1. Leadership and policy frameworks for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls

Leadership commitment to gender equality and the full enjoyment of human rights by all women and girls and their empowerment, along with a sound policy framework recognising the importance of these issues, are cornerstones for an effective development co-operation programme that leaves no one behind.1

Gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls are universal goals in their own right, as explicitly set out in Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5 in the United Nations’ (UN) 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (2030 Agenda), the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), and the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. They are also an essential driver for sustainable development in all its dimensions and throughout the SDGs, and for leaving no one behind. Other key international frameworks in support of gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls include the UN Security Council Resolution on Women, Peace and Security. International processes such as the Commission on the Status of Women and the Generation Equality Forum help set the agenda on gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls. These processes and commitments provide a global framework for members of the OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) and other development partners to work towards gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.

Policy frameworks are often broadly sketched out, and it is important to understand and identify context-specific, thematic areas that can support the greatest need and maximise results on gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls. Policies, strategies and action plans intended to advance this agenda should identify and promote measures to eliminate systemic barriers, unequal power dynamics and social norms, and also support and advance safe, equitable and equal access to and control over resources and opportunities, and the full enjoyment of human rights, for all women and girls.

This Guidance aims to support DAC members2 and other development partners in their efforts to accelerate gender equality, the full enjoyment of human rights by all women and girls, and their empowerment. However, for ease of reading, the text most often refers to “DAC members” only, and to “gender equality” or “gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls”. In this document, the equality and empowerment of women and girls is largely discussed in relation to unbalanced power dynamics and the resulting inequalities between women and men. It recognises, however, that the concept of gender is a social construct. Not all individuals identify with the sex they were assigned at birth or with a binary concept of being a “woman” or a “man” (UNHCR, 2015[1]; WHO, n.d.[2]).

Political support amongst DAC members for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls amongst DAC members is strong. The COVID pandemic, with its wide-reaching socio-economic impact, has also demonstrated that all efforts to reinforce gender equality are critical to building back in a greener, gender equal and more sustainable manner (OECD, 2020[3]). DAC members’ most current development co-operation policies demonstrate that of the 30 members, 29 identify gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls as a policy priority.3 While the majority of DAC members have worked on gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls for decades, others have only recently started investing in this area and are in the process of developing their approach and support for gender equality.

DAC members are mainstreaming a gender equality perspective throughout their policies and strategies, in priority areas and sectors of development co-operation. Most DAC members have refined or rearticulated their policy approach to gender equality, moving towards a twin-track approach to both dedicated and mainstreamed support for gender equality (Chapter 3).4

It is good practice for DAC members to adopt a twin-track approach of both mainstreaming gender equality in policy, strategies and programming, and implementing targeted programmes dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.

The DAC expects its members’ policies to recognise “social, economic and environmental aspects of sustainable development; include a commitment to policy coherence for sustainable development; set out a clear approach to poverty reduction, reducing gender inequalities, and leaving no one behind (…)”. DAC members are also expected to have specific guidance “to integrate cross-cutting issues such as poverty, gender equality and women’s empowerment, human rights, environment and climate change, and conflict and fragility”. The DAC uses peer reviews to review these requirements through. The expectation is that members apply the DAC gender equality policy marker in reporting on official development assistance (ODA) to the OECD (Chapter 4). Furthermore, the OECD Recommendation of the Council on Gender Equality in Public Life recommends that adherents mainstream gender equality in the design, development, implementation and evaluation of relevant public policies and budgets (OECD, 2016[4]; OECD, 2018[5]).

A few DAC members have considerations of gender equality as a legal requirement for their international development (Box 1.1). Enshrining gender equality in legal frameworks on development co-operation has proven a helpful incentive and accountability tool (see also Chapter 6). Gender equality should also be integrated as a cross-cutting theme throughout development co-operation policy and strategy, and addressed in dedicated gender equality policies, action plans and tools.

DAC members should continue to promote gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls as a policy priority, and to anchor the work in strategic policy frameworks on development co-operation. When possible, this can be included within legislation on development co-operation, to withstand global challenges and changing political climates. This approach encourages a long-term sustained focus on gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls, counteracting potential and temporary political shifts and push-back against gender equality.

Clear connections with other development priorities are critical to considering complex challenges, and gender equality and other development goals are both interlinked and mutually reinforcing. For example, climate change and environmental degradation are often felt disproportionately by women for socio-economic and discriminatory reasons (OECD, 2021[6]). Some DAC members consider SDG5 and SDG13 on climate action in particular as essential to the success of the 2030 Agenda. These DAC members incorporate gender equality and climate action as cross-cutting priorities throughout their policies and strategies5 (for further discussion on mainstreaming gender equality, see Chapter 3).

Diplomacy and other areas of foreign policy offer opportunities to promote gender equality beyond development co-operation. This can produce synergies with development co-operation. This approach also reflects the broader trend of integrating development agencies into ministries in charge of foreign policy, as is the case in the UK, Canada and Australia.6

DAC members’ feminist foreign policies, differ in scope and approaches.7 No definition of what “feminist” implies in the framework of these policies has been agreed upon, and the scope and coverage of the policies vary (Thompson and Clement, 2019[7]). It is clear, though, that in addition to development co-operation, further impact can be achieved by advocating for gender equality through different channels of foreign policy. This offers one way to address persistent systemic barriers and dismantle discriminatory norms in all areas of action. Joint action with other DAC members, including through the DAC Network on Gender Equality, can also help leverage impact.

