Paola Subacchi
Research Director, International Economics
Dr Susan Harris-RimmerAustralian Research Council Future Fellow, Asia Pacific College of Diplomacy, Australian National University
The new G20 engagement group linking gender equality and growth can build on growing commitments to expand women’s participation in the workforce.
A worker checks printed circuit boards in Verl, Germany. Photo via Getty Images.A worker checks printed circuit boards in Verl, Germany. Photo via Getty Images.

The newly established W20 (Women 20) − the seeds of which were sown at a policy forum jointly held by Chatham House and the Australian National University last September – has the opportunity to radically change the G20’s approach to gender equality and finally give it a practical focus.

The reality is gender equality can help drive global growth, and the W20 represents an entirely new space in economic governance which means it can bring in new perspectives.

The role of the W20

How can the W20 make a difference? The group can challenge mainstream economic thinking where the differentiated gender impacts of macroeconomic and microeconomic policy are not sufficiently considered. It can add balance to, and highlight the lack of, female membership in national chambers of commerce, finance ministries and certain industries.

Second, the W20 promises an opportunity to redress some of the great disparities in G20 representation. There have been many photos of rooms full of men in navy suits and a joke about more palm trees than women at the G20 finance ministers meeting in Cairns in September 2014. Economic governance should reflect the citizenship of member states, and diverse teams will make better decisions.

Finally, the W20 can monitor and ensure accountability for the G20’s past commitments. These include the gender commitments from the Mexican, Russian and Australian presidencies. The group should play a special role in evaluating G20 progress towards reducing the gap in participation rates between men and women by 25 per cent by 2025 (known as the ‘25 by 25’ target).

Current challenges

Turkey, as the outgoing G20 president, has shown great leadership in driving the establishment of the W20. There has been significant buy-in from important women’s organizations in Turkey, and the inaugural W20 Summit will be held on 16 and 17 October in Istanbul. The main challenge for the new group now is to be strategic and to add value to the diffuse and crowded G20 policy space, which already includes a B20, C20, L20, T20, Girls20 and Y20 all putting forward their own gender quality recommendations. 

For the remainder of 2015, the W20 will need to solidify the commitment of national leadership to the group, and begin to develop and monitor concrete measures at the country level to align with country growth targets. W20 recommendations will need to consider how women can benefit from investment in social infrastructure, public-private partnerships and new employment opportunities (for example, in the digital economy or in science in technology). The W20 will also need to consider government levers within G20 countries, including procurement policy, tax and regulation of corporate boards.

The recommendations prepared by Chatham House's research initiative for the W20 2015 Summit after a series consultations in a number of G20 member states stresses the importance on good gender practice, starting with the G20 countries themselves. For instance, we recommend undertaking a gender audit of public-sector employees – starting with finance ministries and central banks, as well as G20 delegations.

Bringing more women into the labour market – especially in leadership roles − and closing the pay gap is an issue of fairness and of smart economics. It is an ‘economic no-brainer’, as Christine Lagarde called the focus on inequality at the W20 launch last September. A recent McKinsey report has estimated that up to $12 trillion extra GDP by 2025 is possible by simply giving more women the same opportunities as men.

G20 leaders have progressively made stronger and stronger commitments to gender equality. In Los Cabos in 2012, leaders committed to ‘women’s full economic and social participation’. In St Petersburg in 2013, leaders committed to ‘women’s financial inclusion and education’. A major breakthrough came during the 2014 Australian presidency, when leaders committed to the ‘25 by 25’ target’ in Brisbane.

These were important steps, but the G20’s involvement has remained largely rhetorical – however now is the time for the W20 to help the G20 meet these commitments.

To comment on this article, please contact Chatham House Feedback