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Getting Gender Equality on the G20 Agenda

July 27, 2016

By Elizabeth Romanoff Silva

G20 Finance Ministers met in Chengdu, China, over the weekend for the last minister-level meeting before the G20 Summit in Hangzhou in September. While anxiety surrounding Brexit bubbled to the top of most discussions, leaders also stressed in their official Communiqué the importance of staying the course on long-term goals to achieve sustainable, balanced, and inclusive growth. However, leaders are increasingly realizing that in order to reach that goal, women – who represent half of the world’s working population but produce only 37 percent of GDP globally – must be given an equal seat at the table.

A recent McKinsey report found that if women participated in the economy at the same level that men do, it would add $28 trillion to annual global GDP by 2025 (26 percent of GDP). Recognizing that these inequalities stagnate economic growth, the first International Policy Forum on Gender-Inclusive Growth was held in Canberra in 2014 to foster inclusive economic growth among G20 countries. In 2015, the second forum was held in Ankara marked by the launch of the Women 20 (W20) engagement group, dedicated to advancing gender inclusiveness among the G20.

To continue the dialogue ahead of September’s summit, on July 11-12, Chatham House in London hosted the third annual International Policy Forum on empowering women for economic growth in the G20. A diverse group of leaders from across G20 countries attended, including members of parliament, finance ministers, representatives from the private sector including MasterCard and Citibank, and policy experts from Chatham House and a range of academic institutions.

The Asia Foundation has been a part of the W20 since its inception, and has helped ensure Asian women’s perspectives are included in discussions. The Asia Foundation was an associate sponsor of this year’s forum and supported Indonesian Member of Parliament Eva Sundari’s attendance. Sundari served as a panelist offering an on-the-ground look at the challenges to women’s political participation in Indonesia and perspective on how the G20 can create incentives for women to be part of the political process. I also had the privilege of attending.


Forum discussions included best practices and opportunities to increase women’s labor market participation and specific policies and investments that can spur gender-inclusive growth. Breakout sessions focused on developing key recommendations for the G20 related to legal barriers to preventing the full economic empowerment of women, the financial inclusion gap and the lack of access to finance, technology’s role in women’s empowerment, and women’s participation in politics. Julie Linn Teigland, chair of the forum and managing partner at Ernst & Young, summed it up in her speech when she asked: “Why are we here? Because it shouldn’t take 117 years to reach gender equality,” to a roar of applause.

Baroness Verma, the previous Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the UK’s Department for International Development, explained why DFID was so committed to gender equality and referenced the McKinsey study, reminding the audience that the McKinsey study had concluded that “the world would be 28 trillion dollars better off in 2025 if there was gender equality.” “We have put gender at the center of all our programs,” she added.

A few advocacy recommendations discussed at the forum for the W20 to implement included targeting W20 recommendations toward G20 finance ministers who meet quarterly, identifying gender champions among G20 leaders as allies, and sensitizing decision-makers to the importance of gender-inclusive growth.

A few standout policy recommendations for the G20 included enacting tax legislation to encourage women’s labor force participation and setting a goal of ending all discriminatory laws. The importance of quantifiable recommendations, measurement, and collecting additional sex-disaggregated data was a recurring theme.

This week, key stakeholders will come together in Bellagio, Italy, for a follow-up three-day workshop to synthesize learning from the Empowering Women for Economic Growth Policy Forum and to develop the W20’s Action Plan for gender-inclusive growth. At the September G20 Summit in Hanghzou and subsequent G20 Summits, it’s important that gender-inclusive growth and W20 recommendations feature prominently in the agenda.

Elizabeth Silva is a program officer for The Asia Foundation’s Women’s Empowerment Program in Washington, D.C. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the individual author and not those of The Asia Foundation or its funders.


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