NAO report on DFID's vision for improving the lives of women and girls overseas

By agency reporter
April 30, 2020

The Department for International Development’s (DFID) 2018 Strategic Vision for Gender Equality is ambitious and well-researched, but DFID needs to improve its management of the Vision’s implementation if it is to achieve its intended impact, according to the National Audit Office (NAO).

DFID’s Vision is wide-ranging, building on and extending the scope of its earlier work on improving the lives of women and girls. It consulted widely both internally and externally with experts in gender equality and gathered evidence of what works in achieving change.

However, the NAO found that there is currently no overall long-term implementation plan for the Vision, nor has DFID published a thorough assessment of its progress to date, other than limited information in its annual reports and accounts and the Single Departmental Plan.

In 2018 DFID estimates that two thirds of bilateral aid (£4.2 billion) was spent on programmes that targeted gender equality as a policy objective – 71 per cent more money than in 2011. Included in this total are some programmes which have a primary focus on gender equality and other programmes where gender equality is an objective but not the main focus.

However, DFID needs to improve the quality of this estimate, says the NAO, as there is a high chance that it is currently inaccurate. The NAO’s analysis shows that it classified 33 per cent of its bilateral spending for 2018 incorrectly in respect of programmes with a gender equality focus.

'Mainstreaming' gender, so that it is considered across all of DFID’s work, is integral to the Vision, but DFID has found this difficult so far. Barriers include a lack of buy-in from some staff, insufficient guidance and training before 2019, and some weaknesses in its quality assurance processes. DFID is currently improving how it assesses programmes’ consideration of gender.

According to DFID, tackling social norms, such as negative attitudes within communities to girls attending school, will have the most long-term impact on tackling gender equality. But it has recognised that it does not do enough of this in its programmes. Influencing is also key to DFID’s approach, but it faces challenges assessing and claiming the impact from its influencing efforts.

DFID’s most recent assessment of progress to date and the prospects for achieving the Vision is mixed. In September 2019, DFID identified strong performance so far in four of its seven calls to action. However, its assessment of likely performance over the next six months was less positive, with five of its seven calls to action not on track to meet its aims as a result of the changes in its internal priorities and the external environment.

The NAO recommends that DFID should develop a plan for implementing the 2018 Strategic Vision and publish a short report setting out its progress every two years. It should also assess if it is focusing sufficiently on interventions which tackle social norms.

Gareth Davies, head of the NAO, said: “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.”

* Read Improving the lives of women and girls overseas here

* National Audit Office


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