OTTAWA: Group of Seven summits — such as last week’s all-male cohort of finance chiefs and central bankers — aren’t known for their diversity. Justin Trudeau is pushing to change that.
Canada will host the leaders of the industrialized world near Quebec City this week, with all eyes on Donald Trump’s brewing trade war. US tariffs have angered allies, prompted retaliation and divided the bloc. Amid all that, Trudeau is making gender equality and women’s empowerment one of five core themes of this year’s meeting.
The Canadian prime minister struck a gender equality advisory council, co-led by Melinda Gates, that includes figures such as Christine Lagarde and Malala Yousafzai. Its goal? Transform the G-7 to add gender-based analysis of policies to discussions.
There’s plenty of work to be done, the IMF managing director said during a G-7 panel last week in Whistler, British Columbia. Lagarde urged governments to do more to boost women’s participation in the workforce and take heed of the Me Too movement. She said she hopes “people actually dare speak up — men and women alike — about the issue of violence against women.” Without action, inequality will only worsen in the digital age, she warned.
In 2015, G-7 leaders pledged to cut the gender gap in workforce participation rates, which Lagarde said isn’t ambitious enough. In 2016, they said women’s equality and empowerment are “indispensable for their equal participation as agents of change.” And in 2017, G-7 leaders said “gender equality is fundamental for the fulfillment of human rights.”
The bloc has nevertheless been too slow to implement pledges, according to Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, under-secretary-general of the United Nations and a member of the council. “We would really urge for implementation,” she said in an interview at another G-7 ministerial session in March. “But implementation has somehow been difficult.”
The G-7 effort is just the latest in a string of such initiatives for Trudeau, an avowed feminist. His budgets include gender-based analysis and his cabinet is half women. His top diplomat, Chrystia Freeland, will host the world’s female foreign ministers for a conference in September.
“It’s not just a moral argument, it’s very much an economic argument,” Trudeau said last week in a Bloomberg Businessweek Debrief interview ahead of the G-7. “The fact that there is still a gap in outcomes, in power, in pay, between men and women means that we’re still not at the full potential of women contributing in our workforce.”
Roberta Jamieson, a council member and president of Indspire, a Canadian indigenous education charity, likens the push to global poverty reduction efforts. Poverty hasn’t been eradicated, she said, but there’s been substantial progress. “We are asking frankly for the G-7 summit to lead the initiative to make gender inequality history,” Jamieson said.
The council’s report, published Monday, called for the “fundamental transformation of unequal power in gender relations.” Among many recommendations, it called for G-7 leaders to:
Set binding dates to “mandate” gender parity on boards and in leadership positions by 2030 Incentivize the private sector to achieve pay equality for men and women by 2030, with penalties for those who don’t Invest more in foreign aid Fight gender-based violence and sexual harassment Provide comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services, including safe abortion services Support developing nations in offering a minimum of 12 years of free, safe, quality and gender-responsive education Recognize and redistribute unpaid domestic work that falls overwhelmingly to women
Winnie Byanyima, executive director at Oxfam International, said she hoped the gender council would be made permanent but that will be up to next year’s G-7 host, France’s Emmanuel Macron, to decide.
“The G-7 are mostly men with a particular background and a particular pathway to power, and not necessarily feminists in their thinking,” Byanyima said in a phone interview. “We’re calling on them to rewrite the economic rules so that people who work hard at the bottom, most of them women, can make a decent living.”
While council members credit Trudeau for his advocacy, Canada’s record isn’t flawless. ONE, an anti-poverty group co-founded by U2 frontman Bono, released a video on Trudeau’s G-7 gender pledge saying so far it’s “just words.” Byanyima also noted that Canada continues to spend below the global benchmark target for foreign aid. “We do need Canada to step up,” she said.
The G-7 push, of course, comes as the Me Too movement casts a global stoplight on sexual harassment. “We have an opportunity while the issue is on the table to make a difference,” Mlambo-Ngcuka said, calling for programs to boost the number of women and girls working in or studying technology. “If we want more women in the labor market, we also have to make the labor market more enabling to women.”