2015 G7 Summit: "Women are the focus here"
The Group of Seven (G7) summit is an annual meeting of seven industrialized democracies – Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States – that provides the opportunity for leaders to discuss topics such as the global economy, health, and foreign policy. The host country plays a decisive role not only in organizing the event but also in setting the agenda, as the rotating Presidency of the G7 selects additional current topics for the leaders to address.
From June 7-8, 2015, the G7 leaders met at Schloss Elmau in Bavaria, Germany. The German G7 Presidency, spearheaded by Chancellor Angela Merkel, chose women’s economic empowerment as one of the selected key issues for the 2015 agenda. This decision gave the G7 a landmark opportunity to address the needs of women, and after the summit Merkel remarked that “women are the focus here.”
Women’s economic empowerment is crucial for societal development and for unlocking potential around the world. When we invest in women’s economic empowerment, we also invest in gender equality, poverty eradication, and more inclusive economic growth. Providing female farmers with the same level of resources as male farmers could reduce the number of people living in chronic hunger by 100 – 150 million. Furthermore, studies from a range of countries show that increasing the share of household income controlled by women, either through their own earnings or cash transfers, changes spending in ways that benefit children.
Despite the numerous benefits that result from women’s economic participation, women face significant barriers to inclusion in the labor force. Women are disproportionately affected by poverty, discrimination, and uneven distribution of labor in their households. These obstacles limit access to economic resources like land and loans, as well as the time to pursue economic opportunities. When women do participate, they are overrepresented in low-status, low-paying, insecure, or informal jobs. The data is familiar: the gender wage gap ranges from 6.2% to 36.3% in OECD countries, and women hold only 4.6% of CEO positions at S&P 500 companies.
This is why it is critical that the G7 discussed women’s economic empowerment this weekend – but what exactly have they promised to do to augment women’s opportunities worldwide?
The G7 committed to “increasing the number of women and girls in developing countries receiving technical and vocational training through G7 measures by one third by 2030”. This is an important step given that relevant skills can increase employment and entrepreneurship opportunities, build women’s agency, and help women transition from the informal into the formal economic sector. However, the G7 has not outlined a plan for how they will bring this goal to fruition.
Within G7 countries, leaders committed to reducing the gender gap in workforce participation by 25% by 2025. They noted the need to improve working conditions that allow women and men to balance family life and employment, such as access to parental leave and childcare, but failed to establish a concrete plan for achieving this objective.
Leaders also agreed to the G7 Principles on Women's Entrepreneurship. Some of these principles include encouraging girls’ participation in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields, addressing the specific needs of female entrepreneurs (e.g., by promoting networks for women entrepreneurs and providing mentoring), and facilitating women’s access to finance and technology. More broadly, the G7 stated support for UN Women's Empowerment Principles, and encouraged companies around the world to incorporate them into their practices.
Additionally, leaders established a new G7 working group on women that will help to coordinate G7 efforts surrounding women’s economic empowerment. The creation of the group indicates that women will continue to be a priority for the G7 in subsequent years rather than simply being incorporated as addendums or target populations within existing initiatives, as has been the case in the past.
A G7 focus on women is not only welcome, but long overdue. As half of the population, addressing the needs of women and girls is essential for effective development and for meeting the world’s greatest challenges. The G7 has taken steps to prioritize women and girls, and will continue to do so at the G7 Forum for Dialogue with Women in September, and the "World Assembly for Women: WAW!" under the Japanese Presidency in 2016. However, just being on the agenda is not enough. The G7 must deliver on their promises and continue to drive women’s empowerment forward because the evidence is clear: when women benefit, everyone benefits.