Cover Image
close this bookPoverty Elimination and the Empowerment of Women (DFID, 2000, 51 p.)
close this folder5. Priorities for DFID
View the documentProgress so far
View the documentPurpose of the strategy
View the documentSpecific objectives
View the documentSetting priorities
View the documentChannels for action

Progress so far

5.1 The 1997 White Paper on international development48 strengthened UK policy on gender equality in a number of ways. It reaffirmed the UK's commitment to put this issue at the heart of international development work, based on a clear understanding of the direct link between gender inequality and poverty. It also explicitly recognised the vital link between human rights and poverty.

48 Eliminating World Poverty: A Challenge for the 21st Century. HMSO, London, 1997.

5.2 DFID's focus since the 1997 White Paper has been on strengthening the delivery of the policy, and finding better measures of progress. Implementation is based on a 'twin-track' approach. This combines specific activities aimed at empowering women with a commitment to put concerns about gender equality into the mainstream of development programmes49. The focus of DFID 's work is on supporting innovation and achieving impact. Some of what has been achieved in recent years with UK development assistance is shown in Box 250.

49 The concept of "mainstreaming" is drawn from the 1995 Global Platform for Action, and means several things: that before decisions are taken on a policy or programme, the likely effects on women as well as men are analysed; that wherever possible specific components addressing gender issues are designed into policies and programmes; that women as well as men are consulted in the design, implementation, and assessment of policies and programmes; that monitoring work, including the collection of statistics, seeks to examine the effects on women as well as men.

50 For further examples see: Breaking the Barriers. Women and the Elimination of World Poverty. Issues Paper, Department for International Development, London, 1998.

Box 2. Examples of DFID support for gender equality and women's empowerment

Economic and social policy

DFID has made a major contribution to the development of Participatory Poverty Assessment methods which feed the views of the poor - including women-into national policy making. The government in Uganda has adopted these methods as a routine part of its policy-making cycle.

DFID support to the Commonwealth Secretariat for: a gender budget initiative - where public spending is analysed according to how benefits will be shared by women and men - led to important changes in welfare spending and more funding for women's credit in South Africa. Similar work is being done in Sri Lanka, Fiji, and the Caribbean.

Women's economic empowerment

DFID, through its support to the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC), and other financial service providers around the world have made small-scale finance (credit, savings and insurance) available to millions of poor women.

Support is being given: to: innovative approaches to bringing financial services to the poor, including ground-breaking partnerships with commercial banks in Zimbabwe and Uganda to bring community banking services to poor rural communities, with big benefits for poor women.


DFID-funded training has helped 500 women get promoted to head teacher in primary schools in Kenya in only two years.

Between 1995 and 1997, primary school enrolment in DFID-supported districts in India has risen by 6.5%. Girls enrolment rose more - by 7.5%. Among girls from scheduled castes the rise was 12.4%, and among scheduled tribes it was 9.6%.

DFID's support to non-formal education programmes in Bangladesh is enabling thousands of school drop-outs, the majority girls, to re-enter formal education.

Women in public life

DFID is supporting an innovative programme run by the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) to promote a central role for women in peacemaking and national reconciliation work in Tajikistan.

Training for prospective: women candidates and a women's voter education project in Kenya led to a higher turnout among women, and more women elected, in project than non-project districts.

Trade and globalisation

The growth of world trade has brought benefits to women, but it has also brought costs. Research funded by DFID has shown, for example, that women in south and south-east Asia suffer low wages and poor working conditions as a result of discrimination in the labour market, while women in Africa are unable to benefit from the opening up of new markets because they lack property rights. New work is under way to identify policy instruments to improve the opportunities for the poor created by globalisation, and reduce the negative effects on the poorest and most vulnerable, including women.

