For the second year in a row, the G7 host has made the empowerment of women a priority on the summit’s agenda. At Ise-Shima this May, Japan will ask the other G7 members to act on empowering women through education, particularly in the fields of natural sciences and technology. Fresh from hosting the World Assembly for Women this past year, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe hopes to build on the work done by Chancellor Angela Merkel at her G7 summit in Schloss Elmau in 2015. In recent years, the G7’s approach to gender equality issues has shifted slightly, from focusing on protecting women and girls from threats such as disease and conflict, to promoting greater participation of women in the workforce as a means to achieve inclusive economic growth and stability. There are now big shoes to fill following last year’s German summit, which produced a record 29 commitments on gender equality.
The G7/8 first began making commitments related to the education, training and advancement of women in the workforce at the Canadian-hosted 2002 Kananaskis Summit. The three commitments made there were part of a larger effort to fast-track the Education for All Initiative, aimed at furthering progress on the Millennium Development Goal of universal primary education by 2015. By 2015, net enrolment rates for primary education had reached 91% in developing regions. In 2004, at Sea Island, G8 leaders reinforced the Kananaskis educational commitments and added more on increasing financing opportunities for female entrepreneurs, support for vocational training for women and internship opportunities. These commitments were aimed specifically at women in the Broader Middle East and North Africa. From 2006 to 2014, the G7/8 commitments related to women focused almost exclusively on health issues, such as HIV/AIDs, maternal health and sexual and reproductive health, and the rights of women in Arab countries in transition.
Then in 2015, G7 members made a significant advance in promoting women’s economic empowerment. Among the 29 Schloss Elmau commitments was one to increase the number of women and girls who receive technical and vocational training in developing countries by one-third by 2030. Leaders also committed to counter gender stereotyping by developing measures to encourage girls to enrol in science, technology, engineering and mathematics – a move that will be reinforced at Ise-Shima.
Discrimination impedes growth
The commitments made at Schloss Elmau and the declarations released there indicate that G7 leaders recognise the discrimination that women face, and that it not only violates their human rights but also significantly impedes economic growth overall. Leaders acknowledged that the economic empowerment of women is not just needed in developing countries but in their own as well.
They have indicated that advancing a successful strategy must include countering gender stereotypes that discourage women and girls from entering certain disciplines, improving visibility for successful female entrepreneurs to encourage others to follow suit and, perhaps most importantly, improving policies that reconcile the imbalances between men and women with respect to unpaid care work. G7 leaders also reaffirmed their commitment to achieving inclusive growth for women in the Middle East and North Africa, particularly through the Transition Fund and providing funding for grants and technical cooperation projects in finance, trade and governance.
Building on commitments
Based on initial observations of G7 compliance data with gender-related commitments made from 1996 to 2014, certain variables seem to correlate with G7 members’ high compliance scores in respect of these commitments. These variables are a high number of gender commitments in the same year, the ‘compliance catalysts’ of specific targets and timelines within the commitments, and the mutual reinforcement of the gender equality agendas and commitments of outside institutions. It may be helpful for G7 leaders to build these elements into their communiqué in Japan to advance their overall strategy. Also useful would be a progress report on compliance with the commitments made at Schloss Elmau. This would be particularly helpful, as many of the gender equality priorities outlined by the Japanese presidency will build on what was promised at Schloss Elmau. A progress report would improve accountability and transparency, and inspire more confidence that promises made are promises kept.
G7 members tend to be high compliers with their gender equality commitments. They are also among the high compliers in relation to the G20’s gender commitments. They are usually backed by high rates of public support for the issue, high rates of female labour force participation and high proportions of parliamentary seats held by women. They are therefore well equipped to make real progress on removing the barriers to women’s full economic inclusion and helping those countries that may be further behind in ending discrimination against women.