This Working Paper is produced by the Gender Equity Practice as part of a series four research papers commissioned by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that investigates barriers and enablers of gender-responsive approaches within different aspects of agricultural adaptation—climate-smart agriculture, nature-based solutions, financing, and locally led processes.

This paper explores the challenges that limit the ability and willingness of funders and implementers to deliver gender-responsive programming that would change the circumstances of women who are particularly vulnerable to climate change. It investigates what is happening within funding and implementing institutions that prevents gender policies and strategies from manifesting in more gender-responsive climate funding and draws from examples to offer recommendations for influencing the gender responsiveness of funding decisions.


  • Gender equity has gained greater attention in climate finance over the past decade. However, the amount of funding allocated to gender-responsive adaptation programming remains relatively small and even that is likely inflated due to accounting challenges.
  • While many institutions that fund climate initiatives have adopted gender strategies for internal planning purposes and set standards for implementation, disparities in institutions’ efforts to adequately fund gender-responsive adaptation actions often stem from an overarching culture of undervaluing gender equality and are pervasive across all types of institutions.
  • This report proposes solutions to overcome inherent biases and foster the implementation of gender strategies, based on an extensive review of the literature and key informant interviews.
  • Strategies should address both underlying institutional culture issues that limit the amount of money going to gender-responsive programming, as well as the operational challenges of implementing gender strategies, from accountability and compliance measures to capacity and cohesion around a comprehensive approach.
  • To improve their effectiveness, institutions providing or implementing climate funds should identify how these barriers manifest in their decision-making and implementation processes and develop funded plans to address them.

Executive Summary:


There is growing recognition that making climate change funding gender responsive can improve the effectiveness, efficiency, and sustainability of investments in adaptation.

International climate financing mechanisms, donor governments funding climate actions, and Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) all acknowledge that when addressing climate change, principles of gender equality and empowerment of women should be respected, promoted, and considered.

Yet analysis of climate funding flows clearly indicates that amounts explicitly devoted to gender responsiveness remain relatively small in terms of their share in overall disbursements. The Climate Policy Initiative estimates that, in 2019–20, 11 percent (US$5 billion out of $46 billion) was gender-tagged.

And the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s estimates from 2018–19 show that while over half of adaptation programming integrated gender equality objectives, only 2.4 percent of the funding had gender equality as a principal objective. And these numbers are potentially inflated due to a lack of uniformity and transparency in accounting and criteria for determining the degree of gender integration.

Despite the rhetoric of gender policies across donor and recipient governments and implementers there is still a lack of political will to invest to the extent needed for effective gender integration. Gender issues continue to be siloed and sidelined, with gender integration seen as an imposition within the technical work or as a responsibility for gender advisors to manage separately. Additionally, there is an overemphasis on women as a vulnerable group or victims of climate impacts while the structural causes of gender inequalities are neglected.

About this working paper

This paper investigates systemic and institutional barriers that prevent climate funding from flowing to gender-responsive adaptation initiatives. Challenges to gender equality at the community level have been well studied. However, evidence reveals that the roadblocks that limit the amount of funding going to gender-responsive programming begin upstream, where allocation decisions deny adequate adaptation funding to gender-responsive programming, and the extent to which gender strategies are implemented.

The authors contend that the obstacles to gender-responsive adaptation initiatives lie within an overarching institutional culture at funding and implementing institutions that undervalues gender equality, which in turn restricts the potential for fuller gender-responsive implementation. Drawing from a narrative literature review and key informant interviews, this paper documents several practices that manifest those systemic and institutional challenges and provides insights into promising practices for unlocking the flow of funding and effectively implementing gender strategies.


The urgency of climate action is still driving a prioritization of technical approaches at the expense of the social constructs around which they depend for effective implementation.

Because decision-makers still are not seeing gender as a game changer for climate outcomes, both funding and implementing organizations underinvest in their own capacities and those of their partners to implement and monitor gender-responsive programming, and are lax on accountability.

Operational gaps for implementing gender equality policies are a widespread problem. Studies find a lack of coherence between policy claims and budget allocations for gender actions and a lack of oversight of the quality of compliance with gender requirements. The lack of alignment around a clear vision of gender-responsive performance reporting has resulted in a tracking of general disbursement of climate finance and the implementation of activities, rather than a more focused evaluation of how deeply gender has been integrated within climate finance.

Without intentional gender-focused targets and integration of gender considerations throughout the project cycle, adaptation initiatives have the potential to harm women and exacerbate gender disparities. While gender analyses have been shown to be essential for ensuring gender responsiveness, as well as adequately recognizing and addressing a project’s potential negative impacts on its participants, climate adaptation funders and implementers are not effectively using them. Funders and implementers alike are not complying with the Minimum Standards for Gender Mainstreaming (GPC n.d.), leading to a failure to support women in adapting to the impacts of climate change.


Increasing the flow of funding to gender-responsive climate adaptation programming requires targeting the systemic barriers and institutional practices that have impeded progress.

We offer a set of recommendations that can be adapted for both funding and implementing organizations:

  • Cultivate high-level champions to influence political will and establish accountability for high-level commitments to gender equality, while leveraging existing coordination mechanisms to systematize gender integration.
  • Better address gender equality outcomes in integrated adaptation initiatives, as well as engage more directly with women’s organizations.
  • Adopt the Minimum Standards for Gender Mainstreaming and invest in tracking and accountability mechanisms for complying with them.
  • Use a system that aligns budgets with gender equality commitments.

Preview image by Andrew Wu, WRI