Is the G7 Ready to Make Gender Equality a Global Cause?
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Global Solutions Initiative.
The current French G7 Presidency has promised to turn gender equality into a global matter. To achieve this goal, the G7 states need to take bold policy measures, increase financial resources, and work more closely with the G20.
While most of the headlines on this year´s G7 Summit have focused on differences over trade, Iran, or Russia’s readmission to the G7, President Macron’s ambitious agenda to fight inequality, in particular gender inequality, has received little media attention. In the last few years, the needs of women and gender-related matters have gained significantly in importance in the international debate, including the G7 and the G20 agenda. Nevertheless, at the current rate of change, it would take 108 years to close the overall gender gap, as the World Economic Forum´s latest Global Gender Gap Report points out. There is, thus, urgent need for strong and determined action to advance women´s rights.
For this reason, the French G7 Presidency has rightly placed gender equality high on its agenda and, what is more, has promised to make gender equality a global cause. In the context of its G7 Presidency, France has prioritized three issues: the fight against violence, the promotion of girls´ and women´s education, and the economic empowerment of women, especially in Africa. To ensure that gender equality would figure prominently on the G7 agenda, a ministerial meeting dedicated to gender equality was held in May, marking the second time for the G7 to have a ministerial meeting on the issue. Furthermore, Macron extended and renewed the Gender Equality Advisory Council (GEAC), which was established during Canada´s G7 presidency last year. A few days before the G7 Summit in France, the GEAC issued the “Biarritz Partnership”, a report which identifies 79 laws worldwide that advance the rights of girls and women and calls on the G7 states to improve their legislative frameworks to promote gender equality. Giving special weight to the report, Macron even invited prominent GEAC representatives to presenttheir recommendations to the leaders of the world’s seven largest so-called advanced economies at the Biarritz Summit.
Overall it seems that the efforts made by the French G7 Presidency have paid off. Even if the Biarritz Summit has not achieved breakthrough progress on gender equality and, in particular, has fallen short of making concrete financial commitments, it has yielded solid results. The G7 Leaders have adopted a separate Declarationon Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment addressing three topics: the Biarritz Partnership on Gender Equality, conflict-related sexual violence, and girls’and women’s education and training. Joining the Biarritz Partnership on Gender Equality, the G7 states have committed to individual legislative measures that advance gender equality and have agreed to support countries interested in improving their legislative frameworks. Furthermore, as part of the Biarritz Declaration for a G7 and Africa Partnership, the leaders of the G7 and several African countries have issued a statement on the promotion of women’s entrepreneurship in Africa, supporting various initiatives. Yet, it is very disappointing that gender-related issues are not mentioned in the principal G7 Leaders´ Declaration. This, however, can be partly explained by the fact that this year´s joint declaration is a brief one-page document that has come about as a surprise.
As a club of liberal democracies and major economic powers, the G7 countries have both the responsibility and the capacity to advance women´s rights worldwide. To live up to the G7´s claim to be a community of shared values such as the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, the G7 needs to lead by example in the fight against gender inequality. This involves at least three measures. First, all G7 countries should ratify the relevant international gender equality standards such as the Istanbul Convention and the Convention on the Elimination of All Formsof Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and push other states to follow suit. Second, all G7 states should rigorously review their legislative frameworks with a view to gender equality, abolish discriminatory laws and enact and implement new ones, drawing on the legislative package put forward in the Biarritz Partnership and going beyond the not too ambitious domestic commitments made in Biarritz. Additionally, the G7 should actively assist developing countries in initiating a similar legislative process. Third, G7 members should provide financial support to women´s rights organizations and initiatives promoting women´s economic empowerment on a regular basis. This requires increasing financial resources in both domestic budgets and development assistance. By devoting 50 percent of its development aid to projects to reduce gender inequalities, France has taken a first step in that direction.
If the G7 is ready to make gender equality a global cause, they need to work together more closely with the G20. As the G20 represents two-thirds of the world´s population, close collaboration would increase both outreach and legitimacy of the G7 efforts. Furthermore, the G7´s success in advancing global gender equality depends much on their capability to get countries from all over the world on board. Consequently, it is encouraging to see that the French G7 Presidency was able to engage not only the G7 states but also Australia, Chile, India, Senegal and Rwanda for the Biarritz Partnership for Gender Equality. The G20 is the natural platform to create international momentum as the G20 countries have made many commitments and started several initiatives related to gender equality, which are complementaryto G7 actions. In order to give fresh impetus to these commitments and initiatives, first of all, G7 states themselves need to comply with the commitments they have made at the G20 level. For instance, the G20 Leaders have committed to reduce the gender labor force participation gap by 25 percent by2025 compared to 2012. In three of the G7 countries, namely Italy, the U.S.A.and Canada, however, the decline in gender gap is not in line with the expected progress towards meeting the “25 by 25 target”. In addition, the G7 should encourage the other G20 states to accelerate their efforts in boosting change for gender equality. Second, instead of launching more and more initiatives independently of each other, the G7 and G20 should pool their strengths andembark on joint initiatives. A positive example is We-Fi, a collaborative partnership of multiple state and non-state actors hosted by the World Bank, which is dedicated to raising money for women-led businesses in developing countries. Both the G7 and the G20 support the work of this initiative. Similarly, the G7 should embrace the G20 initiative #eSkills4Girls, which promotes education, employment and entrepreneurship opportunities to tackle the existing gender digital divide, and therefore fits well into the G7 agenda. Third, the G7 represents not only a considerable share of the G20 members but also wields considerable influence in the networks and organizations surrounding the G20, such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. The G7 should leverage its influence, pressing every button to initiate change on a more global level.
By using its influence in the G20 and international organizations, a G7 both making substantial commitments on gender equality and complying with them can make a valuable contribution towards making gender equality and women´s economic empowerment a global cause. For this to happen, G7 policy makers need to acknowledge that it his high time to turn rhetoric into action ‑ and that costs serious money.