Reproductive and sexual health

DFID's support to organisations in Calcutta, India working with female commercial sex workers on HIV/AIDS reduction has resulted in HIV infection rates for commercial sex workers in the city remaining below 5% compared with 70% in similar contexts in India. As a consequence of this support, women engaged in the local sex industry have formed a self-managed co-operative, taking actions to achieve reductions in violence, increased women's access to credit and lobbying government for recognition of their rights as workers.

DFID-funded research in east Africa showed that prompt, effective treatment for sexually transmitted infections can reduce the transmission rate of HIV by up to 40%.

DFID's support to innovative work to reduce the risks of catching HIV in east Africa and Asia includes educational and awareness raising work to change gendered attitudes and empower women and girls to take more control over their sexual relationships.

Rights of the child

The UK has helped formulate a powerful new international convention, through the International Labour Organisation (ILO), to combat the worst forms of child labour. Support is also being provided to an ILO initiative to combat trafficking in children in south east Asia.

DFID has been helping the United Nations Special Representative on Children and Armed Conflict protect children's rights, including girls vulnerable to abduction and rape.

Violence against women

DFID is supporting a growing portfolio of activities aimed at stopping violence against women, including work in Jordan, Kenya, Malawi, Namibia, Pakistan, South Africa, the Caribbean, and Zambia.

DFID has been a major contributor to a Trust Fund for the Elimination of Violence Against Women run by the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM).

DFID is working with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees to protect women against violence in refugee camps.

Basic services and infrastructure

New approaches to infrastructure programmes which emphasise service delivery linked to social benefits and women's needs are being developed with DFID's support. Work includes the use of participatory planning and assessment methods in road improvement programmes in Uganda and Ghana, and support to a 15-country research programme in Africa and Asia aimed at developing more gender-sensitive approaches to travel and transport programmes.

5.3 The proportion of DFID spending aimed at promoting gender equality has more than doubled in the second half of the 1990s51. Table 1 shows the trend in the proportion of new bilateral spending commitments since 1994 which explicitly seek to support DFID's gender equality objective. This shows a steep upswing, from 23.2% in 1994-95 to 46.0% in 1998-99 of the total of marked commitments.

51 DFID uses a Policy Information Marker System (PIMS) to track expenditure commitments in its bilateral programme against key policy objectives, including the removal of gender discrimination. Major spending commitments are marked for all of the policy objectives they seek to address. This accounts for the support we provide directly to developing countries through governments or organisations in civil society.

5.4 The UK is working to ensure that donor efforts are better co-ordinated. It plays a leading role in the Working Party on Gender Equality of the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), a key international body for bilateral donor co-ordination. DFID's policy framework and approach draws heavily on guidelines produced by the DAC, with significant UK inputs52.

52 DAC Guidelines for Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment in Development Co-operation, Development Co-operation Guidelines Series, OECD, Paris, 1998.

5.5 More than half the UK's budget for development assistance is spent through the European Union, the United Nations and other multilateral partners. Very close links are maintained with multilateral development agencies, including the European Commission, the UN funds and programmes, and international financial institutions such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the various regional development banks.

Table 1. DFID bilateral spending commitments on gender equality (PIMS data), 1994-95/98-99

Financial Year






Total PIMS marked spending commitments

£854.1 m.

£701.1 m.

£878.8 m.

£879.2 m.

£1,305,1 m.

New spending commitments with gender equality as an objective
£599.8 m.

£198.5 m.

£209.7 m.

£310.6 m.

£258.0 m.

Percentage committed to gender equality goals





53 The dip in 1997-98 is accounted for by the introduction of a revised, and more stringent, marker. Subsequent work has had to be even more focused on gender equality goals than before.

5.6 The UK is an active participant in international policy discussions and the global round of UN conferences, and is a strong supporter of the UN Secretary General's reform programme54. DFID also works closely with partners in civil society, including international NGOs and local development and community based organisations, to promote gender equality and support the women's movement in developing countries. New partnerships are also being built with the private sector and the trade union movement.