DAC members should aim to convey gender equality advocacy through different channels of foreign policy and diplomacy, including by working across ministries in a whole-of-government approach. Adopting feminist foreign policies or promoting feminist diplomacy, with effective follow-up and accountability frameworks in place, can help anchor these approaches, broaden the reach of this advocacy and attract additional partners and investments.

DAC members also contribute to agenda setting and policy making on gender equality at the international and regional level.

It is good practice that DAC members engage in the development of international standards and are actively involved in promoting the inclusion of a gender equality perspective in global and regional discussions.

These international and regional norms and standards then guide DAC members’ engagement on gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls, both domestically and in their foreign policy and development co-operation. CEDAW and the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action are among the most prominent international legal and policy instruments that focus on gender equality, and they recognise the linkages between development and gender equality.

DAC members have been involved in setting standards on gender equality in development co-operation, such as the 2019 DAC Recommendation on Ending Sexual Exploitation, Abuse and Harassment (SEAH) in Development Co-operation and Humanitarian Assistance [OECD/LEGAL/5020] (Chapter 6). A gender equality perspective is also mainstreamed throughout other DAC legal instruments. For example, the 2019 DAC Recommendation on the Humanitarian-Development-Peace Nexus [OECD/LEGAL/5019] (Humanitarian-Development-Peace Nexus) includes several references to gender equality.

The DAC Network on Gender Equality offers a space for DAC members to exchange views and information on these international and regional processes and potentially to develop common positions.

Many DAC members recognise multiple rationales for working on gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls. They note the intrinsic value of gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls as the right thing to do. Women around the world at present have fewer opportunities, earn less, face more barriers, and endure more violence and harassment than men. Gender equality is a fundamental human right. DAC members also recognise that addressing gender inequalities can both enhance the competitiveness and sustainability of economies in partner countries and increase the effectiveness and sustainability of development co-operation – taking a more instrumentalist approach to gender equality, which is helpful in convincing actors or individuals that place less importance on the human rights argument. Some DAC members also identify, as one of the reasons for working on gender equality in development, that gender equality must be addressed collectively as a global issue and that it is a core value of their own democracies as well.

It is good practice for DAC members to recognise multiple rationales for working on gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls, including the fact that it is both the right thing and the smart thing to do. For maximum human rights and sustainable development impact, it is important to recognise that achieving meaningful and transformative results for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls requires addressing root causes, including unequal power dynamics, harmful social norms and systemic barriers.

DAC members’ overarching policy focus on gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls in development has increased over the past 15 years, including among the more recent DAC members.8 The majority of DAC members have adopted a dedicated strategy or policy on gender equality specific to development co-operation, most of which are overseen by members’ ministries of foreign affairs or development co-operation. Some of these frameworks have taken the form of Gender Action Plans.9 Other DAC members have elevated their approach to gender equality as a priority area by implementing a feminist foreign policy (Box 1.2).

Several converging factors are identified as having contributed to the enhanced commitment to gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls. The 2030 Agenda and SDG5 in particular, have been crucial to such commitments. A few members attribute the increased focus to the results of an audit on gender equality as a part of the implementation of a new or updated development policy, strategy or action plan. Increased international and political interest and subsequent increases in funding are other reasons noted.

To maintain and increase commitment to gender equality, DAC members can use and draw on the 2030 Agenda, which offers a common implementation and accountability framework at the international level.

The Action Coalitions set up and the commitments made in the context of the 2021 Generation Equality Forum – an initiative to strengthen implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action – can also be helpful to maintain momentum for gender equality.

Thematic priorities for gender equality are usually established to address key barriers to women’s and girls’ empowerment in areas where progress has been slow or has been reversed. Some DAC members with a well-established, long-term focus on gender equality may be able to promote gender equality throughout a range of thematic priorities. However, for small and new DAC members, it may be more advantageous to identify their comparative strength and to single out a limited number of areas for more focused support for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.

DAC members should consider comparative advantages and opportunities when defining the thematic priorities of the gender equality policy, and focus on thematic areas where progress is slow or reversing.

A range of priority areas need to be addressed in working towards gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls. This section addresses in more detail the thematic areas identified as a priority by the largest number of DAC members in the survey: women’s economic empowerment; fragility, women, peace and security and humanitarian assistance; and gender-based violence.10 This section is intended as an illustration of some thematic priorities and does not imply that other thematic areas are less important for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.

DAC members’ focus on women’s economic empowerment in development co-operation is a key response to rising poverty levels and the feminisation of poverty. Enhancing women’s economic empowerment is often a prerequisite for other gender equality goals, such as women’s participation, sexual and reproductive health and rights, and ending gender-based violence. Economically empowering women has the potential to create more competitive and sustainable economies. It has been estimated that if women participated in the economy at the rate men do, USD 28 trillion, or 26%, would be added to annual global GDP in 2025, compared with a business-as-usual scenario (McKinsey Global Institute, 2015[8]).

Because there is no agreed definition of women’s economic empowerment11 and the scope of women’s economic empowerment is so broad, most members also address multiple sub-themes of this thematic priority within their policies, the most common of which are “entrepreneurship”, “decent work”, “access to and control over, resources”, “private sector and economic leadership”, and “agriculture and rural development”. Some DAC members have also adopted separate strategies, action plans or policies to specifically address women’s economic empowerment (OECD, 2022[9]). Some DAC members see the decent work agenda, which includes employment creation, rights at work, social protection and social dialogue, as integral parts of the work on women’s economic empowerment, linking up with International Labour Organization legal instruments that focus on gender equality.

