Gender at the Group of 7: Can Making It a Priority Accelerate Change?
Posted June 7, 2018 5:00 p.m. EDT
When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada put women front and center in his speech to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in January, he surprised some people.
After all, the annual forum is a male-dominated event if there ever was one. Women make up a fifth of participants.
“I’d like to focus on a fundamental shift that every leader in this room can act on immediately, one that I have made a central tenet of my leadership,” Trudeau told a packed room in Davos. “I’m talking about hiring, promoting and retaining more women. And not just because it’s the right thing to do, or the nice thing to do, but because it’s the smart thing to do.”
He then reeled off a series of telling statistics. Gender parity could add $1.75 trillion to the gross domestic product of the United States, he said, and $2.5 trillion to China’s. In Canada, reducing the gender gap could result in $150 billion more in annual economic output by 2026, according to McKinsey & Co., he added.
Now Trudeau’s country holds the rotating presidency of the Group of 7 industrialized nations, and gender equality has become one of the organization’s top priorities, too.
The Canadian government has appointed a Gender Equality Advisory Council to “support leaders and ministers in ensuring that gender equality and gender-based analysis are integrated across all themes, activities and outcomes of Canada’s G-7 presidency,” according to the advisory council’s website.
The 21-member council is led by Melinda Gates, a chairwoman of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Isabelle Hudon, Canada’s ambassador to France and Monaco. Other members include Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, and Malala Yousufzai, a Nobel peace laureate.
“Canada is on a trajectory when it comes to gender,” said Katja Iversen, who is also on the council, and is chief executive of the gender-equality advocacy group Women Deliver. She noted that the Canadian Cabinet had as many women as men, and that the country unveiled a gender-responsive national budget in February.
The task of her gender advisory council, she said, was “to come up with the plans of what the world should look like for girls and women,” and “what the G-7 countries should do and commit to do” to improve prospects for girls and women.
It’s not the first time that gender is high on the agenda of the world’s most powerful leaders. At the Group of 7 summit meeting in Taormina, Sicily, last year during Italy’s presidency of the organization, women’s rights appeared toward the top of the final communiqué.
“Gender equality is fundamental for the fulfillment of human rights and a top priority for us, as women and girls are powerful agents for change,” the Group of 7 leaders said in their communiqué.
Tacked onto the final communiqué was a separate document, “Roadmap for a Gender-Responsive Economic Environment,” with pledges by the seven countries to increase women’s participation and leadership in all walks of life, promote female entrepreneurship, improve women’s access to jobs and equal pay, and stop violence against girls and women.
This year, Canada has appointed a council of women whose task is to offer pointers to the Group of 7’s predominantly male leadership.
Of the seven nations in the organization, two, Germany and Britain, have female leaders.
Iversen said she and her fellow council members started their deliberations in the early part of the year and made recommendations to Trudeau and to Canada’s Group of 7 representatives.
The recommendations, she said, concerned issues such as sexual and reproductive health, gender-based violence, jobs and peace and security.
During the deliberations, she said Gates emphasized the importance of having access to gender-specific data.
“A lot of data in the world today is not sex-disaggregated. You just get averages,” Iversen said. “If you can’t see where women live, die, work and have needs in terms of services or coverage, it’s difficult to make policies and investments that work.”
How can the council hold to account the Group of 7, which was set up as the Group of 6 in 1975 as an informal talking shop for world leaders and whose good intentions are not necessarily going to be put into practice?
“We’re not going to solve the issue,” Iversen replied. “We come up with suggestions.”
She pointed out that gender inequality was “not a women’s problem” but rather a “societal” one.
Next year, France takes over the rotating presidency of the Group of 7. The French president, Emmanuel Macron, has made gender equality a priority. He has given women crucial Cabinet posts and helped increase the percentage of women in the lower house of Parliament to 38, up from 27. His government is also introducing measures on equal pay, sexual harassment and violence against women.
Iversen said she hoped France would also have a gender council and maybe even persuade the Group of 7 as a whole to institute one.
What is needed, she explained, is “a continuing council that would look at what was promised and what was done” on every single issue.