United Kingdom - Gender equality

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Gender mainstreaming of development activities is enshrined in UK law; girl’s education is an important focus

According to the OECD gender policy marker, UK spent US$7.1 billion (60%) of its bilateral allocable ODA on development activities that targeted gender equality in a principal or significant way in 2019, considerably above the DAC average of 47%. This includes investments in programs that considered gender equality as either the principal goal or one significant goal. UK’s spending on gender equality has increased considerably since 2017 when the UK   spent only US$5.7 billion (54%) of its bilateral allocable ODA. The largest share of ODA to gender equality in 2019 went to humanitarian assistance (17%), financial service and business support (16%), health and populations (15%), and education (11%). The UK is the largest donor to gender equality in absolute terms and the seventh-largest in relative terms.


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.


In addition to its bilateral contributions, the UK channels funding for gender equality through multilaterals. Since 2011, the UK is historically one of the top-five donors to UN Women, the UN agency dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women. The UK contributing an aggregate of US$212 million between 2011 and 2019, but core funding to UN Women will be reduced by approximately 60% from GBP 12.5 million (USD 15.9 million) to GBP 5 million (USD 6.9 million) for 2021. In addition, funding cuts of 85% from £154 million (US$197 million) to around £23 million (US$29 million) are expected for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Supplies program, the flagship program for family planning.

The UK sees itself as a world leader on gender equality. In 2014, the International Development (Gender Equality) Act made it a legal requirement that UK development assistance delivers poverty reduction in a way that also contributes to reducing gender inequality. The former Department for International Development (DFID) ‘2018-2030 Strategic Vision for Gender Equality’ highlights the government’s five key priorities, which are 1) addressing gender-specific barriers to inclusive economic growth; 2) increasing the number of women in informal and formal decision-making structures, including conflict prevention and peacekeeping; 3) girls’ education, particularly girls with disabilities; 4) promoting universal sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR); and 5) eliminating gender-based violence (GBV). The 2021 Integrated Review of UK Security, Defence, Foreign Policy and Development mentions gender equality but focuses primarily on girls’ education (see ‘Education’).

Analysis by the UK’s National Audit Office (NAO) in 2018 suggested that a considerable portion of the UK’s spending was incorrectly classified against the OECD marker implying growth in gender-related funding may actually be smaller. It also reviewed the DFID’s ‘2018 Strategic Vison’ in early 2020 and concluded that it was “ambitious and wide-ranging” but not designed in a way that would have enabled DFID to assess its progress or value for money. They also questioned the accuracy of the UK’s reported spending on gender equality.  

Most of the UK’s funding flows to projects with a significant focus on gender

Of the US$7.1 billion spent on gender equality in 2019, only 6% (US$664 million) went toward projects and programs that targeted gender equality as a principal goal. This corresponds to 6% of the UK’s overall bilateral allocable ODA, in line with the DAC average. The UK’s funding for projects with a principal gender focus has fallen since 2015 (from US$736 million or 8% of bilateral ODA).

Growth in gender-related funding has mostly come from projects that include gender as a significant objective. 54% of the UK’s bilateral ODA went to projects that significantly target gender equality in 2019, up from 37% in 2015 and above the 2019 DAC average of 41%. 35% of the UK’s bilateral projects in 2019 were screened and found to not have a gender focus. 5% of bilateral projects were not screened.

The FCDO is responsible for leading the UK’s gender-related international development policy  

The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) is responsible for ensuring the UK’s development policy actively promoted gender equality. The global programs for gender are managed under the Director-General for the Americas and Overseas Territories. DFID’s ‘2018-2030 Strategic Vision for Gender Equality’,  which has yet to be formally adopted by the FCDO, was committed to helping staff and delivery partners integrate gender equality into policies and programs across sectors. It was also committed to ensuing DFID worked with the rest of the UK government to ensure gender equality is embedded within the UK’s development, diplomatic, defense, and trade policies.