United Kingdom - Gender equality


Gender mainstreaming of development activities is enshrined in UK law

According to the OECD gender policy marker, the UK spent US$6.6 billion (74%) of its bilateral allocable ODA on development activities that targeted gender equality in a principal or significant way in 2020, considerably above the DAC average of 45%. This includes investments in programs that considered gender equality as either the principal goal or one significant goal. In absolute terms, the UK was the third-largest provider of gender-related ODA in 2020, and the seventh-largest in relative terms. The largest share of ODA to gender equality in 2020 went to ‘humanitarian assistance’ (23%), ‘health and populations’ (19%), ‘financial service and business support’ (11%), ‘government and civil society’ (9%), and ‘education’ (8%).

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 2021, the FCDO cut some key gender equality programs in response to its reduced overall ODA budget - particularly those working on sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). Core funding to UN Women was reduced by approximately 60% from £13 million (US$17 million) in 2020 to £5 million (US$6 million) in 2021. In addition, the UK cut funding to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Supplies program, its flagship program for family planning, by 85% from £154 million (US$198 million) in 2020 to around £23 million (US$30 million) in 2021. According to research by CARE International and Development Initiatives, the estimated volume of FCDO’s funding that has a significant or principal gender focus as measured by the OECD, fell by £1.6 billion (US$2.1 billion) between 2019 and 2021), a reversal of gender-focused ODA to pre-2020 levels.

The UK has a long history of championing gender equality within its development co-operation. It was the first DAC donor to establish the International Development (Gender Equality) Act which made it a legal requirement for the UK to provide development assistance that delivers poverty reduction in a way that also contributes to reducing gender inequality. Gender equality is a core priority of the UK’s new international development strategy, published in May 2022. The strategy focuses on three key areas: 1) education, 2) empowerment (including a commitment to addressing sexual and reproductive health and supporting women’s economic empowerment (WEE)), and 3) ending violence. The strategy commits to restoring UK funding to gender equality, which was cut in 2021 in response to a reduced overall ODA budget. The strategy also commits the UK to publish a new UK Women and Girls Strategy by 2022.

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 that growth in gender-related funding may actually be smaller. It also reviewed the Department for International Development (DFID) ‘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. NAO also questioned the accuracy of the UK’s reported spending on gender equality.

Most UK funding targets projects with a significant focus on gender

Of the US$6.6 billion spent on gender equality in 2020 only 6% (US$648 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 (7%). The UK’s funding for projects with a principal gender focus has remained relatively consistent since 2016 (when total funding was US$642 million, or 6%, of bilateral ODA).

Growth in gender-related funding has mostly come from projects that include gender as a significant objective. 58% of the UK’s bilateral ODA went to projects that significantly target gender equality in 2020, up from 45% in 2015 and above the 2020 DAC average of 38%. 32% of the UK’s bilateral projects in 2020 were screened and found to not have a gender focus. 4% 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 promotes gender equality. Gender is under the responsibility of the Director General for Humanitarian and Development, Nick Dyer. The global programs for gender and equality are managed under the Director-General for the Americas and Overseas Territories and within the Gender and Equalities Department.