Chapter 7. Governance frameworks to support gender equality

This chapter explores how public governance frameworks to support gender equality can accelerate implementation of the 2030 Agenda. Achieving gender equality is a complex, transversal and multidimensional task. It requires the involvement and buy-in from all government actors as well as a broad array of stakeholders across society. An intersectional governance approach is critical to implement gender equality while addressing economic, social, political and environmental aspects of gender gaps at the global, national and local levels. This goes hand-in-hand with the call to leave no one behind, which requires policy coordination and coherence across all dimensions of sustainable development in order to reduce global inequality – both within and between countries.


Gender equality as a cross-cutting enabler of SDG implementation

Gender equality is both a goal in itself in the 2030 Agenda (SDG 5) and a cross-cutting catalyst for accelerating progress in nearly every other SDG, from tackling poverty and malnutrition, to improving children’s education and health and supporting more sustainable consumption patterns (UN Women, 2018[1]). The SDGs have set a far-reaching agenda to advance gender equality and empower all women and girls to achieve sustainable development and to mainstream gender in other goals through the development of gender-sensitive sectoral indicators.

Despite increasing political commitment and growing political awareness of the gender equality imperative, its effective realisation remains undermined by many factors, including cultural barriers and stereotypes, and insufficient institutional capacity. Progress in closing gender gaps has been very slow and gender gaps have even widened in some countries. While in many countries the income and labour market participation gap between women and men has decreased in recent decades, gender inequality persists – to varying degrees – in education, employment, entrepreneurship and public life. When women do work, they are more likely to work part-time and work for lower pay. On average, gender pay gaps across OECD countries remains at about 15% at the median, and little change has been recorded in recent years. Within public administrations, which often have a better gender balance than the private sector, women continue to be over-represented in low-level job categories and part time work.

The new digital context, characterised by disruptive technologies and big data, brings about new gender-related challenges: while digital technologies could give better opportunities to all, they can also expand the scale of persisting gender inequalities, and create new divides. OECD research shows that barriers to access, affordability of digital technologies, lack of education as well as inherent biases and socio-cultural norms curtail women’s and girls’ ability to benefit from the opportunities offered by the digital transformation (OECD, 2018[2]).

Furthermore, violence against women and discrimination of women in law (e.g. inheritance) and social norms (e.g. spousal responsibilities) also remain a challenge for many societies.

Although women are often at the losing end of structural gender inequality, the cultural norms and stereotypes are simultaneously creating problems for men and boys, such as underdiagnosed mental health problems, addiction and alcohol abuse, and use of violence as a masculinity expression.

Public governance dimensions of gender equality in the context of the SDGs

Achieving gender equality is a complex, transversal and multidimensional task. From governments’ perspective, it requires the involvement and buy-in from all actors as well as a broad array of stakeholders across society. In addition, given the diversity within the male and female groups and intersecting identity factors, (e.g. related to age, geography, culture, income, disability, ethnicity, etc.), an intersectional governance approach is critical to implement gender equality while addressing economic, social, political and environmental aspects of gender gaps at the global, national and local levels.

Three main pillars of sound public governance are critical for achieving SDG 5: first, understanding and mapping the interactions between gender equality and other goals; second, implementing gender equality in the public sector and legislation; and third, supporting whole-of-society efforts to support girls’ and women’s empowerment and address discrimination in social norms and unconscious biases.

A whole-of-government approach is needed to identify, measure, address and monitor the many interactions between gender equality and the different SDGs, such as those related to multidimensional poverty, education, health, infrastructure, the environment or climate action.

Yet, many countries face challenges to effectively implement their broader gender equality strategies, including to achieve SDG 5. As outlined in the recent Baseline Report for the 2015 OECD Recommendation on Gender Equality in Public Life (hereafter “the Baseline Report”), some of the key barriers include limited support and enforceability of gender strategies, limited monitoring frameworks and limited buy-in and ownership in line ministries (OECD, 2019[3]).

