Rethinking gender in foreign aid

UNU-WIDER / Oct 2013


In recent decades, the recognition that gender equality and women’s empowerment are central to improving living standards, well-being, and economic growth has led to a fourfold increase in the flows of foreign aid toward gender equality related initiatives, from US$6.5 to US$25.5 billion from 2002 to 2011. Yet, the impact of foreign aid in promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment on broad development outcomes or on outcomes for women, girls, men, and boys has not received much attention by donors, policymakers and academics. 

To fill this gap, the UNU-WIDER has commissioned 18 studies on the gender dimensions of foreign aid. These cover topics ranging from aid flows in support of gender equality and women’s empowerment, to the sectorial composition (e.g., health, education, agriculture) and impact of aid, as well as how different actors (bilateral, multilateral, private foundations, and others) integrate gender issues into their policies and modalities. These studies provide robust evidence of some successful aid-funded initiatives. They also provide a greater understanding of the mechanisms underlying aid effectiveness in fostering gender equality and women’s empowerment across a broad spectrum of donor practices.

A glance at selected evidence

A glance at the results of various studies suggests that:

  1. An increase of foreign aid is associated with an improvement in the human development index, and the gender inequality index; public expenditures on health and education are also important in reducing gender inequality (Pickbourn and Ndikumana 2013).
  2. Greater aid is committed to countries that grant more extensive rights to women. However, while donors seem to reduce aid in education and health following improvements in gender indicators, the reverse is the case for the share of women in parliament, e.g., improvements are rewarded with more aid. (Dreher, Gehring, and Klasen 2013).
  3. Increased aid to women’s equality and organization has a positive effect on women’s political empowerment in the Middle East and North Africa (Baliamoune-Lutz 2013)
  4. The adoption of the United Nations Resolution Security Council Resolution 1325 focused greater attention on women in conflict and transitional situations (Hellsten 2013).
  5. The adoption of a two-track approach by development agencies—gender mainstreaming and a focus on building women’s capabilities can be successful under certain conditions (McGill 2013; Nanivazo and Scott 2013).

To learn more on these results and others deriving from ReCom papers on gender, please click on policy briefs.

The results meeting

The ReCom results meeting ‘Aid for Gender Equality’ will bring together leading experts in gender issues, alongside development professionals from bilateral and multilateral donor agencies, parliamentarians from the Nordic countries, members of the international NGO community as well as policymakers from aid-supported developing countries. The goals of the results meeting are two-fold:

  1. To present and disseminate the conclusions of various studies on the relationship between donor assistance and changes in gender equality and female empowerment; and
  2. To discuss the future role of foreign aid in promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment within the post-2015 context.

See the full programme