Voices from the Field features contributions from scholars and practitioners highlighting new research, thinking, and approaches to development challenges. This piece is authored by Lyric Thompson, Director of Policy and Advocacy at the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW).
In December 2017, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised unprecedented emphasis on women and girls over the course of this year’s Group of Seven (G7) deliberations, signaling his intent to use Canada’s presidency to show the world what feminist policy would look like on the global stage. He regularly referenced his government’s Feminist International Assistance Policy as a gold standard and prequel to what was to come, and assembled a high-level Gender Equality Advisory Council, convening the likes of Melinda Gates and Malala Yousafzai to advise him on what he hoped would be “bold, feminist” proposals for G7 leaders to take forward.
The Prime Minister got just what he asked for. Between the recommendations of the Gender Equality Advisory Council and the Women Seven (W7) — an official stakeholder group of feminist advocates from G7 and developing countries to which I was a delegate representing the United States — the Government of Canada received more than a hundred recommendations as to what an intersectional, feminist G7 would look like.
In order to determine whether or not the Charlevoix summit delivered the promised, feminist G7, a number of foreign policy and women’s rights organizations evaluated the outcomes of this weekend’s Leaders Summit, alongside declarations, communiques and commitments published over the course of many months of consultations, Sherpa meetings and ministerial meetings. Our report card assesses the G7’s progress in 2018 against four areas: (1) rhetorical commitments — what they said they would do; (2) policy commitments — language they negotiated to take actions in some regard; (3) funding commitments — how many dollars were allotted to said priority; and (4) accountability commitments — or what, if any, actions will be taken to measure and report progress in achieving those commitments.
We divide the assessment into various substantive and process components. On process, we find this Presidency did achieve an unprecedented level of focus on gender equality. Rather than focusing on a single “women’s issue du jour,” such as gender-based violence, women’s economic empowerment, or maternal health, Canada successfully planted gender equality broadly as one of its five priority agenda items, in addition to a more concerted effort to incorporate a focus on gender throughout all other topic areas. This meant policy staff up to Ministers themselves were forced to ask the question, “What does this have to do with women?” on issues ranging from climate change to workforce development.
Canada also hosted the first intersectional, feminist W7 — a meeting of feminist advocates hailing from G7 countries as well as the developing world, where women are more likely to be affected by G7 decisions — and established the Gender Equality Advisory Council that answered Trudeau’s call for bold, feminist proposals.
Beyond these procedural successes, we also find an unprecedented level of activity on a host of substance areas within the gender equality umbrella. G7 representatives — from Sherpas to ministers to leaders themselves, with the United States as the notable exception — opined at length on the importance of gender equality, with rhetorical commitments on everything from adolescent girls to women’s economic empowerment.
In some instances, they agreed on policy language that committed them to taking concrete actions, from implementing the best standards in humanitarian practice to end gender-based violence, to taking steps to achieve pay equity and a more equal distribution of household and family care responsibilities. Financial commitments were more infrequent. Some but not all of the G7 leaders agreed to fund education for girls in conflict and crisis settings to the tune of $2.9 billion, while the American development finance institute Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) marshalled G7 support for a commitment of $3 billion for women in the economy. Rarest of all were commitments by G7 countries to hold themselves accountable, which were limited to the announcement of an accountability report on women’s economic empowerment efforts, and a promised review of new commitments to end gender-based violence in conflict settings to come next year.
A feminist analysis of these outcomes leads to the conclusion that, while the Canadian summits had a greater focus on women than ever before, they fell short of their intended goal of being truly transformative. Commitments, for the most part, lacked resources or specificity of intentions that could be measured and held to account. As Devex has reported, any reference to women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights was noticeably absent. Indeed, the areas that ultimately received greatest funding were two issues that tend to be least controversial, and most compatible with paternalist norms, even among the most conservative regimes: girls’ education and women’s economic advancement.
All is not for naught, however: Canada has given us an unprecedented step forward, which will serve as the new benchmark for success next year when France – another government that has recently released a feminist development framework – takes up the G7 helm.