Women need an equal place at the table at international summits

Women need an equal place at the table at international summits

With regards to women and leadership, we can see progress but they won't get there till they get an equal place at the table
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The period for global summits and conferences is in full swing, with COP27, the Arab League Summit and the G20 conference all taking place this month. While some positive strides for the environment, global economies and politics have been made during these summits, it was disappointing to see how few females were included in these important meetings of world leaders, who discussed ours and our neighbors’ future.

Apparently only 34 percent of delegate negotiating parties at COP27 were women. Yet, a recent report from the charity ActionAid stated that women are disproportionately affected by climate change, while the UN reports that, of all the people displaced by climate change, 80 percent are female, while women and girls receive a smaller proportion of climate funds. Without women being present to speak of their experiences, their important needs will continue to be missed. Not to mention that studies show that meetings and conferences that include women tend to have more successful outcomes.

The top echelons of business are a good map of how well women are represented and respected in life. Mckinsey’s latest annual “Women in the Workplace” report shows that the proportion of women in senior management/director positions has increased 3 percentage points in the past five years, but it still only sits at 36 percent. Sadly for Arab women, of that 36 percent, only just over a quarter are women of color.

While only a small part of the problem, equal opportunities at all levels of education are vital. According to a 2018 World Bank report titled “Missed Opportunities: The High Cost of Not Educating Girls,” countries can potentially miss out on between $15 trillion and $30 trillion in lost lifetime productivity and earnings due to limited educational opportunities for girls and young women.

The G20 acknowledged that, during the COVID-19 pandemic, women were disproportionately affected. With women generally earning significantly less than men, a cut to working hours or a 20 percent wage drop during furlough schemes meant that women, more often than men, were pushed into poverty. In addition, they more frequently had a larger burden of unpaid household chores or unpaid care duties than male partners. So, with children at home during lockdown, managing work, childcare and the household was more of a physical, mental and logistical struggle. On top of this, incidents of domestic violence increased during pandemic-related lockdowns, again affecting women more than men.

Without women being present to speak of their experiences, their important needs will continue to be missed

Dr. Bashayer Al-Majed

So, in 2021, the G20 set up the Ministerial Conference on Women’s Empowerment, to run in August before the full G20 Summit. This year, the focus was on three topics: The economic aspects of post-COVID-19 care, closing the digital gender gap, and women’s entrepreneurship.

Closing the digital gender gap and women’s entrepreneurship are interlinked. Addressing stereotypes and isolating which factors discourage women from entering into, and better understanding, IT is highly important if we want women to be able to take entrepreneurial ideas into full-fledged businesses. Computers or technology need to be seen as something that is not beyond women or not fitting for a girl to be interested in.

Equally, within a home, girls need time to explore computers and technology. If they are given extra gendered responsibilities like having to help cook for the family, play host to guests or help clean the house, while their brothers do not have these responsibilities and have leisure time to explore IT, play computer games or program, the playing field is not level. Girls then arrive at college or university and do not know as much about the digital world because they have not had the opportunity to just sit, explore and become familiar with it.

The rise of mobile phones and tablets, along with the availability of stable Wi-Fi or mobile data networks, should hopefully start to change things, as everyone is becoming so accustomed to using software and hardware, with both becoming much more user-friendly and intuitive.

Next year, the G20 will be hosted by India, where it is suspected that the major focus will be on renewable energy. With India straddling such vast divides of rich and poor, it has much experience of poverty and could be a useful voice for poorer nations’ issues in the ear of the wealthy, including how the global order is structured. But will it use this advantage as host of the G20 Summit to highlight and deal with some of its well-known gender inequalities?

India has some serious challenges, particularly in its more rural and poor areas, where honor killings of women are common and assaults of women often end with the blame being laid on the victims. There is much to be done here, not least by challenging toxic masculinity in these areas, where men feel the need to be abusive to maintain power. One way of addressing this power imbalance is by giving women in poorer areas more autonomy to be economically secure and stable, firstly by ensuring they have equal access to schooling, then to the same range of jobs as their male counterparts, including the social freedoms to be able to access business loans or to travel to access work or set up a business.

Overall, there is progress. The initiation of the G20 Ministerial Conference on Women’s Empowerment is very positive, with some great work to acknowledge where the gaps lie, where there are issues, how to set up good measurements and key performance indicators to monitor where change is needed and where it is already happening, and provide a space to share what works.

However, there is a certain irony in the conference’s report being titled “Tracking Progress on Women in Leadership Roles Across G20 & Guest Countries” when the large majority of attendees at the three recent international conventions were men. So, with regards to leadership and women, we are moving forward, but we are definitely not there yet; not until we have an equal place at the table.

  • Dr. Bashayer Al-Majed is a professor of law at Kuwait University and visiting fellow at Oxford. Twitter: @BashayerAlMajed
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