Developing an SDG-aligned governance framework to support gender equality

Fostering public governance dimensions of gender equality in support of the SDGs can accelerate progress. The 2015 OECD Recommendation on Gender Equality in Public Life provides guidance and tools to adopt a whole-of-government institutional framework and effective public governance processes to drive gender equality objectives forward. These include strategic planning, vertical and horizontal coordination, citizen engagement, evidence-based decision-making, and accountability in the field of gender equality. Making progress in these areas is expected to have positive externalities for improved public governance more generally, hence also supporting the implementation of other SDGs more effectively, and in a gender-sensitive manner. Four specific measures could accelerate progress:

Developing a gender equality strategy and integrating it into the broader SDG agenda

Firstly, a gender equality strategy can provide a policy umbrella under which gender mainstreaming and targeted initiatives meet to advance society-wide goals for gender equality (OECD, 2018[4]). A number of countries recognise that the absence of strategic planning stands as a top barrier to effectively implementing gender equality priorities. On average, 75% (12 out of 16) of OECD countries have some form of gender equality framework – currently in force – at the central or federal levels which lays out whole-of-government strategic objectives in the area of gender equality. The Baseline Report finds that many gender equality strategies are still being implemented in an isolated way. Full integration of gender equality strategies into national strategies, government programmes and strategic planning systems is critical for moving forward (Box ‎7.1). The SDG Framework can be used to achieve this full integration between gender and other policy goals or SDGs. This has already been done in some cases where countries have strategically integrated national gender equality strategies into their SDGs agenda and achieve faster progress.

Institutional frameworks for gender equality

It is important to differentiate between gender equality institutions that are located within Centres of Government (CoG) and are mandated to oversee the implementation and rigour of gender mainstreaming efforts, including gender impact assessments as part of national SDG strategies, and other gender institutions (e.g. based in Ministries of Social Affairs).

Box ‎7.1. Integrating national gender equality strategies into SDG agendas

As part of its Policy for Global Development, Sweden has made gender equality a core priority of its national strategy, identifying gender equality budgeting as a strategic tool to meet Goal 5 and thus ensure the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. In Mexico, gender mainstreaming has been incorporated as a transversal requirement in the realisation of the National Development Plan.

In the context of its Gender and LGBTI Equality Policy Plan 2018-2021, the Netherlands is currently working on implementing SDG 5 through the introduction of a quality requirement ‘Effects on gender equality’. Part of the government-wide Integral Assessment Framework (IAK), this requirement intends to map out the nature and scope of the consequences of intended policy and regulations for gender equality in the Netherlands. The elaboration of the quality requirement ‘Effects on gender equality’ is available online since January 2019.

Similar initiatives also take place outside of OECD countries. Paraguay targeted gender mainstreaming in SDG implementation through establishing gender equality as a cross-cutting priority in its National Development Plan Paraguay 2030 (PND 2030). Kenya identified gender mainstreaming as a central strategy for development policies. As a result, Kenya made progress in developing and enhancing methodologies for measuring different forms of gender-based discrimination, including on unpaid care work, notably through time-use surveys.

Source: (OECD, 2019[3]) and 2018 Paraguay Voluntary National Review (Government of Paraguay, 2018).

CoGs play a strategic role in helping to identify the implementation gaps, establishing effective accountability and performance frameworks, and ensuring that gender equality and diversity lenses are mainstreamed in all government decision-making processes. They take almost exclusive responsibility for coordinating the preparation of cabinet meetings and policy coordination across government and thus stand as critical players in advancing society-wide gender equality and diversity goals. Such a governance approach ensures a closer alignment with the broader SDG agenda especially if the CoG is also in charge of the latter.

Overall, specific mandates for CoGs to support the advancement of gender mainstreaming remain very limited across the OECD and there is scope to strengthen the role of the CoG to support gender mainstreaming while contributing to the government priority setting, planning, managing performance, organising the government, and communication and engagement.

Other governmental gender institutions are often more isolated. An overview of institutional arrangements for gender equality indicate that over one third of countries continue to address gender equality issues within the remit of the social policy sphere, often resulting in limited opportunities to influence a whole-of-government response to gender equality needs which permeates all policy spheres. Nevertheless, there is an overall trend towards their increased visibility, and increased integration with the CoG (Box ‎7.2).

