Gender Equality and Aid Delivery: What Has Changed in Development Co-operation Agencies Since 1999?



How have aid agencies tackled the challenges of promoting gender equality since the beginning of the twenty-first century? How can the gap between policy and implementation be bridged? This report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) examines changes in the gender equality approaches of OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) members. It argues that mainstreaming is a necessary but insufficient strategy to promote gender equality. Specific measures for women’s empowerment must be reintroduced and financed.

The last decade has seen major changes in development practice, with the introduction of poverty reduction strategies, sector-wide approaches, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the Paris Declaration. Donors have committed to scaling up aid and enhancing local ownership and effectiveness. Almost all DAC members now have gender equality policies, but few have the staff, budgets and management needed to implement them. Some consider recent changes in aid modalities as presenting more challenges than opportunities for promoting gender equality.

Despite difficulty matching political rhetoric with real progress, there have been some positive results:

  • Partnering with civil society organisation to strengthen demand for gender equality actions – this partnership gives women’s organisations a more forceful voice during the creation and implementation of country development plans
  • Promoting gender action plans in partner countries and working with other donors to make poverty reduction strategies and sector-wide plans more gender responsive
  • Supporting analytical work to identify gender inequalities and introducing specific gender equality issues into country dialogue
  • Investing in gender-responsive budget initiatives to detect and eliminate gender biases in partner country expenditure
  • Linking gender equality considerations with other cross-cutting issues, particularly HIV/AIDS.

To match policy commitments with implementation, DAC members need to:

  • recognise that gender mainstreaming is expensive: It requires trained staff and regular, detailed monitoring. Mainstreaming can work, but only if agencies make the kinds of investments they made to mainstream the use of desk-top computers.
  • make management and staff accountable for progress and offer incentives for good performance: Monitoring activity to promote gender equality allows agencies to hold management and staff accountable. Those who introduce gender issues into country dialogue should be rewarded.
  • put more senior gender specialists in the field: Trained, dedicated gender specialists need to participate in country dialogue. They should have sufficient seniority and involvement to allow them influence in key meetings.
  • train staff and embassy personnel to understand and take actions to alleviate gender inequalities: While gender relations is one of the most complicated areas of human society, there is a large body of research to draw on. Staff should be able to identify and alleviate inequalities in their areas of work.


OECD-DAC, 2007, 'Gender equality and aid delivery: what has changed in development co-operation agencies since 1999?' OECD-DAC, Paris