Many DAC members also recognise the importance of addressing unpaid care work as a major barrier to women’s economic empowerment, especially in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic (OECD, 2019[10]).

To advance women’s economic empowerment through thematic prioritisation, DAC members can align with the seven key “drivers for transformation” identified by the UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment (UN Women, 2016[11]; UN Women, 2017[12]). These drivers are: Tackling adverse norms and promoting positive role models; Ensuring legal protection and reforming discriminatory laws and regulations; Recognising, reducing and redistributing unpaid work and care; Building assets – Digital, financial and property; Changing business culture and practice; Improving public sector practices in employment and procurement; Strengthening visibility, collective voice and representation.

DAC members’ bilateral aid to the economic and productive sectors that integrate gender equality is steadily increasing (OECD, 2021[13]). However, a comparison between financing of sub-themes of economic empowerment and political commitments to these sub-themes shows mixed results. For example, the development co-operation and gender equality policies of many DAC members mention banking and business as a thematic priority, but significant scope remains to increase their investments in gender equality in these sectors.

It is good practice for DAC members to align their policy commitments with financial allocations in support of women’s economic empowerment.

DAC members’ focus on preventing and addressing gender based-violence (GBV)12 is much needed, since there is a very high prevalence of GBV around the world – a serious human rights violation. The increased and pervasive prevalence of online GBV contributes to this, fuelled by a sense of impunity due to an absence of effective measures to address and impede these actions (Aziz, 2017[14]). There are many forms of violence that fall under the umbrella of GBV. GBV is considered to be any harmful act towards an individual based on their gender, a term that is also meant to be broad because of the diversity of perpetrated acts of violence that emerge from unequal power dynamics and gender norms. GBV includes but is not limited to sexual violence, trafficking for sexual purposes, intimate partner violence, dowry-related violence, femicide, forced impregnation, preference for male children, child marriage, and female genital mutilation and cutting (Garcia-Moreno et al., 2013[15]). The deprivation of access to resources, education, or services can also be regarded as acts of violence in and of themselves, in addition to the fact that they reinforce the subjugation of victims. Efforts to address and end GBV are intrinsically linked with other thematic priorities for gender equality, such as sexual and reproductive health and rights.

On average, over one-third of all women globally have experienced a form of violence in their lifetime, with differences between regions and countries (WHO, 2021[16]). There is no single cause of GBV, but global research shows that entrenched social norms that result in power imbalances and gender inequality are among the most persistent drivers (OECD, 2020[17]). Additionally, GBV transpires in all societies as a means of subjugation, manipulation and control that propagates and fortifies gender inequality. To achieve gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls, GBV must be addressed.

Women and girls make up the vast majority of survivors of GBV, but men and boys also experience such violence, which remains a taboo subject in many societies. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and asexual, plus other self-identifying members of the community (LGBTQIA+13) persons in particular are at high risk.

DAC members’ programmes often focus on changing negative masculine behaviour through outreach and dialogue activities, ensuring high-quality services to victims of GBV; and strengthening institutional capacity to implement laws and policies on ending gender-based violence. DAC members should seek to employ both prevention and response measures within their policies and programmes dedicated to GBV, in order to address this issue effectively. Members’ policies should take care to adopt a “Do no harm” approach and utilise survivor-centred and evidence-based strategies in responding to violence and supporting survivors. DAC members can also employ a variety of approaches that challenge societal gender roles and norms, shift power imbalances and interrupt patterns of behaviour that enable GBV. To effectively address gender-based violence, DAC members should also consider the distinct experiences of those whose converging identities disproportionately increase their likelihood of being targeted with violence that seeks to enforce discriminatory gender norms.

DAC members’ commitments to addressing, and ending, GBV is mirrored in the inclusion of a dedicated statistical code in the OECD’s Creditor Reporting System to monitor aid aimed to end violence against women and girls (VAWG) (Chapter 4).

DAC members have also demonstrated their increased commitment to addressing GBV through the adoption of the DAC Recommendation on Ending Sexual Exploitation, Abuse, and Harassment in Development Co-operation and Humanitarian Assistance (OECD, 2019[18]).

Since SEAH is a form of gender-based violence, implementing the six pillars of the DAC Recommendation is instrumental in the efficacy of a multilateral response to this global issue (Chapter 6).

DAC members’ attention to gender equality in fragile contexts14, humanitarian assistance, and women, peace and security is in line with the fact that gender inequalities are one of the root causes of conflict and fragility. Addressing these inequalities and putting women at the centre of conflict prevention, conflict resolution and peacebuilding is crucial for building more stable and peaceful societies (Goemans, Koester and Loudon, 2021[22]). The 20th anniversary of UN Resolution 1325 generated important momentum for DAC members to renew/make commitments on this agenda.

However, the share of humanitarian assistance contributing to gender equality remains low, and calls have been made to increase the funding that goes directly to women’s rights organisations (WROs) in fragile contexts.

