Gender inequality has worsened during the pandemic, making it even more imperative for the G20 to emphasise related commitments and safeguard women’s rights
Italy’s 2021 G20 presidency has identified ‘People, Planet and Prosperity’ as the three priority themes for its Rome Summit. The first pillar will include a focus on women’s empowerment as one way to reduce inequalities. As G20 leaders meet in October, COVID-19 and terrorism continue to increase gender inequalities both at home and abroad.
G20 leaders first addressed gender equality at their London Summit in April 2009, with 155 words (3%) of their communiqué. Since their Seoul Summit in November 2010, their attention slowly, if irregularly, increased in size and scope. At Seoul they gave 177 words (1%) to gender, which dropped to a low at Cannes in 2011 of 52 words (0.4%), and then rose at Los Cabos in 2012 to 231 words (2%). This surged at St Petersburg in 2013 to 1,015 words (4%) but dropped again at Brisbane in 2014 to 305 words (3%). Then came a sustained rise to 1,235 words (14%) at Antalya in 2015, 1,199 words (8%) at Hangzhou in 2016 and to a peak of 4,836 words (14%) at Hamburg in 2017. In Buenos Aires in 2018, the number of words plunged to 676 (8%), but rose significantly at Osaka in 2019 to 1,153 (23%) — the highest portion at any summit. It plunged again in Riyadh in 2021 to 686 words (12%).
From 2008 to 2020, the G20 has made 63 core commitments on gender equality. The first two came at Los Cabos in 2012 and an additional four were made at Brisbane in 2014. Antalya in 2015 also had four related commitments, and Hangzhou in 2016 had eight gender-related commitments. The strong surge at the 2017 Hamburg Summit stood out, with a record 30 core commitments on gender equality and 14 related ones. Buenos Aires in 2018 had only seven core gender commitments. At Osaka in 2019, this rose to 12, with an additional four related ones. Riyadh in 2020 had eight core commitments and one related commitment.
At the start, gender commitments focused on increasing female labour-force participation and improving workplace conditions. This focus continued through to 2015, with a slight expansion to women entrepreneurs and farmers and later to digital skills development and education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, to increase female participation in those sectors. In 2017 and 2018, the G20 committed to end gender-based violence. In 2020, the G20 recognised the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 crisis on women and committed to ensuring that it would not widen existing inequalities and undermine the progress made in
G20 members have averaged 59% compliance with the 24 gender commitments assessed by the G20 Research Group. This is well below the overall 71% average. The highest compliance came with the commitments made in 2018 at 73% and commitments made in 2014 and 2015 at 72% each. The lowest compliance came with commitments made in 2013 with 33% and 48% with commitments made in 2009. Six months after the Riyadh Summit, compliance with the two assessed gender commitments averaged 79%.
The highest complier with commitments made between 2009 and 2019 on gender was Canada at 87%, followed by the European Union at 84% and Australia at 79%. The lowest compliers were Mexico and Indonesia at 35%, followed by Russia at 46%.
Causes and corrections
Several potential causes of compliance stand out. Higher G20 compliance of about 8% came on summits with a lower percentage of the communiqué and its commitments dedicated to gender and gender-related issues.
The core gender equality commitments averaged slightly higher compliance of 63% than the gender-related ones at 55%. Gender commitments with the highest compliance focused on women’s economic empowerment, reducing the labour force participation gap by 25% by 2025 and financial inclusion. Commitments with the lowest compliance focused on women and girls’ education in STEM, unpaid care work, and gender-based violence.
Commitments with a highly binding verb and thus a high degree of obligation averaged 69%, while those with a lower degree averaged only 51%.
Several catalysts, which provide direction for implementation and are embedded in the commitment text, have a positive effect on compliance. The 11 assessed commitments with at least one such catalyst averaged 62% compliance, and the other 13 with none averaged only 57%. The two commitments with the highest compliance referred to working with the private sector and to a self-monitoring process for implementation.
G20 leaders at Rome should thus make fewer conclusions and commitments on gender, emphasise core gender commitments on economics and finance, use highly binding verbs, and include the private sector and self-monitoring of implementation as commitment catalysts.