Box ‎7.2. Gender institutions in selected OECD countries

In 2013, Australia’s Office for Women was moved under the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. Similar restructuring took place in Austria, Czech Republic and France since 2014 and a similar reform is being discussed in Iceland. In 2015, Chile established its first Ministry dedicated to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment. In 2018, the Government of Canada committed to formalise Status of Women Canada as an official department with increased resource-base. Sweden established its first Gender Equality Agency to contribute to strategic, coherent and sustainable governance and effective implementation of gender equality policy, and Spain has established the Ministry of the Presidency, Relations with the Cortes and Equality (gender equality issues were previously under the remit of the Ministry of Health, Social Services and Equality).

Source: OECD (2019[3]), Fast Forward to Gender Equality: Mainstreaming, Implementation and Leadership,

Gender mainstreaming

Gender mainstreaming is a powerful strategy to guide the whole-of-government process of promoting gender equality. The 2030 Agenda encourages governments to align their national strategies with the overall implementation of the SDGs, including through the design of dedicated national action plans with gender-sensitive considerations.

However, the sluggish progress in gender equality calls for a renewed, more strategic and integrated push to advance its implementation and testing innovative ways to enhance its intended effects. It also requires particular attention to the baseline of structural policies, regulations, budgets, and procurement processes to remove deeply rooted gender norms and stereotypes (UN Women, 2018[1]).

The OECD Recommendation on Gender Equality in Public Life promotes a dual approach to advancing gender mainstreaming: first, through the application of gender impact assessments (GIAs) beyond primary legislations to cover the full extent of the decision-making cycle; and, secondly, through the use of government tools such as public procurement, regulatory cycle; and budgeting. Use of GIAs from the earliest states of the decision-making cycle is critical: experiences from OECD countries show that GIAs can yield meaningful results only if the routine decision-making processes allow for adequate timeframes for incorporating evidence and analysis to guide the decision-making.

Although OECD countries report increasingly using GIA practices to evaluate the implications of proposed policies, programmes, regulations and budget allocations on men and women, their application in policies, regulations and government programmes remain less common. Likewise, about half of OECD countries report using or planning to introduce gender budgeting but such practice is still not routine elements of policy-making in OECD countries. There is scope for broader use of GIAs in national SDG strategies to achieve better outcomes (Box ‎7.3).

There is growing awareness of the importance of gender equality considerations within public procurement policy (Box ‎7.4). The integration of gender consideration in public procurement is promoted by the 2030 Agenda: countries are expected to mainstream gender equality across all SDGs and targets, including in the promotion of sustainable public procurement practices in accordance with national policies and priorities (SDG 12.7). However, there is still large scope to reflect on ways in which to harvest these opportunities in the area of gender equality. Public procurement offers a number of opportunities to allow equal access to entrepreneurship while using taxpayers’ money efficiently.

Box ‎7.3. Gender mainstreaming in Spain and Nigeria

The Government of Andalusia, Spain, has presented, as part of its 2018 Budget Bill, its Gender Impact Assessment Report. The report is an ex ante evaluation of the resources that the Government of Andalusia allocated to the promotion of gender equality. The Report, together with G+ Program and Gender Budgeting Audits, are the main elements of the gender budgeting strategy in the Andalusian region.

In Nigeria, the presidency has developed a country transition strategy, which aims to “rigorously integrate the SDGs to ensure that the goals inspire commitment”. Accordingly, and in line with SDG 5, Nigeria committed to gender data use by establishing a sex-disaggregated gender budgeting framework in order to achieve SDG 1 on poverty.

Source: (OECD, 2019[3]) and 2017 Nigeria Voluntary National Review (Government of Nigeria, 2017).

Box ‎7.4. Gender-sensitive public procurement in selected OECD countries

Korea and the United States facilitate finance for women entrepreneurs by improving their access to public procurement markets with special provisions for contracting with women-led businesses. Additionally, the U.S. Government established a government-wide women-owned small business (WOSB) contracting goal, identified as a percentage of total annual contract spending, of 5%. In order to help achieve this goal, contracting officials are authorized to set-aside procurements for WOSBs. Set-asides are procurements in which the business would compete only among other WOSBs (rather than competing against any and all businesses in a full and open competition).

