Gender-related aid doubled over past decade, but equality remains a distant goal

26 June 2024

Aid for gender goals jumped from $26 billion to $52 billion in 10 years, primarily through loans and for projects where equality was a significant but not primary focus.

Yearly gender-related Official Development Assistance (ODA) to developing countries doubled over the past decade, reaching nearly $52 billion in 2022. The 1% growth that year stood out against an overall 2% decrease in aid to these countries.

Despite this progress, global gender equality remains a distant goal – 300 or so years away at the current rate. Halfway to the 2030 deadline, only two of the 14 indicators for the gender equality Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 5) on track. Bolder and more focused efforts are necessary.

UN Trade and Development (UNCTAD) estimates that an additional $360 billion per year is needed – equivalent to the size of economies like Colombia and Hong Kong, China. While aid alone can’t bridge this gap, it remains a crucial source for developing countries to address this funding shortfall.

Loans increase their share of gender-related aid but grants remain dominant

UN Trade and Development highlights a notable shift towards loans in gender-related aid. In 2012, they made up just 5.4% of such aid. By 2022, the share had risen almost six-fold to 30.1%. While grants remain the predominant form at nearly 70%, the growing reliance on loans raises financial concerns in developing countries already overburdened by debt.

The use of loans for gender-related aid needs careful management to avoid exacerbating financial pressures on recipient countries, as rising interest costs are already straining government budgets. In 2023, a record 54 developing nations dedicated at least 10% of revenues to debt interest payments.

Most sectors received aid through a mix of grants and loans. However, transport and storage were mainly financed through loans, while population policies, reproductive health, and peace and security relied solely on grants, which are crucial for sectors that do not yield short-term economic returns.

Only a fraction of gender-related aid focused primarily on equality

In 2022, 90% of the gender-related aid went to projects where gender equality was a significant but not the principal goal. Only a small share of the aid had gender equality as its primary objective.

Between 2012 and 2022, gender-related aid that had a primary objective other than gender equality more than doubled from $22 billion to $46 billion. Meanwhile, such aid that targeted primarily gender equality increased at a slower 34%, from $3.8 billion to $5.1 billion.

Sectoral shifts in gender-related aid

UN Trade and Development also highlights significant shifts in gender-related aid’s sectoral focus. In 2012, education received the highest share at 37%. By 2022, however, other sectors had passed it.

The transport, storage and communications sector saw the most significant increase, with its gender-related share of ODA rising from 5% to 39%. Conversely, health and commodity aid, including food assistance, saw a decline in focus on gender equality over the last decade.

These shifts underscore the need for balanced aid in order to achieve gender equality goals. Increased focus on sectors like transport and agriculture and rural development can enhance women's access to opportunities, but a declining focus on health could undermine gains in their well-being.

Funding gender equality is essential for achieving the inclusive world envisioned in the Sustainable Development Goals. Without stronger and more focused efforts, progress will stall, leaving gender disparities unresolved and hindering global development.