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Women's Empowerment at the G20 — Maybe Next Year

Lida Preyma, G20 Research Group
November 22, 2020

Although the G20 Saudi Arabian presidency started with such promise for women's empowerment, with the creation of the Women in Business Action Council within the Business 20, that promise quickly fizzled out with the release of the Riyadh Summit's Leaders' Declaration, with an underwhelming commitment to "continue to promote gender equality" and address some accompanying hardships. Missing, however, was any reference of how the G20 will do it.

The 2014 Brisbane Summit's goal of reducing the gap between men and women in the labour force by 25 percent by 2025 is fast approaching its best-before date. Yet, instead of utilizing the many recommendations provided by the Women in Business Action Council, at Riyadh the G20 leaders chose instead to punt the creation of a roadmap to the 2021 Italian presidency. This leaves a mere four years to execute the roadmap before the deadline.

But the G20 does not need to wait a year to come up with a roadmap for achieving the 25-by-25 goal. One already exists with the World Economic Forum's Closing the Gender Gap Accelerator. With a three-year timeline, it brings together business and government in partnership to address specific national systemic barriers to gender equality and workplace participation. It is just waiting for G20 governments to be bold enough to decide it is time to act.

The Riyadh declaration does welcome a new siloed initiative for increasing women's leadership positions in the private sector through the Private Sector Alliance for the Empowerment and Progression of Women's Economic Representation (EMPOWER). The EMPOWER statement, however, says that the alliance "does not reflect the views of all G20 members," leaving one to ponder how it made it into the declaration at all.

Aside from the specific focus on leadership, it is also hard to see how EMPOWER is materially different from UN Women's Empowerment Principles, Catalyst and 30% Club. Corporations do not need another initiative to sign on to. They need to work in partnership with governments to address the systemic barriers to gender equality and women's participation in the workforce.

What is truly needed from the G20 is bold action with tangible deliverables, rather than recycled ideas — bold action such as the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative (We-Fi) launched at the 2017 G20 Hamburg Summit, with real dollars committed to support women entrepreneurs in the recognition of their important role in economic growth and job creation. While this year the leaders stated that they will "take steps to remove the barriers to women's economic participation and entrepreneurship," without an action plan this seems little more than a restatement of generalities.

For now, Italy has been handed a mandate just as its presidency begins.

Yet if there was ever a year when women's economic empowerment needed a champion, when the omnipresent acknowledgement and affirmation that women are disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic in terms of jobs and income and as healthcare providers, 2020 is it. But the G20 chose not to be that champion.

Maybe next year.

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Lida PreymaLida Preyma is director of capital markets research, global finance, for the G20 Research Group as well as director of Global AML Risk Management and AMLRO Designate (Toronto) for BMO Capital Markets. She has held various positions in the financial services industry, including head of Global DMA at Jitneytrade Inc., and director of business development and marketing at the Canadian National Stock Exchange (now the Canadian Securities Exchange) and Pure Trading. She is also a member of the board of Transparency International Canada.

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