The 2019 DAC Humanitarian-Development-Peace (HDP) Nexus Recommendation actively supports the women, peace and security (WPS) agenda, and a gender equality perspective is mainstreamed throughout the Recommendation. It calls on adherents to engage in gender-sensitive design and implementation of humanitarian, development and peacebuilding actions with an informed understanding of SEAH risks. As adherents continue to implement the Recommendation, attention to the gender-specific aspects can be further reflected in members’ implementation strategies.15 In addition, there is also opportunity to link the implementation of the Nexus Recommendation with the implementation of the SEAH Recommendation, which is particularly relevant in fragile contexts that face additional constraints in preventing and responding to SEAH. The SEAH Recommendation applies to both development co-operation and humanitarian assistance, which brings into play the need to address SEAH across the three HDP nexus pillars.

There are opportunities for DAC members to clarify their position and discourse around the WPS agenda, the HDP Nexus and gender equality in fragile contexts, so that it is clear that these agendas are linked. To help address and co-ordinate efforts surrounding these issues across the HDP Nexus, 98 UN member states have adopted at least one NAP on Women, Peace and Security (UN Women, 2021[23]). As the responsibility for these agendas is often held by different institutions in member countries (e.g. the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Development Agency, Ministry of Defence16), this would require increased collaboration between institutions at country and headquarters level. There is also a need to better connect discussions on humanitarian assistance, development co-operation, peacebuilding/keeping and gender equality at the international level, bringing together different communities of experts.

DAC members can strengthen collaboration between gender equality and conflict and fragility/humanitarian experts within their institutions, to ensure gender equality objectives are being met within humanitarian/fragility strategies and programming.17

In addition to the three thematic areas addressed above, “women’s participation, leadership and political empowerment” and “sexual and reproductive health and rights” were other priorities frequently mentioned by members. Both locally and globally, women’s leadership and political participation are restricted and underrepresented. Due to discriminatory laws, practices, stereotypes and lack of access to opportunities, women face obstacles to running for political office and obtaining leadership positions, marginalising them and further reinforcing gender inequality (UN Women, n.d.[25]). The participation, or lack of participation, of women in decision making directly affects the scope of policy issues addressed and the approaches to resolving them (Pepera, 2018[26]). Meaningful and equal participation of women in political life and in leadership in all sectors, including leadership of women’s rights organisations, is a prerequisite for achieving the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. The Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in 1994 recognised that reproductive rights embrace existing human rights and that sexual and reproductive health and rights are central to health, well-being and development. This issue is also essential in humanitarian and other types of emergencies. However, opposition to SRHR in global forums has increased (Gilby, Koivusalo and Atkins, 2021[27]), inviting an increased policy focus on these issues by many DAC members. The Nairobi Statement on ICPD25 (ICPD25, 2019[28]) provides a global framework for the formulation of government and partner commitments essential for supporting gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.

A number of other thematic areas are equally as important in achieving gender equality as the ones addressed in this section, which highlights some examples based on DAC members’ policies.

DAC members are explicitly identifying “transformative” change in their policies as the route to gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls. This suggests that there is engagement amongst DAC members on challenging gender power relations and social norms, as is needed to achieve true and sustainable gender equality (Rao and Sandler, 2021[29]; ATVET for Women project, 2019[30]). This is particularly true for those members that have had a well-established, long-term policy focus on gender equality.18

There are multiple definitions and contextual differences that determine how transformative change can help achieve gender equality, but a basic premise is that sustained change requires transforming unequal power relations and the harmful structures and norms – both visible and invisible – that uphold them, and addressing the root causes of inequalities (Hillenbrand et al., 2015[31]). The most successful and transformative results for gender equality will involve shifting patriarchal practices, norms and values deeply held by women and men alike.

It can be harmful to work within existing social and cultural systems and thus perpetuate existing gender stereotypes of women, girls, men and boys. Conversely, it is important to recognise and strengthen positive norms that support equality and an enabling environment – with the end goal of achieving gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.

A useful framework for examining gender-transformative change looks at change across three key dimensions:

  • Agency: individual and collective capacities (knowledge and skills), attitudes, critical reflection, assets, actions and access to services

  • Relations: the expectations and co-operative or negotiation dynamics embedded in relationships between people in the home, market, community, and groups and organisations

  • Structures: the informal and formal institutional rules that govern collective, individual and institutional practices, such as context, social norms, recognition and status19 (see Chapter 2 for a list of suggested monitoring indicators mapped against these three dimensions).

Changing gender norms and power relations is challenging and needs to involve societal structures and mechanisms, as well as communities, specific groups in a population, and individuals (Finland, 2018[32]). It is important to engage with those whose realities should inform change. A variety of mechanisms can be used to achieve this, including participatory approaches, theories of change, gender analysis and localisation efforts, to gain a contextual understanding of local circumstances (OECD, 2018[33]) (See Chapter 2).

DAC members should consider approaches to supporting transformative change for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls, including encouraging an environment where power imbalances between stakeholders are recognised and levelled. This also includes working with local civil society organisations based in partner countries, and in particular women’s rights organisations, and engaging with men and boys and with youth.

This is addressed in more detail in Chapter 3. The link between the institutional learning agenda and organisational buy-in is also crucial to the success of any transformative approach to supporting gender equality (Chapter 6).

