Image by Salah Malkawi | © European Union
  • Blog
  • 13 March 2024

Opinion: Gender equality funding data is a mess. How do we fix it?

In this blog, four development actors advocate for a multistakeholder convening to review, discuss, and then resolve the leading gender equality funding data issues.


Fionna Smyth , Alex Farley, Hellen Malinga Apila, Mareen Buschmann

Fionna Smyth is Director of Influence & Growth at Development Initiatives. This blog was written in collaboration with Alex Farley, Hellen Malinga Apila and Mareen Buschmann and was originally published by Devex.

Many organizations have attempted to track funding for gender equality in recent years and we’ve all reached the same conclusion: The data is a mess.

For well over a decade, there has been mounting political support for advancing women's and girls’ rights and economic opportunities. Despite this, the current data doesn't allow us to know whether rhetoric is being matched with effective investments.

In a year when financing for gender equality is high on the agenda, we must find ways to better measure the programs and impact we’re having. If we really want progress on gender equality, we need a new approach.

We propose a focused multistakeholder effort to increase dedicated financing for gender equality, which would put in place the measurements that allow for tracking progress. This would include setting dedicated commitments to increasing funding for women and girls, the organizations that represent them, and investing in gender-equitable structures and systems, such as caring economies.

To track progress we need better systems. Steps to set these up should include a review of all measurement recommendations to date, resolving outstanding challenges, agreeing on where institutions should align versus where they shouldn’t, and agreeing on a path toward full visibility of all gender financing activities and impact.

► Read more from DI about gender

► Share your thoughts with us on Twitter or LinkedIn

► Sign up to our newsletter

The issues with tracking gender financing

In 2015, the Addis Ababa Action Plan on Transformative Financing for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment outlined the need for states to “systematically track and prioritize allocation of ODA [overseas development assistance] in support of gender equality and take specific actions to close financing gaps in order to meet new and existing targets on gender equality and women’s empowerment.”

Many organizations, including Publish What You Fund, the Association for Women in Development, the think tank ODI, Development Initiatives, and CARE, have attempted to track funding for gender equality in recent years. We’ve included a hyperlinked list of some of these resources at the bottom of the article.

The common thread to all these efforts is twofold: 1) there is too little transparency for us to comprehensively understand funding for gender equality, and 2) there are real limitations to the accountability tools that exist to help us do so.  

The top three issues that consistently come up are:

  • The lack of a standardized approach to marking gender projects across all funders as well as inconsistent use of gender marking within funders’ portfolios.
  • Poor reporting of gender marking at the project or investment level.
  • Limited understanding of the impact of gender equality funding.

What we need now is agreement on clear steps that will move the gender commitments forward from piecemeal efforts to concerted action and outcomes.

Understanding how funding benefits women, girls, and gender minorities, rather than just counting them, will require a new results-orientated approach.

Under current data, progress is often reported by the number of women a project will reach rather than by impact, such as the extent to which funding has closed the gender gap.

Shifting to a results-orientated measurement approach for gender equality is a first step. Agreeing on specific goals for closing the gender gap, backed up by objectives, gender-specific indicators, and ex-ante and ex-post data at an investment level would set us on the results path. If donors, including governments, articulate specific gender-related goals — e.g., narrowing the gender gap in educational attainment or use of financial services — then the conversation becomes a lot more concrete.

Second, we need to get alignment on what we track and how. Too often as with one of the approaches used — the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee gender equality policy marker — gender measurement is a projection of what is intended rather than rigorous tracking of accountability and results. Further, for most of these investments, gender equality is only a secondary objective, rather than the primary focus.

All of this underscores what was reported by the World Bank this week — that the gender gap is even wider than thought. With only seven years remaining until 2030, a mere 15.4% of SDG Goal 5 indicators with data are “on track,” 61.5% are at a moderate distance, and 23.1% are far or very far off track from 2030 targets.

Why now?

2024 is an important year for gender equality funding. This year’s priority theme of the Commission of the Status of Women is “accelerating the achievement of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls by addressing poverty and strengthening institutions and financing with a gender perspective.”

The World Bank's new Gender Strategy 2024-2030 is due to be launched in the coming months, and the bank’s International Development Association — a critical gender equality funding resource — is also up for replenishment this year.

Calls for more funding for gender equality and women’s rights organizations are loud and backed by evidence. As is the demand for donors to acknowledge and address the gendered harms of approaches that undermine the rights of women and girls, such as budget and fiscal austerity measures that disproportionately undermine women and girls’ access to public services

This requires inclusive programmatic and impact data that allows us to understand if we are delivering on commitments and achieving meaningful progress on closing gender gaps. Let’s take advantage of the considerable political support for advancing women's and girl’s rights and economic opportunities and come together in an organized way to resolve these data issues and move forward with catalytic, effective investments.  

How do we do it?

We propose a multistakeholder convening that will review, discuss, and then resolve the leading gender equality funding data issues.

This group would include funders, gender experts, women’s rights organizations, feminist movements, and data experts, with representatives from all geographies.

Convening these stakeholders should be done in a structured way, supported by an external convenor, that allows for a full review of the issues, resolution of outstanding challenges, agreement on where alignment is and isn’t needed, and then a timetable for implementation.

A successful example of a convening of this type is the G20 Independent Experts Group on Strengthening Multilateral Development Banks, whose report has led to work by the World Bank to overhaul the way it provides guarantees.

For a gender data stakeholder convening, prior to meeting, key participants should be interviewed and input should be used to develop an outline of potential paths forward. The goal is full visibility of gender financing activities and their impact.

Multistakeholder buy-in to this process is an essential element and while gathering groups of this size can be messy, we know from our experience that they give us the best chance to reach a resolution that has wide and sustainable support in real time.

Ultimately, greater transparency is a fundamental prerequisite to whether our funding approaches to gender equality are working and whether our existing accountability and tracking tools are adequate. 2024 is the year to resolve these longstanding issues, to break the impasse, and to ensure that we can finally demonstrate to women, girls, and gender minorities what is being done in their name. We owe women, girls, and gender minorities this chance.

Some of the efforts to track funding for gender equality to date