If We Truly Want Gender Equality, We Need to Finance It

Between 2018-2019, 43 percent of official development assistance in fragile and conflict-affected contexts targeted gender equality and women’s empowerment.  Yet, of this 20.3 billion USD, local women’s organizations received only one per cent. Additionally, less than five per cent of aid went to programs with gender equality as a principal objective. Research indicates that a lack of funding for gender equality increases security risks and also hinders the development and economic growth of countries. Gender inequality and fragility are inextricably linked.

The Generation Equality Forum, hosted in Paris earlier this year, along with the launch of the Compact on Women, Peace and Security and Humanitarian Action (WPS-HA), urged us to take stock of the progress that we’ve made for women and girls. Yet, as the numbers show, we are still far from meeting the goals of UN Security Council Resolution 1325, which recognizes women as vital partners in peacebuilding, conflict prevention, and mediation, as well as ensuring gender equal humanitarian response.

Gender inequality and fraglity are inextricably linked

Although there have been advancements over the past two decades, the COVID-19 crisis reversed many hard-won gains on gender equality, particularly for women and girls living in conflict and crisis. According to the United Nations, there were 2,500 verified cases of conflict-related sexual violence committed in 2020 across 18 countries, mostly against women and girls. The number of real cases is likely much higher, as the pandemic has made it harder for survivors to receive help or justice.

Many women in conflict and crisis also face economic hardship and limited participation in the labour force, which hinders overall development. In the Middle East and North Africa, providing equal economic opportunities for women could increase the annual GDP by up to USD 2.7 trillion (or 47 per cent).

Often, local women’s organizations, which directly address poverty, insecurity and gender-based violence, receive little institutional funding, beyond short term project work. This also curtails their ability to engage with and influence decision-making processes – a concerning consequence since these organizations serve as essential aid providers and accountability watchdogs. Nearly 40 per cent of UN led crisis response planning processes in 2020 had no consultations with local women’s rights organizations.

Furthermore, only 42 per cent of the 3,100 policy measures developed in response to the social and economic consequences of COVID-19 are gender-sensitive. We cannot assume that gender considerations will be integrated into response planning without dedicated resources and funding for sustained expertise, including experienced gender advisors.

To truly accelerate progress on gender equality, we need to make significant, strategic investments to promote women’s economic and political empowerment, reduce gender based violence, and improve conditions for women who often bear the brunt of conflict and crisis, but are also important actors in ensuring the sustainability of peace agreements.

Development co-operation providers, like the members of the OECD Development Assistance Committee, together with diaspora that send remittances, provide the biggest chunk of external finance in fragile contexts. Although aid for gender equality has steadily increased over time, it has not been enough to meet the extensive needs and evolving realities on the ground. We clearly need partnerships across all regions and actors, from the highest levels of government, to the private sector, to the local level.

GA74 – Side Event – Promoting young women’s leadership within the UN. Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown

We need to mobilize alternative sources of funding  

Ensuring adequate financing for women and girls in conflict and crisis is a key pillar of the WPS-HA Compact. During the drafting phase of the Compact framework, leaders from across the financing and development sectors formed a working group to advise on more impactful, long-term and strategic funding. These new partnerships underscored opportunities to mobilize alternative sources of funding, including through the private sector.

Additionally, these consultations helped us to identify some of the key challenges we must overcome, in order to ensure that financing truly transforms the lives of women and girls. For example, we recognize we must improve the investment climate of fragile contexts, and ensure more women are brought into the labour force, to make economies more competitive.

We have also assessed existing monitoring mechanisms to help stakeholders better understand how financing is reported and analyzed. These efforts have contributed to the development process of a tailored monitoring mechanism for the Compact financing pillar, which builds on the United Nations Financial Tracking System and the ‘OECD Development Assistance Committee Gender Equality Policy Marker (DAC gender marker)’.

GA74 – Side Event – Gender Equality: from the Biarritz Partnership To the Beijing+25 Generation Equality Forum.
Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown

Improved coordination on financing can create lasting change for women and girls

As a Compact Signatory, the OECD has committed to a number of actions which reflect the organization’s core mandate on data provision and analysis, policy dialogue, and standards.

The Compact provided a unique opportunity to mobilize additional funding for the implementation of the women, peace and security agenda. The challenge will now lie in monitoring the evolution of this funding over time and its impact on the ground. OECD databases include information on financing for gender equality (in fragile contexts) that goes back two decades. As more and more actors use the DAC gender marker to report their activities, our database will enable Compact signatories and other actors to make informed decisions about potential investments and understand where more funding is needed.

Improved coordination on  financing humanitarian, development and peace work can contribute to lasting change in the lives of women and girls. Mainstreaming gender equality in fragile and conflict-affected contexts is often complicated as humanitarian, development and peace actors all operate in the same space, but at times with competing priorities. International standards, such as the OECD DAC Recommendation on the Humanitarian Development Peace Nexus, provide guidance to stakeholders on improving coordination and ensuring that actors place gender equality at the heart of their operations, along with necessary funding.

It is also vital to bring  together various communities of experts that do not usually sit at the same table, in order to improve coordination on gender-sensitive financing. Gender specialists, financing experts, humanitarian actors, peacebuilders and many other stakeholders all brought their unique views and expertise into the design of the WPS-HA Compact. In support of these efforts, the OECD DAC Network on Gender Equality (GENDERNET) and the DAC International Network on Conflict and Fragility (INCAF), will continue to convene gender advisors and conflict experts, and provide spaces for the exchange of good practices on gender equality in fragile contexts.

The efforts of the OECD Development Co-operation Directorate join those of more than 150 signatories and counting, determined to implement the ambitious agenda of the WPS-HA Compact. The full rights and equality of women and girls cannot be realized by one stakeholder alone. But, with the right data and resources, we may be able to achieve it together.

Lisa Williams, Team Lead, Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment, OECD Development Co-operation Directorate

Charlotte Goemans, Policy Analyst, OECD Development Co-operation Directorate