A helpful tool for thinking about transformative change, and for identifying what type of impact a development intervention may have, is the gender equality continuum. The continuum categorises gender equality objectives and impacts on a scale:

  • Gender “negative” or “exploitative”: causes harm, implies a risk

  • Gender “blind”, “neutral” or “accommodating”: ignores and works around existing gender inequalities, but in the process, possibly perpetuates them

  • Gender “sensitive” or “aware”: considers gender inequalities

  • Gender “responsive” or “positive”: strengthens gender equality

  • Gender “transformative”: changes gender norms and power relations.20

See Annex 1.A for more resources around the gender equality continuum. An alternative framework differentiate between 1) do no harm, 2) empowerment – strengthen women and girls’ knowledge, access and opportunities, and 3) transformation – changing power relations (DfID & FCO, 2019[34]). The empowerment of women and girls is a critical aspect and a means of achieving gender equality. It is not sufficient, however, for transformative change for gender equality. Gender equality is not the sole responsibility of women and girls.

The theory of “intersectionality” suggests that social identifiers such as race, ethnicity, faith, socio-economic status, class, caste, geographic location, age, ability, sexual orientation, religion, migration status and gender come together – or intersect – to result in an individual’s lived experience (Bowleg, 2012[36]). Intersectional strategies encourage approaches that respond to the compounding dimensions of vulnerability and discrimination that must be considered to increase gender equality. In addition, the interests and priorities of individuals will vary widely.

It is good practice for DAC members to take intersectional inequalities into account. DAC members can ensure that resources and opportunities are provided and barriers are removed, so as to enable the equality, empowerment and human rights of all individuals.

There are three prominently recurring priorities for DAC members working on inequalities that intersect with gender21: the equality and rights of LGBTQIA+ individuals, women and girls who live with disabilities, and women and girls of ethnic or racial minorities.22 These three priorities are addressed in more detail below.

It is important to recognise the challenges in implementing an intersectional approach while also ensuring a focus on women’s rights and gender equality. In the context of the “leave no one behind” agenda, misinterpretations of intersectionality that incite problematic practices, such as tokenisation, single-issue interventions and identity politics, risk undermining solidarity and fueling an individualistic approach to injustice and discrimination and also ignore the structural nature of inequalities. The necessary focus on interlinked entrenched systems of oppression and marginalisation may be lost in lists of intersecting “categories” to address (GAD Network, 2017[37]).

DAC members should recognise that women and girls, and men and boys, are not homogenous groups. Policies and approaches should be developed or adjusted to equitably advance gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls – and thus leave no one behind.

Not all individuals identify with a binary concept of sex or gender categories of male and female. Gender identity and expression refer to a person’s deeply felt, internal and individual experience of gender, which may or may not correspond to the person’s physiology or designated sex at birth (WHO, n.d.[2]). Additional cultural expressions of gender exist in some regions (Pacific Women, 2021[38]).

Gender norms contribute to the discrimination, marginalisation and violence faced by LGBTQIA+ persons. The protection of individuals on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and sex characteristics implies extending the same rights to LGBTQIA+ persons as those enjoyed by everyone else, by virtue of international human rights standards (OECD, 2020[39]) The human rights of LGBTQIA+ individuals as set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are often not protected or realised, and many LGBTQIA+ and women’s rights organisations work across movements to combat threats to their rights, creating opportunities to build solidarity (Madrigal-Borloz, 2021[40]; Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice, 2019[41]). LGBTQIA+ inclusion can be conducive to the emergence of less restrictive gender norms and can help accelerate gender equality (OECD, 2020[39]).

The fact that LGBTQIA+ persons are one of the most exposed and persecuted groups also incurs a host of political and ethical challenges for DAC members as development partners. In some contexts, gender equality advocates have made the strategic choice of delinking women’s rights from issues around gender identity and the inclusion of LGBTQIA+ communities. DAC members, however, need to consider carefully the possibilities for supporting all individuals’ human rights, as well as the harm that may be caused if neglected.

As society progresses and grows, definitions and language also evolve. Similarly, an understanding of the impact that words and language can have has changed.23

DAC members should aim to use language in their policies that encapsulates and represents the entirety of the population for whom the policies are designed.

The population of nearly every nation includes people who constitute ethnic or racial minorities (OHCHR, n.d.[42]). Guided by the nearly universally ratified International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, countries have increasingly dismantled or abolished racist social and legal practices. While a number of international agreements address the need to understand and address the discrimination against, and the realities of, minority women, there is still much work to be done to link these mechanisms to advance the empowerment of this population (United Nations, n.d.[43]). For example, for many indigenous communities, the sustainable use of natural resources, along with clarification of property rights over land and water, is not just a question of human rights, but also of survival (OECD, 2021[6]).

It is estimated that 15% of the global population has at least one form of disability, a percentage that is even higher in many developing countries (WHO, 2011[44]). The number of girls and women with disabilities is substantial, and the vulnerability to violence of women and girls with disabilities is compounded, due to their “social exclusion, limited mobility, lack of support structures, communication barriers and negative social perceptions” (Plan International, 2013[45]). Due to the complex interface between pervasive gendered oppression and disability status, persons with disabilities face numerous additional barriers to accessing basic needs such as housing, employment, social safety nets and education (World Bank, 2021[46]). The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), adopted in 2006, recognises that women and girls with disabilities are, at times of instability as well as peace, at a heightened risk of experiencing violence, abuse, “negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation” (UN DESA, 2006[47]).

Full realisation of gender equality requires that women and girls with disabilities be able to equitably and fully participate in all social, economic and political structures of society. It is thus good practice for DAC members to use participatory methods that facilitate and strengthen the inclusion of voices from concerned communities at all stages of policy and programme cycles. This can help ensure that the barriers they face, and their experiences and needs, are considered and addressed.


[41] Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice (2019), Feminist Funding Principles, http://astraeafoundation.org/microsites/feminist-funding-principles/#one.