Another approach to bring gender equality considerations into public procurement is to apply broader gender impact assessment requirements in the case of public procurement. In Belgium, the Gender Mainstreaming Act provides for the integration of the gender dimensions into the procedure for awarding public contracts. Sweden is an example of countries that use the principle of non-discrimination as a basis to support gender mainstreaming in public procurement. Regulation in turn is a critical instrument in the hands of government to act and influence behaviours. In this sense, it can have effects on the advancement of gender equality outcomes for better or for worse. Recognising the key role of regulations, the OECD stresses that using good regulatory practices is critical to promote inclusive and gender-sensitive policy. In Canada, the Directive on Regulatory Management requires regulatory organisations to identify parties that may be interested in or affected by a regulatory proposal and to provide these parties with opportunities to take part in open and meaningful consultations at all stages of the regulatory process.

Source: OECD (2019[3]), Fast Forward to Gender Equality: Mainstreaming, Implementation and Leadership,

Reporting, monitoring and evaluation of gender equality strategies

Although effective gender and diversity mainstreaming requires active and systematic engagement of all public agencies and line departments, these institutions often lack resources, capacities, awareness and know-how. Driving change on the ground calls for effective communication of research and monitoring results at both the highest political levels and grassroots levels.

Importantly, effective assessment of gender impacts requires gathering and using reliable evidence disaggregated by gender and other intersectional characteristics. In line with the 2015 OECD Recommendation on Gender Equality in Public Life, the 2030 Agenda recognises that “quality, accessible, timely and reliable disaggregated data will be needed to help with the measurement of progress and to ensure that no-one is left behind”. While OECD countries are advancing in this area, gaps persist across the full range of policy sectors (Box ‎7.5).

Box ‎7.5. Improving data availability in Latvia and Canada

The Action Plan for Gender Equality 2018-2020 in Latvia foresees an in-depth review of data-collection methods and mechanisms in employment, education and gender-based violence in order to define gaps as well as clear indicators for further data collection. In 2018, Canada committed to introduce a new Centre for Gender Diversity and Inclusion Statistics and an Indigenous Statistical Capacity Development Initiative to address gaps in the availability of data on gender and other intersecting identities.

Source: OECD (2019[3]), Fast Forward to Gender Equality: Mainstreaming, Implementation and Leadership,

Closing the gender gap requires an understanding of the actions and measures to see what is making a difference and what policies work for whom and under what circumstances. Yet, the overall understanding of the impacts of gender and inclusiveness mainstreaming and broader gender initiatives is limited at best. The budgeting constraints on countries are evident, and it is critical for ministers to be able to justify with a business case why there should be an extra investment in specific initiatives related to gender mainstreaming or budgeting. The data shows clearly that there are substantial economic gains to be made by increasing female economic participation. However, this does not always provide sufficient understanding of the impacts of individual initiatives to help guide policy and resource allocation choices. In Ireland, Cabinet procedures require policy proposals put to the government for approval to clearly indicate the impact of the proposal for gender equality.

Finally, part of creating a supportive institutional framework is having clear accountability measures. The Baseline Report found that many countries are still working on creating or improving a performance measurement framework for their gender equality strategies. CoGs need to play an important role in setting these measures, but effective accountability and oversight should come from independent institutions and civil society as well, which is, for example, the case in Canada and Iceland.

Box ‎7.6. Role of central agencies in selected OECD countries

In Canada, central agencies (i.e. Privy Council Office, Treasury Board Secretariat and Department of Finance) provide a “gatekeeper” function, in ensuring that requirements in relation to gender-based policy analysis are upheld, as well as a “challenge” function with regard to the questions of analytical rigour and quality (OECD, 2018[4]). In Japan, the Standing Committees on Cabinet in both houses (which are, among others, responsible for the gender equality agenda) debated a bill on the promotion and advancement of women in the workplace which received a broad-based support within the National Diet which led to its adoption. Parliaments and Parliamentary committees are also gatekeepers of the gender equality agenda in reviewing draft and existing legislation, and monitoring the activities of government through reviews and inquiries into programmes, policies, expenditure and appointments.

In addition, the importance of the role of Supreme Audit Institutions in gender equality is increasingly being recognised with a number of audits produced by these institutions on the implementation of SDGs (e.g. in Austria, Canada, the Czech Republic, Germany and Poland). In Canada and Sweden, audits by the SAIs have revealed and help remove barriers to gender mainstreaming. As a result of these audits, both countries have reformed gender mainstreaming structures to maximise performance and results.