54 See Working in Partnership with the United Nations. DFID Institutional Strategy Paper, London, 1999.

5.7 New DFID recruits receive briefing on the UK's gender equality policy and objectives as part of their induction. Training in gender planning is provided for DFID personnel on a regular basis, both in the UK and overseas. DFID also invests in gender expertise in developing countries, and supports numerous initiatives in many parts of the world to train trainers and to pass on gender analysis and planning skills to government and non-government partners.

Purpose of the strategy

5.8 The purpose of DFID 's strategy is to ensure that women's empowerment and gender equality are actively pursued in the mainstream of all development activities. It builds on the lessons learned from international and donor experience. It also signals an intention to move more actively into fundamental areas of core policy and regulatory reform and strategic action. We will implement this through a framework of collaboration, with priorities being redrawn to focus on the major sticking points identified in the situation analysis and lessons learned, without giving up a broader commitment to addressing issues of gender equality across the whole range of the work we do.

5.9 We will bring a much stronger focus in our work to supporting the incorporation of gender equality goals into national and local policy frameworks. We will support the development of better data and measures of progress, and the reform of public spending and regulatory frameworks in ways which bring more equity into the sharing of benefits between women and men. We will back up this commitment by continuing to strengthen our own knowledge base and capacity to turn good gender policy and analysis into practical action. We will also support the strengthening of similar capacities in partner governments and organisations in civil society and the private sector, and continue to work hard for stronger and more effective coordination of donor effort.

... The purpose of DFID's strategy is to ensure that women's empowerment and gender equality are actively pursued in the mainstream of all development activities ...

5.10 DFID will not abandon its support to efforts at the grass roots. This has an important impact on people's lives, and provides an indispensable source of knowledge and lesson learning. However, it is not donor action in itself that will bring about lasting change, but the actions of governments and, most importantly, women and men themselves which will bring about the fundamental transformations the goal of gender equality demands.

Specific objectives

5.11 DFID's strategy will aim to support the achievement often specific objectives, consistent with both the International Development Targets and the global Platform for Action, and with the analysis set out in the situation analysis in this paper. The specific objectives are set out in Box 3, along with examples of the kinds of actions we might support to achieve them.

Box 3. DFID objectives and examples of actions

Objective 1.
To promote equality in rights for women and men through international and national policy reform.

· Development and implementation of equal opportunities policies.
· Gender aware approaches to international agreements and regulations.
· Development of new tools for analysis and international and national policy making, including better statistics.

Objective 2.
To secure greater livelihood security, access to productive assets, and economic opportunities for women as well as men.

· Improved access to financial services for women.
· Improved access for women to affordable energy, water and sanitation, and transport services.
· Reforms to land and inheritance laws.
· Improved information flows, particularly for women farmers and entrepreneurs.
· Adherence to core labour standards.
· Development of 'family friendly' employment practices.

Objective 3.
To further close gender gaps in human development, particularly education and health

· Development of policies and programmes to remove gender barriers to education.
· Development of policies and programmes to support achievement of International Development Targets for maternal mortality and access to reproductive health services.
· Improvements to national statistical systems to provide sex-disaggregated data across all key social indicators.

Objective 4.
To promote the more equal participation of women in decision making and leadership roles at all levels.

· Capacity-building and other support to women's organisations.
· Electoral and other reforms to remove barriers to women's participation in public life.
· Public awareness campaigns to challenge gender stereotypes.

Objective 5.
To increase women's personal security and reduce gender-based violence.

· Reform and strengthening of criminal and civil law.
· Awareness-raising of women's rights among police and judiciary.
· Public information campaigns.
· Support to women's organisations.
· Improved knowledge and statistics.

Objective 6.
To strengthen institutional mechanisms and national machineries for the advancement of women in governments and civil society.

· Civil service and public spending reforms to establish and support appropriate government structures.
· Strengthening of role of civil society organisations in advancing gender equality.
· Public awareness campaigns.

