By Emma Watson, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Katja Iversen, and Michael Kaufman | The Guardian | 22 August 2019
We members of the G7’s Gender Equality Advisory Council are urging countries to ditch archaic and discriminatory laws and promote empowerment
The sheer tenacity of women raising their voices and organising for fundamental change has been, and will continue to be, the driving force for achieving women’s rights and a gender-equal world. Yet we cannot ignore the fundamental role that governments can play in either promoting or thwarting change.
That is why the four of us accepted French president Emmanuel Macron’s invitation to join 32 colleagues to form a G7 Gender Equality Advisory Council. On Sunday, we will present the culmination of our work; a package of recommended laws focused on ending gender-based violence; ensuring inclusive, equitable, and quality health and education; promoting the economic empowerment of women; and combating discrimination, ensuring full gender equality in policies and public life. In each area we point to laws from around the world that illustrate the type of action countries should take.
Most countries – including the G7 – still have discriminatory laws that violate the rights of girls and women. Almost 40% have at least one constraint on women’s rights to own property. Women don’t have the same rights as men to get a job or pursue a trade or profession in 18 countries or to get a national ID card in 11 countries. Added to these archaic laws are the more recent ones that restrict women’s bodily autonomy, and deny sexual and reproductive rights.
More positively, there are hundreds of good laws that address critical issues and push progress. For example, Denmark has a new law on cyber harassment, Iceland has the strongest equal pay laws in the world, and Morocco is institutionalising gender equality throughout budget processes.
Our recommendations will be included in President Macron’s call on world leaders to ditch discriminatory laws and enact legal reforms that accelerate progress for girls, women and gender equality. We encourage not only the G7, but all governments to join what France is calling “the Biarritz Partnership” and adhere to international agreements relating to women’s rights.
While legal reform is absolutely necessary, it is far from sufficient. A G7 commitment means little if national budgets don’t reflect these priorities. While massive investment is needed, the return will be considerable. If women participated in labour markets identically to men, it could add as much as $28tn (£23tn) – 26% – to the global economy, according to the McKinsey Global Institute.
Along with civil society groups, we encourage each G7 country to have a feminist foreign policy and by 2025 to significantly enhance aid to promote women’s rights and gender equality. But none of this will happen unless countries properly fund the independent women-focused and women-led organisations that hold legislators to account on their commitments.
It is also critical that governments establish monitoring and evaluation mechanisms to measure progress, and help other countries know what legal reforms are possible, successful and needed. This is why our council has drawn up an accountability framework.
And to achieve success, countries will have to go beyond laws to the full range of government policies and programmes that support the needs of girls and women and break antiquated gender norms. For example, providing accessible and affordable childcare and parental leave, including non-transferable leave for fathers, encourages and enables the redistribution or equal sharing of care work at home.
The members of the G7 Gender Equality Advisory Council are activists and advocates from 23 countries. We are civil society and business leaders, doctors and actors, artists and lawyers, ambassadors, UN leaders and Nobel laureates. We’ve built on the efforts of our diverse networks and partnerships, and on the recommendations we and others developed for Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau’s G7 presidency last year under the banner of Making Gender Inequality History.
We have many different perspectives and varied backgrounds, but we stand together because we know this to be true: a gender equal world is healthier, wealthier, more productive and more peaceful.
The time for a gender equal world has come. No country has reached gender equality yet. But all over the world, people are taking up the cause of gender equality and women’s empowerment via grassroots and global movements, in their workplaces, communities and at home. The leaders of the G7 countries have the power to lead the way. We urge them to use that power for good.
Emma Watson is an actor and gender equality activist; Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka is UN under-secretary general and executive director of UN Women; Katja Iversen is the president/CEO of Women Deliver; Michael Kaufman is the co-founder of the White Ribbon Campaign.