Making gender equality a global cause?

President Macron has promised that the G7 to be hosted in France later this month will ‘make gender equality a global cause’. Following on from last year’s summit in Canada, at which President Trudeau set out a similar goal, how likely is it that these big international summits will actually change the lives of women and girls – in particular, the millions upon millions around the world who have survived or are at risk of experiencing gender-based violence – many of them multiple times?

Setting an example?
On the face of it, the fact that world leaders aspire to associate themselves with movements to achieve gender equality is positive. More and more countries now claim to have a ‘feminist foreign policy’, including, at last count, Norway, Sweden, Canada and France. Surely, leaders from seven of the most powerful countries in the world publicly stating their commitment to gender equality must be a huge step forward?

And yet, at the same time as these commitments are being voiced, many women and girls worldwide are experiencing a deterioration in their rights, as some governments roll back advances in gender equality. The current US President’s problematic statements and actions are too numerous to list, but include reinstating and extending the Global Gag Rule, and watering-down a UN resolution to condemn sexual violence in conflict. At the G7 summit he will sit alongside a British PM who has appointed as Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab MP, a man who has said that “From the cradle to the grave, men are getting a raw deal. Feminists are now amongst the most obnoxious bigots’. It is hard to believe that any institution which accepts such views and actions can be a meaningful champion for women’s rights.

So far, so sceptical. Is there any way in which the G7 Summit could impact positively on women’s rights? And what can future leaders do in order to make subsequent international summits contribute to addressing gender-based violence and gender inequality worldwide?

Meaningful action
Too often there has been a tendency for world leaders to attempt to address one particular variant of violence against women – such as FGM, or sexual violence in conflict – in isolation, without taking meaningful action to change the societal structures that promote gender inequality.

Highlighting one particular form of violence – often one that is perceived as mainly happening ‘over there’, in another country, rather than within their own borders – allows politicians to look and feel as though they are doing the right thing, whilst avoiding facing up to the scale and nature of the problem of GBV at home.This year’s G7 seems to have taken a similar approach – highlighting FGM, forced marriage, and cyber-bullying. It goes without saying that none of these problems will end while current structures of gender inequality remain in place.

Instead of focusing on ‘exotic’ or new and isolated forms of violence, the members of the G7 – and all future such gatherings – could forego the distorting focus on specific manifestations of gender-based violence, and instead recognize the wider issue of gender inequality that drives the violence. Members of the G7 also need to begin by getting their own houses in order. If they truly commit to addressing gender inequality in all areas of their government’s policy – and take steps to work with and listen to women’s groups in their own countries as well as in the countries where they operate foreign, defence and development policies – then a summit like this one might really be something to celebrate.