[30] ATVET for Women project (2019), Gender-Transformative Change in Agricultural Technical Vocational Education and Training for Women (ATVET4W), https://www.giz.de/en/downloads/giz2020_en_Gender-Transformative_Change.pdf.

[14] Aziz, Z. (2017), Due Diligence and Accountability for Online Violence Against Women, the Due Diligence Project, http://duediligenceproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/Paper-on-Due-Diligence-and-Accountability-for-Online-Violence-against-Women-make-this-active-link.pdf (accessed on 11 October 2021).

[36] Bowleg, L. (2012), “The Problem with the Phrase Women and Minorities: Intersectionality - An Important Theoretical Framework for Public Health”, American Journal of Public Health, Vol. 102/7, pp. 1267-1273, https://doi.org/10.2105/ajph.2012.300750.

[34] DfID & FCO (2019), ‘How To’ Guidance Note on Gender Equality: A Practical Guide to Integrating Gender Equality into DFID and HMG Policy and Programming (internal document), Department for International Development and Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

[21] EU and United Nations (n.d.), The Spotlight Initiative, https://spotlightinitiative.org/.

[32] Finland (2018), Evaluation on Improvement of Women’s and Girls’ rights in Finland’s Development Policy and Cooperation, Finland Abroad website, https://finlandabroad.fi/web/som/current-affairs/-/asset_publisher/h5w4iTUJhNne/content/evaluation-improvement-of-women-s-and-girls-rights-in-finland-s-development-policy-and-cooperation/384998 (accessed on 17 June 2021).

[37] GAD Network (2017), Intersectionality: Reflections from the Gender & Development Network, https://gadnetwork.org/gadn-resources/2017/11/20/intersectionality-reflections-from-the-gender-development-network.

[15] Garcia-Moreno, C. et al. (2013), Global and regional estimates of violence against women: prevalence and health effects of intimate partner violence and non-partner sexual violence, WHO, https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/85239/9789241564625_eng.pdf (accessed on 16 November 2021).

[27] Gilby, L., M. Koivusalo and S. Atkins (2021), Global health without sexual and reproductive health and rights? Analysis of United Nations documents and country statements, 2014–2019, BMJ Global Health, https://gh.bmj.com/content/6/3/e004659.

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[39] OECD (2020), Over the Rainbow? The Road to LGBTI Inclusion, OECD Publishing, https://www.oecd.org/social/over-the-rainbow-the-road-to-lgbti-inclusion-8d2fd1a8-en.htm (accessed on  May 2021).

[3] OECD (2020), Response, recovery and prevention in the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in developing countries: Women and girls on the frontlines, https://www.oecd.org/coronavirus/policy-responses/response-recovery-and-prevention-in-the-coronavirus-covid-19-pandemic-in-developing-countries-women-and-girls-on-the-frontlines-23d645da/.

[17] OECD (2020), Taking Public Action to End Violence at Home: Issues Notes, OECD High-Level Conference on Ending Violence Against Women, https://www.oecd.org/gender/VAW2020-Issues-Notes.pdf (accessed on 23 May 2021).

[18] OECD (2019), DAC Recommendation on Ending Sexual Exploitation, Abuse, and Harassment in Development Co-operation and Humanitarian Assistance, DAC Committee, https://www.oecd.org/officialdocuments/publicdisplaydocumentpdf/?cote=DCD/DAC(2019)31/FINAL&docLanguage=En (accessed on 12 May 2021).

[10] OECD (2019), Enabling Women’s Economic Empowerment: New Approaches to Unpaid Care Work in Developing Countries, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/ec90d1b1-en.

[19] OECD (2019), Gender, Institutions and Development Database, https://doi.org/10.1787/888933939731 (accessed on  May 2021).

[33] OECD (2018), Development Co-operation Report 2018: Joining Forces to Leave No One Behind, OECD Publishing, https://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/development/development-co-operation-report-2018_dcr-2018-en.

[5] OECD (2018), OECD Toolkit for Mainstreaming and Implementing Gender Equality, Implementing the 2015 OECD Recommendation on Gender Equality in Public Life, https://www.oecd.org/gender/governance/toolkit/toolkit-for-mainstreaming-and-implementing-gender-equality.pdf.

[4] OECD (2016), 2015 OECD Recommendation of the Council on Gender Equality in Public Life, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/9789264252820-en.

[51] OHCHR (2014), Sexual and Gender-Based Violence in the Context of Transitional Justice, United Nations Human Rights, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/Women/WRGS/OnePagers/Sexual_and_gender-based_violence.pdf (accessed on  May 2021).

[42] OHCHR (n.d.), Combating Discrimination against Minorities, https://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Discrimination/Pages/discrimination_minorities.aspx (accessed on  May 2021).

[38] Pacific Women (2021), Ending discrimination on the basis of sexuality, gender identity and expression, Australian Aid, Pacific Women, https://pacificwomen.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/Pacific-Women-Thematic-Brief-SOGIESC_15-FINAL.pdf.

[26] Pepera, S. (2018), Why Women in Politics?, https://womendeliver.org/2018/why-women-in-politics/ (accessed on 4 October 2021).

[45] Plan International (2013), Fact Sheet: Violence against Women and Girls with Disabilities, https://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/csw/csw57/side_events/Fact%20sheet%20%20VAWG%20with%20disabilities%20FINAL%20.pdf.

