What the G7 and G20 Summits Could Mean for Feminist Foreign Policy Worldwide

This week, world leaders will meet in the Charlevoix region of Quebec, Canada for the annual G7 Leaders’ Summit. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been gathering headlines for his leadership of the G7; a self-described feminist, Trudeau has placed gender equality at the center of the G7 agenda and invited more leaders from the Global South than in recent years. Similarly, Argentina’s President Mauricio Macri, leading this year’s G20, has committed to a “cross-cutting gender approach.”

Decisions made at the G7 and G20 can change the course of international policy and cooperation. With all eyes on the global stage, civil society has been calling on Trudeau and Macri to fully embrace ideals of equality and inclusion. Feminist advocates have been at the forefront of these efforts, urging governments to fully integrate gender into their outcomes and to invest accordingly.

But what are the G7 and G20, and why should we care?

In 2015, thousands snaked through midtown Manhattan in a collective show of solidarity for the global women’s movement with UN Women. (J Carrier for UN Women / Creative Commons)

The G7 includes seven of the world’s leading economies; the G20 is composed of the same G7 countries plus the European Union and twelve emerging economies. These forums, given their economic power, wield immense global influence—directing national and multilateral policies towards political and socioeconomic issues.

Every year, a different government takes over each summit’s Presidency and is responsible for determining the agenda. In the G20 context, the previous, current and subsequent presidencies work together as a “troika” to maintain consistency from year to year. The G7 and G20 are primarily led by officials referred to as Sherpas, who represent the heads of state and government. They meet a few times each year to negotiate their governments’ shared interests.

The G7 and G20 are not exactly inclusive processes, nor are they very transparent—civil society and other key stakeholders are not given a preview of the discussion outcomes and strategies or asked for their input before they are made public. However, there are multiple pathways for official stakeholder engagement.

Both summits have seven official engagement groups, including forums for business associations (B7/B20), civil society (C7/C20), labor unions (L7/L20), the scientific community (S7/S20), think tanks (T7/T20), women’s organizations (W7/W20) and youth leaders (Y7/Y20). These groups organize ahead of the Leaders’ Summit to submit recommendations to G7 and G20 leadership, aiming to influence their political and financial commitments. Civil society organizations also collaborate separately through national and global advocacy networks such as the G7 Global Task Force, a coalition that develops its own policy recommendations and organizes advocacy efforts both in G7 countries and at global convenings.

In addition to Sherpa meetings, the Presidency hosts both working group meetings and ministerial meetings. Working group meetings focus on specific topics like development, health or climate change. The Accountability Working Group publishes a report every three years on the G7’s progress in meeting its commitments. Ministerial meetings, which convene government officials like foreign or finance ministers, often release their own outcomes. The G20 process is heavily influenced by finance ministers and central bank governors, as the summit tends to focus more narrowly on global economic cooperation—as opposed to the G7, which addresses broader economic and political issues. The Sherpa team, working group members and ministers are most closely associated with decision-making at the G7 and G20—making them essential contacts for civil society advocates. 

The International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) has been actively participating in both civil society advocacy and official engagement groups around the G7 and G20. Through our involvement, we’ve seen that Canadian leadership has demonstrated an unprecedented level of interest in advancing gender equality compared to previous presidencies.

Last year’s Italian G7 Presidency organized the first gender ministerial meeting—but it was held after the Leaders’ Summit, and therefore had minimal impact and little visibility. Italy also released the first G7 Roadmap for a Gender-Responsive Economic Environment, outlining policies to advance women’s economic empowerment.

Canada has aimed to take things further, and with a broader gender agenda. Prime Minister Trudeau established the first Gender Equality Advisory Council to oversee the integration of gender throughout all G7 activities. The Council recently released its own recommendations for the G7, which elevate and endorse those issued by the W7. Both sets of recommendations call on G7 leaders to adopt a feminist approach that integrates intersectionality, acknowledges diversity and gives adequate funding to women’s rights organizations and movements. 

ICRW and allies are calling on G7 and G20 countries to make advanced commitments to gender equality and women’s rights with meaningful and sustained investments. There’s a real opportunity for G7 and G20 countries to drive the feminist agenda forward this year—but first, they must unify. Consensus is a central focus of these summits, and even if Canada or Argentina want to make bold strides, other member-states may drag their feet.

That’s where advocacy comes into play, particularly given the fact we are living in an era of growing political divisions. Feminist advocates are needed now more than ever, with the pendulum of gender equality poised to swing forward. The time is now for feminist civil society to pressure world leaders to take bolder actions, to be more inclusive in their approach and to hold themselves accountable and follow through on their commitments.

Spogmay Ahmed is a Global Policy Associate at the International Center for Research on Women.

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