Objective 7.
To promote equality for women under the law and non-discrimination in access to justice.

· Reform and strengthening of criminal and civil law.
· Support to legal literacy programmes.
· Training and capacity building for police judiciary, and organisations in civil society.
· Public information campaigns.

Objective 8.
To reduce gender stereotyping, and bring about changes in social attitudes in favour of women.

· Support to media projects and campaigns, including gender training for journalists and programme makers.
· Support to women's organisations.
· Awareness-raising among policy makers and political leaders.

Objective 9.
To help develop gender aware approaches to the management of the environment and the safeguarding of natural resources.

· Gender aware planning and women's participation in the development of National Strategies for Sustainable Development.
· Strengthen tenure and common property rights in line with gender equity.
· Ensure that local planning and access to natural resources is gender aware.
· Improved data and research.

Objective 10.
To ensure that progress is made in upholding the rights of both girls and boys within the framework of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

· Implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
· Improved data, research, and statistics.
· Support to programmes to eliminate the worst forms of child labour.

5.12 The achievement of some of these objectives will require continued progress along familiar lines. Others will need new approaches and the development of more incisive tools and methods. All depend on strong political will, backed up by appropriate resources. Promoting equality for women can be controversial and may provoke opposition or provoke intense public debate. Additional resources are not always implied, as many of these objectives should be achievable through the more equitable distribution of existing resources. As gender gaps close, economic benefits should flow which will make more resources available, thus creating a virtuous cycle which will further accelerate the pace of change.

5.13 Most of the objectives refer to country level work, but all depend on action at the regional and international levels too. Achievement of greater livelihood security, for example, will depend on the reform of global frameworks for trade regulation and codes of conduct as well as on changes in regulations and the creation of opportunities at the country level. It is also important to note that the objectives are highly interdependent. Thus, while better access to education will help women to equip themselves to take a more prominent role in public life, more women will need to find their way into positions of power and influence before they gain a real voice in public policy. At the same time, it will be difficult for women to rise to positions of seniority and influence in society without major changes in attitudes and values. These changes, in turn, will accelerate as women have more opportunities to demonstrate their leadership capabilities.

5.14 The achievement of these objectives will depend on the continued strengthening of the 'twin-track' approach, combining focused actions aimed at women's empowerment and gender aware action in the mainstream of development work. In all cases, gender sensitive social assessment work will be required to ensure that policy and practice are informed by a full understanding of the diversity of women's experience and aspirations.

Setting priorities

5.15 While no one objective is seen as having more importance than others, it will not be possible for DFID to pursue all ten objectives at once, everywhere in the world. Priorities will need to be set case by case, and this will depend on the wider analysis informing country and institutional strategies. Priorities will need to be set, both on the basis of regional and local situation analyses and on the basis of assessments of the policy environment on a country by country basis. For example, global data suggests that education will need to be a major focus in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Issues related to child rights may be of particular concern in parts of Asia. In Latin America, it may be important to put particular emphasis on political representation, or the needs and rights of women in indigenous groups. Female genital mutilation may be a particular concern in parts of Africa.

5.16 Whatever priorities are set, there will be no DFID country or institutional strategy which does not take account of gender equality. Specific areas for action in relation to many of these objectives can be found in other papers in the DFID series of Strategies for Achieving the International Development Targets.

Channels for action

5.17 Delivery of the DFID strategy will be through three main channels, defining focal areas for action. These are:

Support to governments, civil society, and the private sector for the accelerated implementation of the Platform for Action and the inclusion of gender equality goals in the mainstream of all development programmes

Stronger collaboration and co-ordination for the achievement of gender equality goals among donors, including the European Union, UN system, and the World Bank and other international financial institutions;

The strengthening of DFID's internal capacity through research and knowledge development, information support, and gender training.

