Gender and Volunteering

Gender and Volunteering

What is the issue and why is it relevant to volunteering?

The relationships between gender and volunteerism are multifaceted and complex.

Broadly, we can think about the relationships between gender and volunteering in two main areas:

  • Gender equality in volunteerism is about how gender roles affect people’s participation in volunteering itself.
  • Volunteerism for gender equality refers to how volunteers work to promote gender equality through their activities. 

Some key questions we might want to explore under each are presented in the figure below:

gender in volunteerism

What are the challenges and opportunities?

Some of the challenges and opportunities around gender and volunteering include:

  • Ensuring equality between men and women in access to and participation in volunteering activities
  • Putting gendered needs, interests and priorities at the core of policy making around volunteering
  • Developing gender-sensitive evidence and volunteering frameworks that contribute to reducing gender inequalities at the individual, institutional, and policy levels
What is UNV doing?

UNV has identified key strategies to help achieve gender equality through volunteering.

These strategies are outlined in a toolkit (published in 2021) for governments and their development partners on developing a national framework for gender equality through volunteering. 

What does the evidence say?

Gender and participation

  • In an overall picture of volunteering provided by the State of the World's Volunteerism Report 2022, it is pointed out that volunteering rates by men and women differ for informal and formal volunteering.
  • Looking at gender-based differences, formal volunteers are mostly men (54%), whereas informal volunteers are more likely to be women (53%). This has important implications for the ways in which volunteering can reinforce or challenge gender norms: informal volunteering tends to have lower status, attract less recognition and receive less practical support such as training, insurance or administrative support, than formal volunteering.


  • According to data presented in the State of the World’s Volunteerism Report 2018, the highest share of female volunteers is to be found in Latin America and the Caribbean (67%), and the lowest in Asia and the Pacific (49%). The prevalent cultural norms and understanding of volunteerism in each region could possibly explain these trends.                

Gendered division of tasks

  • Research shows that men and women often perform different roles during volunteering, and their participation differs also regarding the type of organizations and activities they commit their time to. 

  • In most contexts, the work that male and female volunteers undertake corresponds to wider attitudes in society about what is deemed appropriate for each, with female volunteers only interacting with other women and girls.

  • In a study conducted in Kenya, 90 per cent of Community health workers in Korogocho were women, which reflects community perceptions of women as primary care givers. Another study showed how in crisis situations, certain tasks associated with femininity, e.g. ‘caring’ roles, are usually assigned to female volunteers, while other tasks associated with masculinity, such as being first responders to crises, are often assigned to male volunteers. 

  • Evidence shows that formal volunteering may be more likely to challenge traditional gender norms through socialising/ networking, seeking skills and training and collective action.

Volunteering for gender equality

  • Participation in voluntary action can facilitate women’s empowerment by enabling them to develop their capacities, obtain new skills and increase their chances of social participation when they may not be allowed in other spheres of work or family.

  • Women volunteers in rural Uttarakhand, India, for example, formed ‘whole village groups’ which helped them engage local government officials, defend their rights, and become partners in improving their communities.  Volunteer’s activities can contribute to greater gender equality, to increase their visibility, and to reduce violence against women. 

  • Volunteer activities can also contribute to gender equality. For instance, the Saleema initiative, launched in 2008 by the National Council of Child Welfare (NCCW) and UNICEF Sudan has significantly reduced FGM rates in Sudan.  Acknowledging the role of men’s volunteering for gender equality, over 137 Husband Schools have been created in Niger’s Zinder Region since 2004 by UNFPA. The schools aim to educate men on the importance of reproductive health and foster behaviour change at the community level.


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