Getting started


How can we ensure that women’s rights and gender equality are embedded in the three policy areas of:

  • national or subnational volunteering policies
  • gender equality strategies, frameworks and plans
  • sectoral policies that engage volunteers in planning and implementing policy goals.

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1. Conduct situation analysis

How do gender and volunteering intersect in your country? What data is available? What questions do you need to ask?

Gender and development priorities

This activity brings the broader gender perspective into the development or revision of policies and strategies. The purpose of this step is to gather relevant legislative and policy information on gender equality, as well as evidence and data, in order to provide a clear picture of the gender situation, including any groups that may be particularly marginalized in development processes. This step can also be used to identify and reach out to gender experts who should be involved in the process, including those from volunteer organizations. In many contexts, there will already be one or more documents setting out the situation in terms of gender equality. It will be important to find and use these documents rather than starting any new work, as they are likely to have been developed with the input of relevant experts.

General analysis of volunteerism

This next step requires a gender analysis of volunteerism in the context, if such an analysis does not already exist. Analysis requires examining everything from volunteering-specific policy and legal frameworks, to rates of participation in volunteer work among women, men, girl and boys, the types of roles and sectors that they work in and how this is perceived and valued. Information can be collated from national statistics on volunteering where these exist, but also studies and reports produced by organizations that work with volunteers, including civil society organizations, private sector organizations and academia. It is important to remember that volunteering goes beyond the delivery of services and includes several forms of civic engagement and participation such as social activism, social movements and campaigning, as well as environmental protection.

Box 2.1.
Socioeconomic determinants of volunteerism
2. Identify priority actions

What are the key actions you need to take? What are some examples?

Common challenges

These include areas where gender inequalities in volunteering reflect those more broadly found within society. For example, if there are similar levels of gender segregation in sectors or occupations and in volunteer work, these will likely be driven by common factors. For these issues, common and integrated strategies are needed to address challenges at scale. Small and targeted initiatives within the volunteering sector may be beneficial but somewhat limited in terms of effecting wider change without sufficient attention to the drivers of gender inequalities.


  • Lack of women’s leadership or decision-makingroles
  • Gendered division of labour
  • Barriers that hinder women's access to opportunities (time, technology, permission)

These areas are likely to be best integrated into national gender action plans and also highlighted in volunteerism frameworks

Volunteering strengths

Comparing gender and volunteering situations may reveal areas where volunteer work has relative strengths. For example, a country may have low female participation in labour markets or in politics and leadership, but have equal or even higher participation of women in voluntary sectors. In such contexts, policymakers could consider how to leverage women’s voluntary roles to achieve broader social, economic and political participation of women.


  • Women’s leadership in volunteer-led campaigns or initiatives
  • Gendered needs are met through self-help and mutual aid rather than official programmes and systems
  • Volunteers’ ability to collect better gender-disaggregated data to inform policymaking

These areas are likely to be addressed through investments in sector strategies and plans and also referenced in volunteerism frameworks

Volunteerism challenges

These are areas where volunteering is currently behind the curve in relation to the national context, and which need to be addressed to be a positive force for gender equality. Examples include specific gendered risks that women volunteers face to their security and safety when carrying out their work, or the burden women face in terms of their care and welfare workload, which impacts their availability for other forms of participation.


  • Burden of women’s unpaid care work in communities and its impact on education, economic opportunities, etc.
  • Reliance on the most vulnerable women to address their own needs and priorities through volunteering
  • Safety and security risks experienced on the basis of gender

These are issues that will need a tripartite approach across gender strategy, volunteering strategy and sector policies and plans

3. Identify opportunities for policy integration

How can you ensure that volunteerism supports gender equality across different policy areas? What are some examples and opportunities for integration?

Laws, policies and strategies on volunteerism

National volunteering policies and schemes should consider the perspective and representation of women and girls in relevant policymaking processes, bodies, councils and decisions, particularly since women take on the majority of volunteer work. At the same time, national volunteer policy frameworks and strategies rarely command the type of resources and influence needed to address many key drivers of gender equality through volunteerism. National policies should therefore highlight or summarize how volunteerism and gender equality issues can be integrated into wider policies and frameworks, including national and subnational gender targets, and how volunteering actors can support these linkages.

Box 4.1
Examples of gender equality in national volunteering laws and policies
National gender equality infrastructure

Most countries have a range of national gender equality frameworks, policies and processes. At present, there is no global database on national policies, but these can be easily accessed from national government platforms or from partners (see the United Nations Armenia repository of national gender documents as an example, which covers laws, frameworks and the establishment of bodies that coordinate and monitor progress).

To date, volunteerism has rarely been integrated into such frameworks, with more focus given to gender dimensions of paid (formal and informal) employment, and more recently, domestic care work. Given that volunteer work comprises around 2.4 per cent of global GDP,6 much of which is carried out by women informally in their communities, it is important to ensure that volunteer work is also covered in gender equality frameworks and plans. This could include integrating indicators relating to volunteer work, as well as documenting volunteer contributions to gender equality in the country or context.

Sector policies and strategies

Sector policies or strategies that involve volunteer efforts are also important. Many sectors rely on volunteer labour to support policy goals, even if this is not explicitly stated in official documents. Since sector strategies often direct the comprehensive overview of policy priorities, as well as the resources to tackle these, they are best placed to address gender and volunteering issues, especially the need for investments in volunteers themselves. The relevant sectoral policy will depend on the areas of gender inequality identified in part 2, though could include policy covering labour and employment, care and social policy, health and other basic services, and social protection and welfare. Box 4.2 provides some examples of instances where volunteerism has been incorporated into development strategies.

Box 4.2.
Examples of volunteerism in sector strategies

Policy integration

What are some potential entry points for policy integration and action? How can these be adapted and built upon in line with context-specific institutional structures, mandates and processes? See some ideas from the table below.

National volunteering policies, laws and framework National gender equality framework, policies and processes Sector policies or strategies that engage with volunteers
Include definitions of volunteering that are relevant to the voluntary activities of women, men, girls and boys Integrate data on gender and volunteering from national statistics and non-governmental partners Sector policies that highlight any significant contributions fron volunteers and include an analysis of how volunteer-led activities impact women, men, girls and boys
Reiterate rights and entitlements of volunteers, including non-discrimination and equal access to opportunities Include targets and indicators on gender and volunteerism in national gender equality action plans Sector policies that include sector-specific investments in volunteerism to help deliver priorities in partnership with relevant stakeholders from civil society and the private sector
Address the safety and security of volunteers including gendered risks of different types of volunteer work Include gender and volunteerism questions in gender audit checklists or other relevant policy review processes For example, labour-market policies could incorporate the role of volunteering in building skills and social capital for employment, with a specific focus on the barriers for women and men, addressing these through a range of approaches such as learning and training, skills certification, and me mentorship programmes
Include commitments to support gender equality through volunteering as part of social and economic development processes through specific linkages with sector and other policies Commit resources for volunteer-led interventions to support gender equality at scale, for example campaigns on gender and social norms
Include mechanisms to ensure that women and girls have a voice and can participate in volunteer initiatives, organizations and decision-making Commit resources for addressing gender inequalities in volunteerism through more targeted interventions, such as a leadership programme for indigenous women voluntary leaders Care policies could include an analysis of women's voluntary care work, and could examine ways to bring recognition and value to this work, such as initiatives to provide health or other insurance, along with incentives that are likely to increase men's participation over time
Cover any incentives for volunteers, including an analysis of how these can help address any gender inequalities in volunteer work  
Provide recognition of gendered contributions to peace and development through volunteerism