[29] Rao, A. and J. Sandler (2021), Charting a Transformative Path to Gender Equality, OECD.

[52] Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) (2018), Report on Effectiveness: Swiss international cooperation in the field of gender equality 2007-2016, https://www.eda.admin.ch/deza/en/home/publikationen_undservice/publikationen/alle-deza-publikationen.html/content/publikationen/en/deza/wirkungsberichte/Wirkungsbericht-Geschlechtergleichstellung-2007-2016.html (accessed on 14 February 2021).

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[7] Thompson, L. and R. Clement (2019), International Center for Research on Women: Defining Feminist Foreign Policy, Institutional Center for Research on Women, https://www.icrw.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/ICRW_DefiningFeministForeignPolicy_Brief_Revised_v5_WebReady.pdf.

[47] UN DESA (2006), Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, https://www.un.org/development/desa/disabilities/convention-on-the-rights-of-persons-with-disabilities.html (accessed on  May 2021).

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[1] UNHCR (2015), Protecting persons with diverse sexual orientations and gender identities, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, https://www.unhcr.org/5ebe6b8d4.pdf#zoom=95.

[20] United Kingdom Government (2014), What Works to Prevent Violence, https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/what-works-in-preventing-violence-against-women-and-girls-review-of-the-evidence-from-the-programme (accessed on 10 May 2021).

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[35] USAID (2017), The Gender Integration Continuum: Training Session User’s Guide, PACE (Policy Advocacy Communication Enhanced), https://www.igwg.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/17-418-GenderContTraining-2017-12-12-1633_FINAL.pdf (accessed on 12 May 2021).

[16] WHO (2021), Violence against women prevalence estimates: Global and regional estimates of violence against women: prevalence and health effects of intimate partner violence and non-partner sexual violence, World Health Organization, https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/9789241564625.

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[46] World Bank (2021), Disability Inclusion, https://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/disability#:~:text=Results-,One%20billion%20people%2C%20or%2015%25%20of%20the%20world's%20population%2C,million%20people%2C%20experience%20significant%20disabilities (accessed on 12 May 2021).

For information about contextually feasible policy and programme options that support the economic empowerment of women, “A Roadmap for Promoting Women’s Economic Empowerment” offers a guide for potential public-private sector collaboration: http://www.womeneconroadmap.org/sites/default/files/WEE_Roadmap_Report_Final.pdf

Although gender-based violence occurs in every corner of the globe, it is rooted in power, control and gender inequality, and is upheld by discriminatory norms and patriarchal institutions. However, some forms of gender-based violence vary depending on geographic location, as well as cultural and situational contexts. For more information on gender-based violence, see: https://www.unwomen.org/en/what-we-do/ending-violence-against-women/faqs/types-of-violence.

As a part of the Women, Peace and Security agenda, which puts human rights and dignity first and addresses the root causes of conflict at the forefront of approaches to security, the UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325 highlights the need to recognise the impact of conflict on women, and women’s participation in conflict resolution. National Action Plans (NAP) provide governments with a tool to effectively articulate priorities and implement UNSCR 1325. For more information on NAPs and to see which OECD and non-OECD member countries have adopted a NAP, visit the Women, Peace and Security Focal Points Network’s “Global Map of Adopted National Action Plans” website: https://wpsfocalpointsnetwork.org/resources/.

For more information on using a gender equality continuum as a tool to facilitate the integration of gender into policies, strategies and programmes, see USAID’s “Gender Integration Continuum Training Session User’s Guide”: https://www.thecompassforsbc.org/sbcc-tools/gender-integration-continuum-training-session-users-guide.

For more information on, and examples of, participatory approaches, see the Institute of Development Studies’ “Participatory Methods” website: https://www.participatorymethods.org/.

The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer & Intersex Youth and Student Organisation (IGLYO) offers a practical guide for learning more about the principles of intersectionality and activities to inform inclusive actions. For more information on the process of adopting an intersectional approach, see the IGLYO “Intersectionality Toolkit”: https://www.iglyo.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/Inter-Toolkit.pdf.

For more information on policy advice for helping institutions achieve more equitable and inclusive systems, the OECD Directorate for Education and Skills offers a presentation on “Strength Through Diversity: Framework and Approach to Intersectionality”: https://www.oecd.org/education/strength-through-diversity/Presentation_Lucie_Cerna_intersectionality_7th_Policy_Forum.pdf.


← 1. In 2020, the OECD conducted a survey (hereafter “the survey”) of the members of the OECD DAC Network on Gender Equality (GENDERNET), to which 24 of the 30 members responded. The survey questions addressed the issues raised in this Guidance and provide the foundation for its content (see Annex B).

← 2. The term “DAC member” in this document includes bilateral development agencies.

← 3. DAC has 30 members at the time of writing. In 2020, 24 members responded to a survey administered by the OECD Development Co-operation Directorate of DAC members’ approaches to gender equality and development. In addition, the development policies of all 30 members were analysed. The one member that did not identify gender equality and/or the empowerment of women and girls in its policy was Hungary.

← 4. In the survey, 21 DAC members reported having a dedicated policy, strategy or action plan for gender equality. Of the three members that reported not having a dedicated policy, strategy or action plan, one indicated its intention to create one.

← 5. DAC members noted that they link gender equality and women’s empowerment with other cross-cutting issues, such as climate change and the environment (12 members), human rights (5), corruption/good governance (4), intersectionality/the farthest behind (3), poverty (2), conflict (2), innovation (1), disability (1), job creation (1), indigenous peoples (1), access to food (1), and private sector development (1).

