The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected women, yet the G7 has yet to acknowledge the link. To improve outcomes for women post-pandemic and beyond, specific commitments with built-in compliance catalysts are essential
The 2021 G7 Cornwall Summit will be the third to take place during the COVID-19 crisis. The first virtual summit was in March 2020, which failed to acknowledge the impact of COVID-19 on women. The second was on 19 February 2021, which did no better. By this June, regardless of their respective stages of pandemic response, G7 members must acknowledge the link between COVID-19 and gender equality and commit to mitigating its detrimental effects, by eliminating gender pay gaps, strengthening domestic social policies, and preventing violence against women at home and abroad.
G7 leaders first addressed gender equality at their 1990 summit, then addressed it sporadically. Their attention steadily increased from 2013 until 2019. G7 communiqués averaged 668 words on gender equality at each summit, for almost 6% of the total words from 1975 to 2020. (There was a reference to men and women at the 1982 summit, but it did not address gender equality.)
The greatest attention came at the three summits from 2017 to 2019. The 2017 Taormina communiqué contained 3,888 words (44.9%) on gender equality. This increased in 2018 at Charlevoix to 5,086 words (45.3%), the highest and most mainstreamed amount. There was a slight decline in Biarritz in 2019 to 2,441 words (33.8%), still significantly above average.
In 2016, the G7 began releasing standalone documents on gender equality, with two issued in 2018 and three in 2019. They were statements on improving education for women and girls in developing countries, ending gender-based violence in a digital context and the Biarritz Partnership on Gender Equality.
Since 1975, the G7 made a total of 311 public, collective, precise, future-oriented and politically binding commitments on gender equality, accounting for over 5% of the total number identified by the G7 Research Group. Most were made between 2015 and 2018. Before then, most were gender-related commitments with other issues at their core, including addressing HIV/AIDS, improving maternal and child health, and improving educational outcomes for girls in Africa. Gender equality became a focus in 2015, with 34 (9%) commitments, followed by 48 (14%) in 2016, and 71 in 2017 (39%). In 2018, the G7 made a record 82 (26%) commitments on gender equality. In 2019, this dropped significantly to 17, but was still 24% of the low number of commitments made that year.
G7 members averaged 73% compliance with these gender commitments, based on the 44 assessed for compliance by the G7 Research Group. This 73% gender compliance average is slightly below the overall 76% average across all subjects.
The gender commitments with the highest compliance focused on health, including improving maternal, newborn and child health outcomes for women, and commitments that invoked legal action or the protection of human rights.
Commitments with the lowest compliance focused on supporting refugee and internally displaced women and girls affected by conflict and disaster and on gender-based violence.
The highest compliance came with commitments made in 2002 with 100%,
in 2013 with 95%, in 1996 and 2018 with 92% each, in 2014 with 86% and in 2007 with 84%. The lowest compliance came with commitments made in 2011 with 45% and 2004 with 56%. Meanwhile, the highest complying G7 member was Canada at 88%. It was followed by the UK at 85% and the European Union at 77%. In the middle were Germany at 76%, the United States at 75% and France at 69%. The lowest compliers were Japan at 65% and Italy at 50%.
CAUSES AND CORRECTIONS
The highest complying summits, averaging 84%, had a high degree of internal G7 institutional support: they coincided with the only two ministerial meetings on gender equality ever held and with the creation of three of the five gender-related institutional bodies. The lowest complying summits, averaging 60%, came on commitments made in years with no such ministerial meetings and with only two institutional bodies created.
The highest complying summits also dedicated a larger percentage of their communiqués – on average 18% – to gender equality – compared with the 6% average for the lowest complying summits.
Core gender commitments average 67% compliance. Gender-related commitments average 77%, and those with the highest compliance link gender equality to health, specifically to maternal and newborn health, AIDS and reproductive health. Commitments with the lowest compliance lack specificity, but commit to or support gender equality and women’s empowerment broadly.
The presence of compliance catalysts, such as text on how to implement a commitment, generally improves compliance. Gender commitments with embedded catalysts average 80% compliance and commitments with none average 64%. The catalysts that coincide with the highest compliance refer to a G7 body, invoke legal instruments or refer to working with a particular country, region or agent.