Background to the report

Gender inequality is prevalent across all aspects of life – in the workplace, in civic engagement, in health and in education. Worldwide, 63 million girls are out of school; women make up just 24.3% of representatives in national parliaments; and one in three women will be beaten or sexually abused in their lifetime. In 2018, globally, around 48.5% of women participated in the labour force, 26.5% behind men’s participation. And women spent three times longer on unpaid care work preventing them from engaging in paid work, facing lower wages where they do obtain paid work, and facing other social and legal barriers.

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In 2018 the Department for International Development (DFID) spent £4.2 billion of bilateral aid (66% of its total bilateral spend) on programmes that targeted gender equality as a policy objective. In March 2018, DFID launched its 2018–2030 Strategic Vision for Gender Equality (2018 Strategic Vision). This set out what it describes as a ‘call to action’ asking more of itself and of the UK government, and its multilateral and civil society partners, to help empower women and girls, recognising that gender equality is fundamental to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

Content and scope of the report

For DFID to assess whether it has secured value for money from its work in this area, it needs to identify its impact in improving gender equality while understanding the cost of its interventions. Having strong management arrangements will support both these elements. In this report, we examine:

  • whether DFID took a robust approach to developing its 2018 Strategic Vision;
  • how DFID has translated its 2018 Strategic Vision into practical action; and
  • whether DFID knows what progress it is making against the aims of its 2018 Strategic Vision.

As we were finalising the report, the UK government was responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. DFID was, alongside the international community, providing an immediate humanitarian response to the pandemic overseas. And it was reprioritising its work to mitigate the pandemic’s health, social and economic impacts in the short and long term. Given its assessment that the impact of COVID-19 will amplify existing gender inequalities, DFID is looking to make sure gender equality is central to its response. With the pandemic still unfolding at the time of writing, this report does not consider DFID’s actions.

Report conclusions

DFID’s long-term commitment to improving gender equality in the face of long-standing and entrenched social norms is clear. Its current Strategic Vision for its work on gender equality, which was well researched, is ambitious – looking to achieve improvements across a broad range of issues and types of intervention over a 12‑year period through its own and others’ efforts.

Individually, DFID’s programme interventions to improve gender equality are performing well and it is widely respected internationally for its broad range of influencing activity in this area. Two years into the implementation of its 2018 Strategic Vision, DFID has in place some of the management arrangements we would expect for it to be confident about its delivery. But there are gaps. It does not have an overall long-term plan for implementation against which it can assess progress with its 2018 Strategic Vision at key points between now and 2030; it does not have a strong understanding of its spending in this area; and it has been slow to start bringing performance information together to provide an accurate picture of progress across the portfolio of its activities. DFID has recently taken positive steps to improve its oversight and understanding of performance but it needs to make significant further progress in getting better management arrangements in place before it will have a good understanding of whether it is on track to secure value for money in this area.

“DFID’s commitment to tackling gender inequality is ambitious and wide-ranging. Two years into the Department’s twelve-year vision, individual interventions are already improving the lives of women and girls overseas.”

“However, if DFID is to achieve its ambitious aims, it needs to develop a clearer long-term plan for implementing its vision and continue to take steps to improve the accuracy and transparency of its performance information.”

Gareth Davies, head of the NAO


Publication details

Press release

View press release (29 Apr 2020)

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