Channel 1

Support to governments, civil society, and the private sector for the accelerated implementation of the Platform for Action, and the inclusion of gender equality goals in the mainstream of all development programme

5.18 DFID's work through the first channel will seek to strengthen the global commitment to more focused actions which will deliver measurable progress in the delivery of the Platform for Action. Bench-marking and target setting will be a necessary part of this process, and we will be willing to offer our support as appropriate to governments and others to help build capacity for statistical and other forms of measurement and impact assessment. We will also place strong emphasis on the need for gender equality goals to be pursued at the very heart of public policy and decision making.

5.19 We will follow up agreements at the international level in our negotiations with developing country governments over the priorities to be addressed through our country strategies, and with international organisations in relation to the aims and objectives of our institutional strategies.

5.20 A key role we will seek to play in promoting the inclusion of gender equality objectives in the mainstream of development assistance will be that of knowledge broker. To support this role, we will continue to invest in applied research and other knowledge development work, including the capturing and dissemination of good practice and lessons from experience. Our work in knowledge development will include a focus on new areas of analysis and activity, including such issues as the impact of globalisation on gender equality and the gender aspects of new development co-operation instruments such as sector-wide approaches (SWAPs).

Channel 2

Commitment to stronger collaboration and co-ordination for the achievement of gender equality goals among donors, including the European Union, UN system, and the World Bank and other international financial institution

5.21 The second channel recognises that there is a great deal of scope for stronger and more effective co-ordination within the donor community, and the establishment of much greater commitment among some donor agencies to gender equality goals.

5.22 We will continue to build on the leading role we already play in advancing understanding of gender and development issues among development colleagues, while at the same time gaining as much benefit as possible from the lessons drawn from the experience of others and the high quality knowledge development work done in the international community as a whole.

5.23 We will encourage the development of common country assessment frameworks as part of the UN reform process at the country level, and will also work to promote closer collaboration and complementarity of action between the UN funds and programmes and the international financial institutions. We will also continue to work closely with the Commonwealth Secretariat and support its role in developing new and innovative lines of work.

5.24 We will continue to build our collaborative relationships with the European Commission, including developing much closer collaboration on gender mainstreaming issues through country programmes. We wilt also continue to make an energetic contribution to central dialogue within the EU to maintain a strong policy framework for European development co-operation and a clear focus on achieving results. Our work with European colleagues will be a useful jumping off point for continued engagement with the wider framework for bilateral donor co-ordination established through the Development Assistance Committee of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

5.25 We will also continue to encourage the World Bank and the other development banks and international financial institutions to continue to build their expertise in gender analysis, and to factor the findings of this into their assistance and lending programmes.

Channel 3

The strengthening of DFID's internal capacity through knowledge development, information support, and gender training

5.26 The third channel refers to the strengthening of DFID's own capacity to be a good development partner in the pursuit of gender equality goals. While we have worked hard in this area, we are far from complacent about our own capabilities. We will continue to develop our technical capacity to advise on and support the development of gender equality policies; and to measure progress towards the achievement of gender equality goals. We will develop improved information support, lesson learning, and impact assessment systems and make full use of these in strengthening our own capacity, and that of others. We will maintain a critical view of our own contribution to development work in this area, and ensure that we are sufficiently self-critical of our own methods to learn real lessons from experience. We will also maintain and further strengthen the close working relationships we have established with other UK government departments, including the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Women's Unit in the Cabinet Office, to ensure policy consistency and the sharing of good practice55.

55 Examples of good practice in promoting women's empowerment, both in the UK and overseas, are contained in a recent Women's Unit/DFID/FCO join publication Equality in Practice, which was prepared for the five-year review of the Beijing conference.

5.27 We will keep our skills mix and specialist capabilities under constant review, to ensure that we are providing the right kind of professional support, in the right places and at the right times. Above all, we will seek to ensure that our work in support of gender equality goals is well-focused, practical, and directly linked to changes in the real world for the benefit of both women and men.