Let’s hold G7 leaders accountable to their promises on gender equality

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

We need progress not promises on gender equality. That is why G7 leaders need to establish a mechanism that keep governments to their commitments, argue Friederike Röder, Joe Powell, Aurélie Gal-Régniez and Philippe Lévêque.

Friederike Röder is EU and France director of ONE; Joe Powell is Deputy CEO of the Open Government Partnership; Aurélie Gal-Régniez is Equipop executive director; and Philippe Lévêque is executive director of Care France

Gender equality is having its moment in 2019. After being the focus of the 2018 G7 Summit in Canada, this year’s G7 in France will also put gender equality at the center. The Gender Equality Advisory Council (GEAC), convened last year by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, is solidifying its work under the impetus of President Emmanuel Macron. This Council brings together a spectacular group of gender advocates, from the chiefs of UN Women, Women Deliver and the Global Partnership for Education, to Nobel Peace Prize winners Nadia Murad and Denis Mukwege, and artists renowned for  social engagement like Angélique Kidjo and Emma Watson.

This attention is welcome, but speeches, communiqués and recommendations at big international summits like the G7 will not be enough to achieve gender equality. The World Economic Forum estimates that at the current pace, it will take 108 years to close the gender gaps in health, education, economic opportunity, and political representation. We are not moving fast enough. Politicians need to be pushed, through robust and effective accountability, to take bold actions and keep their promises. This is why G7 leaders should use this year’s Summit in France to launch an accountability mechanism to give the issue the boost it needs: a Global Alliance for Gender Equality.

Not all accountability mechanisms are created equal. Some produce dense reports which receive little attention because it is difficult for civil society, the media and citizens to verify how much progress has been achieved on the road from A to B. Others are not given even basic resources or staff, so they cannot deliver on the high hopes placed on them.

The Open Government Partnership provides a successful accountability model that an Alliance for Gender Equality could replicate. OGP has helped to move the needle on sensitive and complicated topics like opening-up government budgets, and fighting corruption through open contracts and tackling anonymous companies. President Obama and seven other committed heads of state* launched the Partnership at the UN General Assembly in 2011, alongside nine leaders from civil society. Today, 79 countries and thousands of civil society organizations are part of OGP, as well as a growing number of local governments. Nearly 4000 OGP commitments have been made to date to make government more open and inclusive. Many of those are starting to have real impact for citizens. They include citizen feedback mechanisms for vital public services like health and education, and giving a voice to parts of society that have been ignored for too long, including in many countries women. Indeed a movement for Feminist Open Government, in part led by Canada, is now underway. The fight for gender equality could gain a lot from following a similar model.

To be sure, there are many initiatives to advance gender equality globally. Some focus on international norms, such as the UN’s Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), advocacy and mobilisation, such as Women Deliver, or the collection and publication of data on gender inequalities, like Equal Measures 2030. All provide a crucial piece of the puzzle, and a new Alliance should build on and work closely with these initiatives. Nonetheless, the fight for gender equality lacks a global structure that includes three essential ingredients of the successful OGP accountability model.

The first is that it requires countries to meet minimum eligibility criteria before they can become members. For example, Morocco and Sierra Leone had to pass Access to Information laws before joining OGP. An Alliance for Gender Equality could work the same by requiring aspiring members to first abolish certain sexist laws, for instance on guardianship for women.

The second element is that OGP requires governments to develop National Action Plans outlining the legislative and policy commitments they will implement in the next two years. The commitments must be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (‘SMART’), and are reviewed by an Independent Reporting Mechanism. It is very difficult to hold a government accountable to commitments that are not measurable and do not come with a deadline, or if no one is tasked with tracking them. Unfortunately, too many accountability mechanisms do not come with those requirements.

The third ingredient for success is a true partnership between governments and civil society. Upon joining OGP, governments work with civil society to co-create the action plans. Civil society organisations and direct citizen engagement play an important role in shaping and overseeing government commitments. A Global Alliance for Gender Equality should follow a similar model and also include private companies willing to make commitments towards equality.

To be truly effective and global, the Alliance should include G7 and non-G7 countries participating in the Biarritz summit, starting with a few committed ones to get the ball rolling.

We need progress not promises on gender equality. OGP has been used to improve transparency and governance in many of its member countries in just a few years, helping promote democracy beyond the ballot box. This is because it was backed by a group of committed political leaders from the start, was given basic resources to set-up and function, and had a well-designed accountability model. A Global Alliance for Gender Equality would give real teeth to the recommendations of the G7’s Gender Equality Advisory Council, and a needed boost to the fight for gender equality. Let’s not wait 108 years to close the gaps.

*Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Norway, the Philippines, South Africa, and the United Kingdom

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