European Parliamentary Research Service



Development Financing & Gender Equality

Written by Rosamund Shreeves


It is now 20 years since governments across the world and international donors – including the European Union (EU) and individual Member States – committed to working towards gender equality and empowering women and girls at the fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing. This year also marks the culmination of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which included gender equality as a stand-alone goal (MDG 3). The process of adopting a post-2015 development agenda and specific sustainable development goals (SDGs), has been marked by wide-ranging reviews of the progress achieved, the persisting inequalities and the new gendered challenges arising in connection with evolving risks, such as increasing inequality, armed conflict, migration and the effects of climate change. Scaled up and effective financing will be necessary to meet a new gender equality goal beyond 2015.

“We cannot fulfill 100% of the world’s potential by excluding 50% of the world’s people. The evidence is clear: equality for women means progress for all.” Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary General

Why gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls matters for development

Development financing and gender equality – a virtuous circle

One of the lessons learned over the past 20 years is that macro-level economic and development policies can have different impacts on women and men, girls and boys, as a result of the gender roles ascribed to them and the connected power relations, division of labour and access to and control over resources. There is also now increasingly ample evidence that gender inequalities can have a negative impact on development outcomes, hampering poverty alleviation and restricting the potential to increase wellbeing. Conversely, as well as benefiting individual women and girls, closing gender gaps can benefit men and boys, societies, businesses and economies as a whole. Investing in gender equality can therefore accelerate progress towards other development goals, such as food security, and create a virtuous circle for sustainable development. As an issue of human rights and justice, gender equality is important in its own right. From this perspective, empowering women and girls gives them greater agency to get their voices heard and orient development in ways that meet their needs.

Although progress has been made in some areas, notably gender parity in access to primary education, it has been slow, and large gender gaps have persisted globally. No country in the world has eradicated gender inequality.

Development cooperation, in partnership with national governments and civil society, particularly women’s organisations, can have an impact in crucial areas including:

Financing for Gender Equality – Achievements and Challenges

The volume and focus of funding

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has reported that aid targeted at gender equality by its members has more than tripled over the course of the MDGs, from US$8 billion in 2002 to US$28 billion in 2012, but that, despite the upward trend, investments are ‘vastly insufficient to achieve gender equality and only a small proportion of aid addresses women’s specific needs’. EU, and other, aid has tended to be focused on a handful of sectors. UN Women has also highlighted that ‘persistent and chronic underinvestment‘ has been an obstacle to progress. Women’s organisations, often engaged in long-term work to change deep-rooted, structural causes of inequality, saw a drop in their funding as donors turned to shorter, more measurable projects.

Development financing and gender equality – a virtuous circle

The Effectiveness of Funding

It is not only the volume, but also the effectiveness of financing that is important, how gender issues are built in to its design and implementation and how impacts and outcomes are monitored and assessed. Strategies and tools – specifically the use of gender-disaggregated data and indicators and gender-responsive budgeting – have been developed to ensure that financing is gender-sensitive. A recent EU-sponsored programme has helped to further develop best practice and demonstrated the added value such tools can bring. However, knowledge and take-up of such guidance, by countries and donors alike, is patchy, as noted in a recent evaluation of EU support.

New and Innovative Forms of Funding

The financing landscape is also changing. Official development aid (ODA) continues to be a central source of financing for development, as shown in the EU’s reiteration of its pledge to collectively reach the 0.7% ODA/GNI target. However, aid effectiveness agreements have also led to a focus on new kinds of partnership and funding for development. These include: the mobilisation of domestic financial resources, private-sector funding, philanthropy, and revenue from combating tax evasion and illegal financial flows and from better coordination. From a gender perspective, these forms of financing offer both opportunities and challenges. Innovations such as the Global Financing Facility (GFF) and the Brazilian Bolsa familia scheme target women directly. However, research by the women’s organisation, Gender and Development Network, has highlighted that new financing is not gender neutral and that its benefits and pitfalls need to be explored.

Outlook: The UN conference on financing for development and the UN summit to adopt sustainable development goals (SDGs)

How the post-2015 agenda is financed and implemented will be determined at the Third International Conference on Financing for Development (FfD3) to be held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in July 2015. Efforts to ensure that the FfD3 outcome document is gender-sensitive and contains scaled up commitments to support an ambitious new stand-alone goal on gender equality and women’s rights are on-going. Advocacy groups have issued recommendations, statements, and comments on the successive drafts of the document.

For its part, in the Council Conclusions on Gender in Development, the European Union has backed the ‘twin-track approach’ of combining a stand-alone goal on gender equality and empowering women and girls with comprehensive gender mainstreaming. It has also highlighted the need to align commitments with financing in the FfD3 process.

The European Parliament makes specific mention of the need for a gender perspective in financing in its Resolution on the EU and the global development framework after 2015, Resolution on Financing for Development and the Report on tax avoidance and tax evasion as challenges for governance, social protection and development in developing countries (Elly Schlein, S&D, Italy). MEPs will be part of the EU delegation attending the FfD3 conference.

Sources & Further Reading

I/ Why gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls matters for development

1) The current situation

2) Interconnections between gender equality and development outcomes

II/ Financing for gender equality – achievements and challenges

Statistical data on funding for gender equality and women’s rights

Analysis of the data on funding for GEWE

Assessments of EU support to gender equality and women’s empowerment (GEWE)

Assessments of GEWE funding in specific sectors

Outcome documents from the United Nations Conferences on Financing for Development:

Outcome documents from the High Level International Fora on Aid Effectiveness:

Report for the 52nd session of the Commission on the Status of Women

III/ Tools and best practices for financing gender equality and women’s empowerment


Best practices


IV/ Outlook: The UN conference on financing for development and the UN summit to adopt sustainable development goals (SDGs).

Key UN documents

Positions of international organisations

European Union positions

Council of the European Union

European Commission

European Parliament

Stakeholder positions