← 6. In the UK, the development agency has been incorporated into the department responsible for foreign policy and in Australia and Canada into the department of trade.

← 7. Sweden, Canada, France, Germany, Luxembourg and Spain.

← 8. Most DAC members indicated in the survey that their institutional focus on gender equality has changed, and increased, since 2014. Four members noted that their institutional focus on gender equality has not changed, the common reasoning (with the exception of one member) given that gender equality and women’s empowerment was already an institutional priority. Many DAC members reported having refined and scaled up their approach to the issue over the last decade. The methods used were: combining gender equality and women’s empowerment with other cross-cutting priorities (5), increasing participation in international fora for gender equality and women’s empowerment (3), and implementing a twin-track (mainstreaming as well as dedicated programmes) or three-pronged (adding policy dialogue to mainstreaming and dedicated programmes) approach (3). Five members indicated increased support for targeted sectors or in specific regions, 3 members noted plans to transform institutional culture, social norms and power dynamics.

← 9. For example, the EU’s “EU Gender Action Plan III: An Ambitious Agenda for Gender Equality”.

← 10. The survey asked DAC members to indicate their thematic priorities amongst: ending violence against women and girls (24 DAC members noted this as a priority), women, peace and security (21 DAC members), women’s economic empowerment (21 DAC members), the political participation and leadership of women (including women’s rights organisations and movements) (19 DAC members), sexual and reproductive health and rights (18 DAC members), gender-responsive humanitarian assistance (14 DAC members), girls’ education (11 DAC members), climate change (9 DAC members), and gender data (8 DAC members).

← 11. Although there is no universal definition of women’s economic empowerment (WEE), a shared perspective exists in the international community that centers on women’s equal access to, and control over, resources such as financial services, assets and capital, technology, property and land, natural resources and food production. These definitions also include women’s access to skill and business development, financial literacy, and representation and leadership. Some DAC members and international organisations build on this definition of WEE to encompass women’s enjoyment of autonomy and capacity to make decisions that shape their life. While resources and autonomy are essential to the empowerment of women and girls, a discussion of this thematic priority is incomplete without recognising the entrenched systems, such as restrictive social norms and laws that act as barriers to the achievement of this form of empowerment. Women’s safe, equal and empowered participation in economic life is often understood as being central to realising women’s rights and gender equality more broadly (OECD, 2022[9]).

← 12. Gender-based violence is a more inclusive term than violence against women. GBV could include violence against men, provided the violence stems from a man’s gender identity or presentation. Gender-based violence could also apply to violence experienced by gender non-conforming people. Violence against women is more specific than gender-based violence in that it only applies to people who identify or present as women https://www.friendsofunfpa.org/what-is-gender-based-violence-gbv/.

← 13. The acronym that is used to discuss the rights of individuals who are not heterosexual or cisgender (a person whose gender identity corresponds with the sex the person has or was identified as having at birth (Merriam-Webster, 2021[48]) varies between institutions. While many members still use “LGBT”, in a move towards inclusivity, some institutions have expanded upon this acronym, adding variations such as LGBTQIA or LGBTQ+ (the “+” is utilised in an effort to indicate the inclusion of a spectrum of sexual orientations, gender identities and gender expressions).

← 14. See OECD Fragility Framework for more information on the definition of fragility and the different fragility indicators. http://www3.compareyourcountry.org/states-of-fragility/overview/0/.

← 15. This includes strengthening messaging on the importance of gender within the Nexus; the integration of gender-sensitive, contextual analyses; developing and maximising the interlinkages between the WPS Agenda and the Nexus – especially within the peace pillar; and continued emphasis on the principle of “Do no harm”, in addition to an increased focus on the role of masculinities (OECD, 2021[50]).

← 16. Germany is the only DAC member with a dedicated Ministry of Development Co-operation – BMZ. For all others, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Trade and European Affairs/State Department (names vary) have responsibility for this agenda, sometimes together with the Ministry of Defence and, where they have one, the development agency.

← 17. The ongoing joint work and meetings between the International Network on Conflict and Fragility (INCAF) and GENDERNET have proven useful in connecting these communities and as a way to enhance policy dialogue and expand the space for peer-to-peer networking and learning.

← 18. The following DAC members explicitly identify transformative change as a means for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls: Australia, Canada, EU, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland, United Kingdom and the United States.

← 19. This is an adaptation of a framework developed by Hillenbrand et al. (2015[31]), “Measuring gender-transformative change: A review of literature and promising practices”

← 20. This builds on the different versions of a gender equality continuum proposed in: (Government of Canada, 2017[49]; Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), 2018[52]; USAID, 2017[35]; Hillenbrand et al., 2015[31]).

← 21. Nineteen DAC members report that intersectional considerations to gender are currently addressed in their policy frameworks.

← 22. Twelve DAC members linked their work on gender equality with equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and asexual, plus other self-identifying members of the community (LGBTQIA+) persons. Five DAC members explicitly mentioned including interventions to address the intersecting inequalities that are experienced by varying ethnic and racial minorities in their development co-operation policies. Eleven DAC members identified disability inclusion as an area of focus in their development co-operation policies.

← 23. A common example is the increased use of “gender-based” violence within the international community rather than “violence against women and girls”. This is an intentionally broad term to include violence committed against people on the basis of their assigned or identified gender, not limited to cisgender women and girls (OHCHR, 2014[51]).

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