Source: OECD (2018[4]), Gender Equality in Canada: Mainstreaming, Governance and Budgeting, and OECD (2019[3]), Fast Forward to Gender Equality: Mainstreaming, Implementation and Leadership,

Lessons learned from country experiences

Government frameworks that support gender equality are an important feature of SDG implementation, as shown in Annex G. In recent years, many countries have strengthened overall coordination for gender mainstreaming, and broadened the range of policy actions. For instance, the Government of Iceland recognises that gender equality is a continuous process and calls for whole-of-government attention to further boost inclusive outcomes in all policy areas, from education to access to labour markets to environmental protection. There is a comprehensive governance framework for gender mainstreaming including the Ministerial Committee on Equality, a Gender Unit, gender budgeting and Gender Impact Assessments. The government plans to move the existing Gender Unit from its current location in the Ministry of Welfare to a new home in the Prime Minister's Office in the beginning of 2019.

As part of the gender equality agenda, the Lithuanian government approved its National Programme on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men 2015-2021 in 2015, with priorities that are closely aligned with SDG 5. The Action Plan for 2018-2021 lays out the implementation of the Programme. It sets out concrete actions, implementation deadlines, responsible institutions, state budget allocations for each action, and assessment criteria. Almost all ministries are included in the implementation of the Action Plan where all priorities are enshrined.

In Kazakhstan, there is commitment at the highest political level to advance gender equality and important progress has been made in promoting women’s empowerment in public life. The new Strategy for Gender Equality adopts a dual approach to gender equality by embedding (mainstreaming) gender considerations in all policies, laws and specific measures. Additionally, some elements of gender responsive budgeting are seeded in the budgetary planning of some public entities.

Mexico has also put a gender perspective at the heart of its national development goals. The government is embedding gender equality objectives into the formulation, implementation and oversight of public policies, thus incorporating gender mainstreaming as a transversal requirement in the realisation of its National Development Plan.

A growing number of countries introduced whole-of-government strategies that outline a general course for achieving gender equality in support of SDG 5 and all other SDGs. Yet, these strategies often remain disconnected from the broader national development and policy frameworks and are rarely supported by clear targets and indicators.

Another challenge for governments is to take advantage of their tools to advance society-wide objectives on gender equality. A gender lens must be embedded in all policy-making, in all ministries and at all levels of government. While tools such as gender budgeting are quite common, more frequent strategic use of public procurement and regulatory policies could help address specific barriers faced by women from diverse backgrounds.

Many OECD countries are aware of the importance of gender budgeting as a tool to embed gender considerations in government decision-making. Yet, their use remains more common for ex-ante assessments of regulatory and legislative initiatives. Importantly, effective assessment of gender impacts requires gathering and using reliable evidence disaggregated by gender and other intersectional characteristics. While OECD countries advance efforts in this area, the gaps persist across the full range of policy sectors.

Finally, closing gaps in accessing decision-making positions calls for new approaches to addressing the roots of inequalities. Using insights from behavioural sciences bring an explicit focus on underlying norms and attitudes, which are critical influences on gender equality. Such approaches can also help focusing efforts to achieve results, while eliminating policies and initiatives that do not deliver the intended objectives.

Box ‎7.7. OECD contributions to support gender equality in SDG implementation

The OECD aims to help its members and partners to close the gender divide in public life within the framework of the 2015 OECD Recommendation on Gender Equality in Public Life. The OECD produced a policy implementation Toolkit for Mainstreaming and Implementing Gender Equality to provide countries with concrete guidelines in the implementation of the Recommendation.

Moreover, the OECD has developed four Gender in Governance Survey Tools for systematic and tailored data collection. Finally, to meet increasing country demands, the OECD is working towards developing innovative governance reviews for gender equality as well as case studies. These practical tools assist governments in delivering policies to their maximum impact and will support capacity building as part of the proposed Global Hub on the Governance for the SDGs.


[3] OECD (2019), Fast Forward to Gender Equality: Mainstreaming, Implementation and Leadership, OECD Publishing, Paris,

[2] OECD (2018), Bridging the Digital Gender Divide: Include, Upskill, Innovate, OECD, Paris,

[4] OECD (2018), Gender Equality in Canada: Mainstreaming, Governance and Budgeting, OECD Publishing, Paris,

[1] UN Women (2018), Turning Promises into Action: Gender Equality in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, United Nations, New York, (accessed on 31 May 2019).

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