OPINION: Will G7 lead to real change for women at risk?

The region of Charlevoix, Quebec is surrounded by rugged, natural beauty. Think quaint towns nestled within mountainous vistas along the St. Lawrence. It’s the type of place one goes to get away from it all.

While G7 leaders may enjoy the remote setting, decisions made within Charlevoix have real potential to reach those too often isolated elsewhere.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has emphasized the importance of gender equality as part of Canada’s G7 presidency, which culminates with the G7 Leaders’ Summit in Charlevoix on 8-9 June.

We have seen this topic woven into every agenda. A council of women leaders has been struck to advise G7 decisions. Status of Women Minister Maryam Monsef has been present at every major meeting.

This is all fresh air for a body that had increasingly looked like it belonged to a bygone era. But how will this translate into change for those women and girls most at risk – facing war, climate change or violence and harassment at work?


Women in crisis

Thirty-two million women and girls are in need of humanitarian aid. They live in some of the most hard-to-reach areas – affected by conflict or natural disasters with little access to vital health services and facing the threat of sexual violence.

Yet humanitarian responses are not always led by or accountable to women, and do not address the underlying causes of gender-based inequalities. Ensuring the G7 delivers for these women means taking steps to create a humanitarian system that meets the specific needs of women, girls, men and boys.

A big part of the problem is that women’s needs are severely undervalued in emergency settings; although more than 70 per cent of women in crisis situations have experienced gender-based violence, for example, less than 0.1 per cent of humanitarian funding went towards this in 2017.

History shows it is not enough for governments to say a vague proportion of assistance will be oriented towards women – too often, good intentions get sidelined by competing priorities. A firm G7 commitment of at least 15 per cent of all humanitarian funding towards gender-specific programming is critical to drive real change for women in crisis.

The voices of those affected should guide such funding. G7 countries must commit to supporting the participation of women from crisis-affected communities and local women’s groups in decision-making. This will ensure women’s increasing contributions as first responders and breadwinners in emergencies are truly supported.


Women facing climate change today

Women are responsible for the majority of food production in communities around the world. Ask farmers in parts of Southern Africa and they will tell you they worry shifting weather patterns could devastate their harvests, leaving families without food or income.

The impacts of climate change are most severe for the world’s poorest people – especially women and girls – who are least responsible for causing greenhouse gas emissions. Without strong preventive action and investments, climate change could push an additional 100 million people into extreme poverty by 2030.

That’s why it’s essential G7 countries deliver on repeated commitments to mobilize US$100 billion in international climate finance by 2020. Moreover, in order to help poor agrarian communities, it is critical that at least 50 per cent of international climate finance be channelled towards adaptation projects and initiatives that will help the world’s poorest people who are facing climate change right now.

According to the International Panel on Climate Change, existing global estimates of the costs of adaptation in developing countries range between US$70 billion and US$100 billion a year globally by 2050.

With about 35 per cent of its international climate finance presently going towards adaptation, compared to a global level around 16 per cent, Canada is in a position to lead G7 countries to close the adaptation funding gap and help women and girls on the front lines of climate change today.

Cambodia working

Women at risk in the workplace

Workplace violence and harassment is not just a Hollywood problem. It is a global issue. More than one-third of states do not have any laws prohibiting sexual harassment at work and there is no international legal standard to specifically protect women at work from harassment and abuse.

Against this backdrop, efforts are underway to enact the world's first legally-binding convention on sexual violence and workplace harassment under the International Labour Organization. Meeting in February in Montreal, G7 employment ministers endorsed these efforts. When they meet in Charlevoix, G7 leaders must continue down this path.

This means working with reluctant governments to demonstrate the benefits of a clear international standard for companies and workers worldwide, while ensuring the Convention meets the needs of all workers, including those too often ignored, such as domestic workers, home-based workers, informal workers, workers in family enterprises, and sex workers.

The bottom line

Gender is central to the Trudeau brand and agenda, and the G7 Presidency provides a once-in-a-decade opportunity for the prime minister to leave his mark on a set of initiatives that can help mobilize half of humanity to address the world’s most pressing challenges.

Now is the time for the world’s advanced industrialized economies to take concerted actions that will help women and girls enjoy the rights and protections that are too often denied.

Written by Shaughn McArthur, advocacy and government relations advisor for CARE Canada