Addressing Gender Inequality in the G20

Posted in: G20, Gender Equality


Guest Blogger Victoria Stetsko | Project Officer Oxfam GB in Russia

In the Los Cabos Declaration in 2012 the G20 leaders committed to advance women’s equality in all areas, especially in those related to economic participation. In 2013 in Moscow the G20 leaders agreed to focus on fair and inclusive growth. However economic growth can’t be considered inclusive and sustainable if it doesn’t take into account inequalities between men and women.  Recognition of women’s economic advancement as means to achieve sustainable economic growth is a big step towards institutionalization of gender-sensitive policy-making at the global fora. Nevertheless this progress looks at least insufficient in the face of data demonstrating that it will take 75 more years to achieve equal pay for equal work if gender inequality is reduced with the current pace. [1] Can the G20 become a platform for advancement of women’s rights?

It is important to understand that it’s impossible to advance women’s economic and social participation without addressing deep-rooted stereotypes embedded in patriarchal social structures. One of the biggest barriers to equal economic participation is domestic violence. In Russia civil society experts have been pushing for the law criminalizing domestic violence for over 17 years. The lack of political will, strong influence of the Orthodox church and generally conservative attitudes viewing domestic violence as an issue to be dealt within family, not by government, made the bill stuck. Yet, according to the most recent statistics, 1/5 of women in Russia faced physical/sexual violence from their partners or family members. [2] Also, female victims comprised 2/3 out of all cases of violence within family in 2013. Women who have their physical integrity compromised or threatened can’t fully participate in labour force, social and economic activity. Domestic violence contributes to lost income, decreased productivity and negative impact on human development potential. It costs Brazil and South Africa up to 1,2%[3] and 1,3%[4] of their GDP annually respectively. Nevertheless substantial progress can barely be achieved by only introducing criminal punishment for domestic abusers. Establishment and enforcement of a more thorough and context-specific legal framework protecting women’s property and inheritance rights, access to financial and productive resources and strengthening justice system is needed in order to negate domestic abuse. In this regard Spain, who is not a G20 member (although a permanent observer since 2014) can provide a good example of holistic approach to curbing domestic violence by amending other laws namely Worker’s Statute, Social Offences and Sanctions Act, General Social Security Act, and made additional provisions of several acts to ensure consistency. [5]

Another structural issue in store for the G20 leaders should they take to heart their commitment to equal economic and social participation is unpaid care labor. Again, Los Cabos Declaration became the first official statement by the G20 leaders to include leaders’ “firm commitment to advance gender equality in… responsibilities in care-giving”. [6]  Recognition of unpaid care work would become a logical element in the G20’s anti-crisis policy, since it could bring the G20 countries additional 20-60% of GDP. [7] Perhaps it is not surprising that the G20 started moving from words to actions at the time when souring global growth makes a newly-target of additional 2% annual growth elusive . At the annual meeting of the G20 Labour and Employment ministers on 10 September 2014 recommended the G20 leaders to set a target of reducing gender participation gap by 25% by 2025.[8] It doesn’t seem feasible to boost gender participation gap without addressing “double burden” of upaid work. The examples of successful policy can be found among  the G20 countries  – during economic and financial slump of 1990s Sweden introduced paid parental leave and subsidies for day care for children to stimulate female labour participation, as well as maintained the level of wage bargaining through a developed net of labour unions. As a result of such inclusive and forward thinking approach to crisis-management Sweden was able to come out of a recession with the minimal social and economic cost. The report of the International Labour Organization states that after the crisis Sweden remained a country with one of the lowest levels of inequality in the world, as opposed, for example, to the United States.[9]  Needless to say, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to raising female labour force participation, since employment patterns in the G20 economies vary drastically, and majority of the countries remain loyal to capitalist-style crisis-management with its stimulation of free market and social spending and wage cuts.

Finally, while “gender agenda” has been gradually introduced into G20’s ordre du jour, the G20 remains  an “Old Boys’ Club”, a largely male-dominated institution. Only 25% heads of state and sherpas in the G20 are women. Within the G20 countries access of women to power is very well reflected through data on representation of women in decision-making bodies. In China only 1 out of total 25 Politburo members (the most influential decision-making body in China) is female and only 4 women have been appointed provincial governors in the past 30 years.[10] Russia ranks 94th and the lowest out of all BRICS countries in political empowerment index.[11] It is highly unlikely that structural inequalities faced by women would be addressed if decisions are made predominantly by men.  It is demonstrated by a sexist joke by a Russian Minister of Finance Anton Siluanov, who commented on the issue of women’s economic participation  at the end of the section dedicated to Financial Inclusion at the G20 Summit in Moscow, 2013: “women consume a lot, so they need help with their financial management”.[12]  To advance women’s equality agenda it’s crucial to raise decision-making profile of women in all the G20 countries and institutions. Compare Siluanov’s rhetoric to Christine Lagarde’s, one of the most powerful women in the G20: after the meeting of Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors in Sydney in March 2013 she commented that only “two genders” will have to contribute if the G20 is serious about lifting economic growth targets by 2%.[13] Nevertheless it would be an oversimplification to claim that only women should speak up for equality and inclusion. While men remain at the helm of global decision-making, it’s crucial that more powerful men recognize and publicly stand up for gender equality in general and for equal participation in the political arena.

And last but not the least, civil society, and particularly, women’s rights CSOs and feminist scholars should have a chance to bring its voice to and be heard at the G20. At none of the past Civil 20 summits women’s rights CSOs were represented at the Steering Committee, and gender equality asks were rarely heard at the discussion panels. It doesn’t mean that global civil society is not concerned with gender equality, rather it says that they don’t consider themselves agenda setters at the global processes. This can be explained by the fact that Civil 20 as a dialogue platform between civil society and government representatives is a fairly young development. Furthermore, it’s crucial that policy agenda driven by women’s CSOs is based on a thorough research. Therefore it is important to develop civil society platforms for cross-country research and advocacy specifically focused on gender equality and women’s rights. Solid empirical research is the most legitimate basis reflecting social demand for change. Together with raising women’s participation in economic, social and decision-making processes civil society cooperation is a crucial ingredient of success.

This article is being written as G20 leaders meet in Brisbane, Australia. Up to day, the G20’s commitments to advancement of gender equality largely remained superficial. As an outcome of the Summit leaders set a very ambitious goal of additional 2% economic growth for the next 5 years amidst the stagnant state of the global economy. Perhaps it’s time to start turning words into deeds and make gender equality a powerful tool to battle crises by setting measurable and realistic goals and indicators of success.


[1] “The G20 and Gender Equality”, Oxfam, 14 July 2014,

[2] Russian Statistics Bureau



[5]“Model framework for legislation on violence against women”, UN,

[6]Los-Cabos Declaration

[7]R. Antonopoulos (2008) „The Unpaid Care Work – Paid Work Connection‟, Working

Paper 541, Geneva: Levy Economics Institute/ILO

[8] “Achieving stronger growth by promoting a more gender-balanced economy”, Report prepared for the G20 Labour and Emplyment Ministerial Meeting, Melbourne, Australia, 10-11 September 2014,

[9] ILO–International Labour Organization (2012). Eurozone Jobs crisis: Trends and policy responses, Geneva: International Institute of Labour Studies.




[13]“Gender at the G20”,

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