equality-related funding over time, the picture is rather grim. Although total gender equality-related funding increased in recent years, most funding supported non-principal projects. Funding to projects which had gender equality as a principal goal actually fell 7% between 2020 and 2021.
Since 2017, principal gender ODA increased three times slower than overall ODA, growing by 1% on average, annually.
On the level of individual donors, approaches are mixed. For example, Canada has scaled up spending on principal gender projects almost five times faster than its overall ODA, while other gender equality policy “champions” like the UK have not increased gender equality ODA as expected.
For more details on donors’ funding and policies for gender equality, see our ‘Insights bundle: Three pillars of gender equality’.
Health & populations overtook government & civil society as the sector receiving the largest volume of funding to projects tagged with the gender equality policy marker in 2021. This trend was likely due to spending related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Both health and government funding include gender-specific purpose codes and are highly funded sectors overall. Gender equality-related spending made up 40% and 60% of total funding to each of these sectors, respectively.
Humanitarian assistance ranked third in overall gender equality-related funding in 2021, receiving US$4.5 billion or 10% of total ODA related to gender equality. However, given the large overall volume of funding to humanitarian projects in 2021, these funds made up just 21% of its total humanitarian ODA.
Infrastructure ranked fourth in overall funding to gender equality, receiving US$4.0 billion in spending on projects tagged with the gender equality policy marker, or almost half of overall funding to this sector.
Both education and agriculture saw declines in overall ODA as well as gender equality-related ODA between 2020 and 2021. However, the share of funding to projects in agriculture tagged with the gender equality policy marker remained relatively steady between 2020 and 2021, while the share of education funding that was gender equality-related dropped significantly from 60% to 39%.
According to the SDGs, gender equality means "women and girls, everywhere, must have equal rights and opportunity, and be able to live free of violence and discrimination." Gender equality is an important precursor to the achievement of development across all other sectors. As such, some donors have adopted an approach of "gender mainstreaming," or integrating gender equality into all kinds of development programs. In addition to being a cross-cutting issue, gender equality is a goal in-and-of-itself. Because of this dual nature, it can sometimes be hard to identify what exactly is being referred to in discussions about gender equality.
At the GEF in 2021, the global community agreed on a framework for understanding gender equality across six key action areas. The GEF was a major global gathering for gender equality, bringing together government delegates, UN representatives, youth leaders, civil society advocates, academics, and members of the private sector to bring new life to the global movement for gender equality and set a course toward bold gender equality outcomes by 2026.
The GEF held two meetings in 2021, in Mexico City in March and in Paris in June, and culminated in the launching of a 5-year Global Acceleration Plan to achieve irreversible progress towards gender equality. The Acceleration Plan is based on a series of ambitious, concret, and transformative actions, and is backed by US$40 billion in financial commitments pledged at the summit.
In addition, the Mexico City event officially launched the Forum’s multi-stakeholder Action Coalition’ partnerships across six major themes of gender justice. Each coalition identified critical goals in its theme to be achieved by 2026, which are helpful in understanding and defining the many dimensions of gender equality. (For more information on the Action Coalitions' design and goals, view the GEF Global Acceleration Plan.
Our Gender Equality Experts
Maura Kitchens West
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 reseach 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:
- Principal: meaning that gender equality is the main objective of the project or program;
- Significant: for projects in which gender equality is an important and deliberate goal but not the main objective; or
- Not targeted: used in cases where programs do not target gender equality.
The Donor Tracker team, along with many DAC donor countries, no longer uses the term "foreign aid". In the modern world, "foreign aid" is monodirectional and insufficient to describe the complex nature of global development work, which, when done right, involves the establishment of profound economic and cultural ties between partners.
We strongly prefer the term Official Development Assistance (ODA) and utilize specific terms such as grant funding, loans, private sector investment, etc., which provide a clearer picture of what is concretely occurring. “Foreign aid” will be referenced for accuracy when referring to specific policies that use the term. Read more in this Donor Tracker Insight.
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Our Gender Equality Experts
Maura Kitchens West