New frontiers in gender-responsive governance

2018 marks the fifth anniversary of the first grouping of the W20, the engagement group of the G20 that focuses on gender-inclusive economic growth and advocates for gender equality across the G20 agenda. Formally launched under the Turkish G20 presidency in 2015, the W20 is made up of women from business, international organizations, civil society, think-tanks and academia across the G20 member states. This paper takes stock of the critical steps in the development of the W20 over the last five years, examining its background, rationale and foundations, and identifying the areas of economic governance where it has so far contributed the most – and those where more action is needed. The W20 has filled a gap, it but needs to carefully assess its coherence with the UN agencies, the private sector, the G7 and other G20 engagement groups.

The establishment of the W20 has contributed to defining new frontiers for economic governance and shifting the traditional approach from gender-neutral to gender-responsive. Whereas in 2013 gender in the G20 was considered a marginal issue better dealt with by ministers for equal opportunities, now gender equality and women’s economic empowerment are part of the mainstream economic dialogue. The next step is to ensure more structural and monitored policy reforms at the G20 level. Already, the W20 can count among its achievements the ‘25 by 25’ female labour force participation commitment adopted at the G20’s Brisbane summit in 2014, and the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative (We-Fi) and Business Women Leaders’ Taskforce, both agreed at the Hamburg summit in 2017. The W20 is constrained in its policy impact by limited engagement with the finance track and a lack of consistent resourcing levels.

Addressing these issues would strengthen its role as a credible player in shifting global economic governance while contributing to good gender-responsive domestic policies. Progress on gender equality has been too slow and too peripheral to drive change in the relatively short term – over one generation, for example. G20 governments must therefore embrace active, credible policies to bring more women into the labour market, improve access to education and finance, close the pay gap, invest in social infrastructure – especially childcare and assistance for the elderly – and support female entrepreneurs. These domestic policies need to be internationally coordinated so that action and benefits can be widespread. A feminist, inclusive agenda at the G20 level should highlight the current empirical evidence of women’s exclusion from the benefit of their economic activity, both in G20 members and beyond. The W20 should also focus on efforts to remedy the lack of women’s representation in G20 processes and in economic governance as a whole.

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