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Where Were the Women at the G20 Los Cabos Summit?
They Finally Arrived

Julia Kulik
G20 Research Group, University of Toronto
November 29, 2012

Where are the women at G20 summits? They finally arrived in Los Cabos. Women have attended the G20 summit since the beginning, with Argentinean president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and German chancellor Angela Merkel attending every summit since. However, their presence has done little to influence the inclusion of women at the summit on paper. Since the G20's debut in Washington DC on November 14-15, 2008, the G20 has paid little to no attention to women and gender issues in the leaders' declarations. The lack of attention paid to women and gender issues at the summits since Washington suggested that the final communiqué in Los Cabos was likely to be no different. However, on the final day of the Los Cabos Summit, when the leaders released their final outcome document the women were there in two commitments. They were also mentioned twice briefly in the food security and financial inclusion sections of the Progress Report of the Development Working Group and in the outcome document of the Labour and Employment Ministers' meeting one month before.

Women at the Summit in Person

Merkel and Kirchner were the only two female leaders present at the first four summits: Washington in 2008, London on April 1-2, 2009, Pittsburgh on September 24-25, 2009, and Toronto on June 26-27, 2010. At the fifth summit on November 11-12, 2010, in Seoul, Merkel and Kirchner were joined by the new prime minister of Australia, Julia Gillard. Also present was Dilma Rousseff of Brazil, attending alongside outgoing president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. At the Cannes Summit on November 3-4, 2011, Rousseff participated for the first time as the inaugurated leader. Also attending for the first time at the summit was Christine Lagarde, now the managing director of the International Monetary Fund. These same five leaders were present at the most recent summit in Los Cabos on June 18-19, 2012, bringing female representation to an all-time high. Among the women accompanying the leaders in Los Cabos were US secretary of state Hillary Clinton, Mexican secretary of foreign affairs Patricia Espinosa, Mexican sherpa Lourdes Aranda Bezaury and foreign ministry sous sherpa Berenice Diaz Ceballos.

Women at the Summit on Paper

The G20's lack of attention to women and gender issues at its past summits indicated that it was unlikely to cover the issue this time around despite the recent increase in female representation. However, much like the surprise that came out of the G8's Camp David communiqué one month before, the G20 communiqué from Los Cabos referred to women in two official documents as well as the document that came out of the labour ministers' meeting in Guadalajara one month before. The leaders' declaration contained two commitments for women, out of a total of 180. The first was to remove barriers preventing women from full economic and social participation and the second was to advance gender equality while also recognizing the need for the full financial inclusion of women. In the Progress Report of the Development Working Group, women appeared three times, the first two in the section on food security and the third on financial inclusion. Finally, in the G20 Labour and Employment Ministers' Conclusions women were mentioned in reference to youth unemployment.

While the G20 leaders in Los Cabos made progress in referencing women in the final communiqué in a way that has not been done before, the G20 has failed to embed women's and gender rights in its documents in the same way that the G8 did at Camp David on May 18-19, 2012. In order to address these issues adequately, the G20 must entrench them in its commitments and conclusions so as to recognize the value of full and equal participation of women in all aspects of global governance.

Women at the Summit on the Periphery

The Los Cabos Summit generated a large civil society presence on its periphery. Those who were particularly vocal and active were the Business 20 (B20), the Labour 20 (L20), the Tank Think 20 and the Youth 20, in addition to G20-related events that were held in the lead-up to the summit. These civil society components were largely male-dominated. The Girls 20, whose main purpose is to help G20 leaders recognize the importance of women and girls in economic growth and stability, met weeks before in Mexico City, diminishing any impact on the leaders by the time they met in Los Cabos.


The G8 Camp David Summit surprised observers by its integration of women and gender issues into its final communiqué. This prompted the question of whether the G20, meeting one month later with more female presentation around the table, would do the same. A review of past summits and its declarations indicated that it was unlikely that Los Cabos would continue this trend. However, the women were there — although not appear in a way that suggests that the G20 leaders recognized the importance of gender equality in all of areas. So while the Los Cabos Summit made progress in getting women on paper, there is still much to be done to establish them in the G20 process.

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