As the annual Group of Seven (G7) Summit ended this week, world leaders issued a declaration to address some of the world’s most pressing issues. Prominently featured in this document is a call to promote women’s economic empowerment and entrepreneurship, described as a “key driver of innovation, growth, and jobs.”
In a separate annex, the G7 leaders endorsed specific steps to promote women’s entrepreneurship, including facilitating access to finance, improving work-family policies for men and women, encouraging girls’ participation in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) disciplines, and championing successful female entrepreneurs as role models for the next generation.
This is not the first time that women’s empowerment has been prioritized in a G7 declaration. In fact, it’s part of a recent trend in which gender issues have been elevated by world leaders in international fora and integrated into mainstream policy discussions.
Consider, for example, Canada’s leadership of the Group of Eight (G8) in June 2010, which gave rise to the Muskoka Initiative on maternal and child health and led to a commitment to invest in national health systems.
The foreign ministers of the G8 have also highlighted the role of women in peace and security. In 2012, the ministers called for implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace, and Security. A year later, the same group endorsed a declaration on preventing sexual violence in conflict.
Gender equality has been a focus of the Group of Twenty (G20) Summit as well. In November 2014, each G20 country set a historic commitment to reduce the gap between the share of men and women in their workforce by 25 percent by 2025.
The G20 commitment to increase women’s labor force participation was echoed at the Kruen summit this week in the G7 declaration that emerged. It was also augmented by a new agreement to increase women’s vocational training in the developing world by one-third by 2030. German Chancellor Angela Merkel highlighted the relationship between gender equality and economic progress in her closing remarks, noting that barriers to women persist everywhere in the world—“not only in the developing countries where a lot of work still needs to be done,” but also “in industrialized countries.” She promised to convene a conference in September to address the “structural differences between men and women” that remain.
Research from major international economic institutions supports this focus on gender equality by world leaders. Over the past two decades, analyses from the International Monetary Fund, Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, and World Bank have demonstrated the growth potential of increasing women’s labor force participation. The Bank is in the process of revamping its gender strategy, and mainstreaming the discussion of women’s economic empowerment is a core piece of its new concept note.
Recent international commitments to advance gender equality are undoubtedly a critical step forward—but the real test of progress for women will lie in their implementation. To ensure gains for women and girls—and for the health of entire communities and economies—such declarations must be coupled with a push to implement the policies they prescribe.