The Politics of Poverty

Ideas and analysis from Oxfam America's policy experts

No time for empty promises on women’s rights

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a group of women talking about leadership and gender equality Daw Ma Khine Oo epitomises effective women's leadership. Supported by Oxfam, Daw Ma Khine Oo is very active in her community in Myanmar, advocating for community needs and supporting others when their rights are infringed. (Photo: Oxfam/Dustin Barter)

Some donors think they’re funding transformational gender equality projects. Why our latest research suggests they’re wrong.

Gender inequality—one of the seminal issues of our time—undercuts the rights of half the world. But the truth is that it affects everyone, undermining global health, education, the economy, as well as safety and security. According to the World Economic Forum, at the current rate of change, it will take over 100 years until this injustice is solved globally.

To bring this change within our lifetime means that women’s needs, challenges, and insights must be understood deeply to dismantle the structural causes of poverty and inequality.

Governmental and institutional donors in the humanitarian and development space have an important role to help make this change happen through aid and finance. But our latest Oxfam research suggests that some of their commitments to gender equality may be nothing but empty promises.

Addressing gender discrimination

Women face rampant gender discrimination through different social and cultural norms, increased risk in times of crisis, and legal structures that treat them differently. For example, 104 countries have laws that limit a woman’s ability to work certain jobs; 36 countries do not have laws or aggravated penalties for domestic violence; and in 31 countries, married women do not have the same freedom that married men do to choose where they live.

Thankfully, a focus on gender equality in development and humanitarian aid is increasing. From 2006 to 2017, funding for gender projects from Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries jumped by 300 percent—from $15 billion to over $45 billion .

But here’s the problem: it’s very hard to know if the funding is actually for gender equality work. Many of these projects are self-reported without a lot of information; some indicate that gender equality is their primary focus while others report they have integrated gender equality concerns into a project with a separate focus entirely.

Major gaps found

Oxfam looked at publicly available information to see if seven major donors’ self-reported gender equality projects really were “high quality” gender equality projects.

We poured through sometimes lengthy, hard to find, and short on details project documents for 72 projects worth $6 billion across various sectors, including agriculture, health, and humanitarian aid. High quality indicators include whether a gender analysis of the project had been conducted, whether said analysis informed its design, and whether data and indicators were disaggregated by sex where applicable.

Here’s what our research found:

  • None of the donors consistently included enough of these indicators for their projects to be considered “high quality.”
  • Only two projects included all the minimum criteria the OECD says should be included, calling into question if the funding amounts reported for gender equality projects should really count.
  • On average, only 39 percent of the indicators identified as being necessary for gender equality projects were included.
  • Only about 20 percent of the projects examined identified or addressed any unintended negative consequences of any one project. This means that projects could be putting women and girls at increased risk of experiencing gender-based violence, increasing gender inequality, or many other unintended consequences.
  • Women’s participation and leadership were also seldom addressed. Gender-disaggregated data and gender equality objectives and indicators were only found in about 50 percent of the projects examined.

Getting back on track to achieve gender equality

These findings suggest there is a major gap between self-reported funding and high-quality gender equality projects. Donors and other partners—from government to actors in the development and humanitarian aid space—need to act to fix these deficiencies by not allowing projects to be counted as gender equality projects if they do not include these critical components. They should also educate and incentivize their staff at all levels to ensure high quality gender equality projects are being done.

Gender equality means less food insecurity, better health outcomes, fairer and more inclusive economies, and more stable nations. It is critical that donors and governments take action now to ensure that everyone is included, valued, heard, and has power in the development and humanitarian aid and finance they provide.

Download our research report to learn more.

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