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Advancing Gender Equality at the G7 Biarritz Summit:
Good Steps Taken, Big Opportunities Missed

Julia Kulik, Director of Research, G7 and G20 Research Groups
November 12, 2019

G7 leaders assembled at their annual summit in Biarritz, France, on August 24–26, 2019, under the overarching priority theme of combating inequality. One central component of this theme and an area that the G7 has been increasingly addressing was gender equality. Expectations were high for the French presidency to make progress in this area, given the strong foundation that the G7 summit in Charlevoix the year before had laid out. This included a $3.8 billion financial commitment to support education for girls in conflict-affected states — a key achievement as the G7 had not mobilized new money for its gender equality commitments in many years. In addition, Charlevoix saw the creation of the Gender Equality Advisory Council (GEAC), whose mandate was renewed and membership revised by French president Emmanuel Macron in 2019.

In the lead-up to the Biarritz Summit, the GEAC laid out the following key calls to action for all countries, but specifically G7 ones:

  1. Identify and abolish discriminatory laws, and/or amend clauses that are discriminatory, including in the G7 members where they still exist.
  2. Enact and implement progressive legislative frameworks that advance gender equality. The GEAC invited G7 leaders and non-G7 members to commit to adopt and implement at least one, but preferably several laws in their own countries, to strengthen existing laws and to begin this legislative process before the next G7 presidency.
  3. Guarantee necessary financing to implement those legislative frameworks, and invest in strong accountability and governance mechanisms, including support for civil society.
  4. Measure and report on progress through time-bound agreed indicators.

These recommendations — if acted on — would steer the G7 away from its traditional outward-looking, development-focused approach to gender equality to one that takes stock of existing legal barriers in its members' own countries.

Just days prior to the start of the Biarritz Summit, it appeared that the leaders would not likely produce a comprehensive final communiqué. It was unclear whether any consensus-driven commitments would be produced at all. The decision not to produce a final communiqué was certainly a break with recent tradition. This alone meant that the work done to mainstream gender throughout the Charlevoix communiqué would not be replicated — so it would not appear in a public form that all members agreed.

Despite initial doubts, however, the Biarritz Summit produced multiple documents. They contained 2,441 words on gender equality or 6% of the total. These passages produced 17 commitments on gender equality or 24% of the total commitments the Biarritz leaders made.

The Biarritz outcome documents include the Chair's Summary on Fighting Inequalities. It effectively endorsed the recommendations laid out by the GEAC in the Biarritz Partnership for Gender Equality. To complement this, G7 members also produced the Annex for the Biarritz Partnership on Gender Equality, which set forth individual actions in key areas. These actions varied by degrees of comprehensiveness and ambition. Furthermore, some described the work that has been done in recent years while others committed to concrete, future-oriented steps.

xAlthough a major achievement would have been for all members to take a forward-looking approach, the annex is important for many reasons. First, it is a step toward formal accountability reporting that can serve as a baseline should this process be replicated in 2020. For example, France reports on the specific number of convictions for crimes of sexual violence since its 2018 implementation of fines for public harassment, and Germany reports an increase in the share of women on boards by 5% since 2015 under its Act on Equal Participation in Executive Positions.

The annex acknowledges that there are best practices and lessons learned to be shared among members and that individual members are at different stages of progress. This enables them to make commitments that specifically target their existing policy gaps as opposed to sweeping, generalized statements that allow some members to hide behind others' progress.

It lacks, however, a streamlined requirement for reporting. The United States, for example, failed to provide any specific data on measures to combat violence against women or close the gender wage gap. Furthermore, some of the language used is not particularly ambitious and does not indicate clear action to be taken once existing gaps have been identified. The G7 includes some of the largest economies in the world. It is time for them to move beyond the stage of studies and commissions.

Shockingly absent from the annex is any kind of tracking of or mapping against the targets laid out under United Nations' fifth Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) on achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls. If G7 members are committed to achieving the SDGs, which they have regularly noted in their communiqués, why not use the opportunity of their annual meetings to report on progress toward these comprehensive targets? The G7's failure once again to acknowledge the importance of protecting and ensuring sexual and reproductive rights continues to call into question its legitimacy as an institution truly committed to achieving gender equality as well as its ability to prevent socially conservative administrations from infringing on progress. The G7 began addressing sexual and reproductive rights at its summit in 2007. Yet there was no reference at all to these rights at either the 2017 or 2018 summits.

By prioritizing gender equality on its agenda in the last few years, the G7 sends the message that it is committed to being an international institutional player on this front. Yet it continues to be bogged down by creating new frameworks and initiatives every year. The framework was laid out in September 2015 with the leaders' adoption of the SDGs at the United Nations. Reinventing the wheel during every presidency slows down progress and misses an opportunity to be held accountable for progress toward goals the G7 leaders have already committed to meet. It also risks losing focus during years with hosts less amenable to the issue — a key concern for many as the G7 approaches its next summit hosted by the U.S. president in 2020.

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Julia KulikJulia Kulik, MPP, is director of research for the G7 and G8 Research Group, G20 Research Group, BRICS Research Group and Global Health Diplomacy Program, based at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy in Trinity College at the University of Toronto. She has written on G7, G20 and BRICS performance, particularly on the issues of gender equality and regional security. Kulik leads the work of the groups on gender, women's health, regional security and summit performance..

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