OSAKA – It was supposed to be an event showcasing Group of 20 leaders’ commitment to better empowering women in employment, economy and education. But only two of the world leaders on stage were women.
Titled the Special Event on Women’s Empowerment, the only female world leaders in attendance were outgoing British Prime Minister Theresa May and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Still, G20 leaders on Saturday reiterated their shared recognition that “gender equality and women’s empowerment are essential for achieving inclusive and sustainable society and economic growth,” according to their joint statement.
Also addressing the gathering were senior White House adviser Ivanka Trump and Queen Maxima of the Netherlands, both of whom have been lauded for their steadfast advocacy of improved women’s rights.
Trump commended the world leaders for accelerating efforts to elevate the talent of women, “one of the most undervalued resources in the world,” as she put it.
She said female empowerment is not only a social justice issue but an “economic and defense policy” issue, citing an estimate that women’s participation in the labor force at a level equal to men’s would increase the global annual gross domestic product by an additional $20 trillion to $28 trillion by 2025.
Maintaining an upbeat tone throughout the speech, the daughter of U.S. President Donald Trump touted steps taken by her father’s administration since its inauguration, including establishing the Women’s Global Development and Prosperity initiative. Still, she said “every nation, including the United States, can — and should — do more,” demanding female economic empowerment be placed “at the very heart of the G20 agenda.”
“If we propose bold solutions and challenge the limits of the past, we’ll empower women to lift their families out of poverty, to grow the economies in their countries and to deliver greater peace and prosperity to millions around the world,” she said.
Presiding over the event was Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who himself has made putting more women into leadership positions as a centerpiece of his womenomics growth strategy.
In what he said was a promise he had made to Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani female education activist and the youngest Nobel Prize laureate ever, Abe said Japan will “provide quality education and training for at least 4 million girls and women in developing countries over three years by 2020.”
The event began with representatives from female empowerment organizations submitting recommendations of their own to Abe.
One of them was Yoko Kamikawa, a Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker who also serves as an ambassador with the Women Political Leaders network of women who hold political office across the globe. The group aims to increase female participation and empower women in politics.
When asked at the briefing about the low female representation among G20 leaders, Kamikawa said it made her feel as if “there is still a very long way to go” toward achieving true gender equality in political leadership.
“I feel there should be five or six” female leaders in the G20 roster, she said.
Then, without being prompted, Kamikawa went on to point out the dearth of female leaders in the Cabinet of her own country, which currently counts among its ranks just one woman, female empowerment minister Satsuki Katayama.
That figure represents the fewest number of women in an Abe Cabinet since his return to power in December 2012. He once recruited as many as five women in an apparent bid to tout his womenomics push.
Of the diminishing presence of female ministers, Kamikawa said the “number of female lawmakers must be increased as a whole” — a daunting task in a nation where political participation has been particularly low, with women representing a mere 10 percent of 463 seats in the Lower House of the Diet.
“To become ministers, women first need to win seats by surviving the extremely difficult ordeal that is an election, and then be able to steadily develop their careers,” Kamikawa said.
Meanwhile, Deborah Greenfield, deputy director-general for policy with the International Labour Organization, stressed the need for addressing the global gender pay gap, which she said stems from an “overrepresentation of women in lower-paid and part-time work.”
An ILO report, she said, showed in all G20 countries, “women continue to perform the vast bulk of unpaid care work for the home, in the home, for children, for sick family members, for older relatives.”
The report found in the latest data available that Japan’s gender pay gap at around 25 percent remained higher than most of its G20 peers.
“Gender equality begins at home,” Greenfield said. “We need policies that help distribute unpaid care work much more evenly between men and women.”