Follow the Money: A Quantitative Review of Canada’s International Assistance Investments in Gender Equality

Beth Woroniuk, Vice President of Policy

Recently one of Canada’s major newspapers ran an editorial with the headline: Canada’s foreign aid is in decline – again. It lamented Canada’s consistent failure to even come close to the global target of 0.7 percent of gross national income (GNI) for official development assistance. For decades, Canada’s contributions to Official Development Assistance (ODA) have hovered around the 0.3 percent mark.

Over the last years, the Canadian international development sector has argued that there should be a plan to move this figure closer to the 0.7 percent target. We agree.  

We are also curious to better understand how Canada’s aid budget is being allocated. Not just how much money is moving out the door, but what is the distribution of those funds?

The Feminist International Assistance Policy, adopted in 2017, included specific commitments on gender equality spending. By 2021-22: 

  • No less than 95% of Canada’s bilateral international development assistance will target or integrate gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls; and 
  • 15% of bilateral international development assistance, across all Action Areas, will go to initiatives dedicated to advancing gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.

Earlier this year, the Auditor General of Canada noted that the target of 15 percent had not been met, indicators did not track outcomes, and there were weaknesses in data and information management. As we wrote about in March 2023, while the implementation of FIAP has room for improvement, it is needed now more than ever, and we provided five ways it can meet the promise. 

Given our focus on resourcing feminist movements, we wanted to know more. What kinds of changes have happened since 2017 when it comes to funding gender equality?

So, we turned to data expert Heather Dicks, from Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador, to help us document and analyze the numbers. Drawing on Global Affairs Canada (GAC) reports and the OECD’s Creditor Reporting System, we assembled a picture of gender equality investment trends for the last seven years. Our new report, Follow the Money, is the result.

What did we find?

First, the numbers are confusing. Determination of what gets counted as ‘gender equality investments’ happens inside GAC with no external validation. There are lags in reporting, so the latest data available is from 2021. GAC reports and the OECD use different reporting timeframes so comparisons can be challenging. As well, ‘bilateral assistance’ (what’s reported to the OECD and the basis of the FIAP commitments) doesn’t include significant aid flows, including investments in multilateral institutions.

However, we found a way to unpack and document the data in ways that make sense. We’ve checked with GAC to make sure we’ve understood their reporting. And – with some provisos – we believe we’ve captured the major trends.

Second, there has been progress on getting closer to the goals. While the 15 percent FIAP target has not been met, there has been steady progress since 2017. Investments in the Equality Fund ($300 million) and Women’s Voice and Leadership ($182 million) help to explain the bump in numbers, driven in part by this funding. Specifically, funding to women’s rights organizations has increased substantially. For example, in 2021 (the year after the contribution to the Equality Fund was counted), funding to women’s rights organizations was $52.8M or 1.1 percent of bilateral allocable aid. Compared to 2015 when women’s rights organizations received a paltry $1.6M, this is a vast improvement. While there is definitely still room for improvement, we saw an increased government commitment to step up investment in gender equality  

Canadian ODA investments towards ending violence against women and girls and reproductive healthcare and family planning (the official coding term) have also increased in recent years. Canada is now a global leader in supporting GBV initiatives in terms of dollars spent. In terms of sexual reproductive health and rights (SRHR) funding, in 2015, Canada’s investments were $41.0 million (1.2 percent of bilateral allocable aid). In 2021, this amount rose to $170.4 million (3.5 percent of total bilateral allocable aid).

We also looked at gender equality programming across all FIAP Action Areas. While there has been increases in gender equality ‘principal’ bilateral allocable aid in all programming areas, progress has been strongest in the areas of Inclusive Governance, Global Health and Nutrition, and Education. Work is still required to increase gender equality-targeted initiatives in humanitarian assistance and climate/environment funding. 

Recommendations for GAC

We have four recommendations to GAC on how to strengthen reporting and communications on this issue:  

  • First, strengthen and maintain global leadership in funding for women’s rights organizations, ending sexual and gender-based violence, and SRHR. The increases to date are a good start, but more is needed.
  • Second, improve the transparency around how GAC calculates gender equality funding. This includes coding, reporting, allocations, and more. This is linked to the Auditor General’s concerns about understanding impacts and results. 
  • Third, improve public reporting on investments. GAC’s annual report to Parliament could include an annex on gender equality financing that shows a breakdown of the gender equality markers, funding flowing to key areas such as women’s rights organizations, SRHR, and LGBTQI+ initiatives. It would also be helpful to put this data in context by providing comparisons with earlier years.
  • Finally, increase investments in gender equality ‘principal’ programming generally and in FIAP Action Areas where progress has been slower, including humanitarian assistance and environment/climate programming. Given the urgent need for more investments in these two areas, specific attention is required to ensure that feminist goals are a significant part of programs in these areas.

Last year, several reflections on the FIAP focused on how one of the major advances since 2017 has been in changing the discussion. Gender justice issues previously relegated to a ‘cross-cutting’ theme are more and more part of mainstream conversations of Canadian development cooperation. We’ve seen progress. However, now is the time to build on this early progress and the promise in the FIAP to support feminist change in new and better ways.

Read the full report here

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