Civil Society Can Do More Than Promote Gender Equality

After Germany held the G20 presidency in 2017, it is now on Argentina to promote female empowerment and civil society engagement. Last December, during the 11th WTO Ministerial meeting, numerous civil society experts were blocked from entering the country. Thus, it remains to be seen how Argentina’s G20 presidency will deal with the fundamental role of civil society.

An Interview with Barbara Fürst, Charlotte Becker and Miriam Meier

 

When it comes to government funding of civil society organisations, self-interested aims of countries are to be expected when dealing with global issues. In the past, the collaboration between G20 members and civil society organisations was characterised by subsequent obstacles, whether the G20 would not take NGOs and grassroots voices seriously, or civil society activities would follow an anti-globalisation agenda. Furthermore, civil society organisations would often criticise the G20 for promoting neoliberal policies, for instance, multilateral trade rules in developing countries. Which is why CSOs call for economic and financial reforms, so that developing countries can after all benefit from globalisation.

Polis member Miriam Meier spoke to Barbara Fürst and Charlotte Becker from Oxfam about the Civil20 forum, and why women’s economic empowerment plays a crucial role in the demands for a just society.

 

Dear Mrs. Fürst and Mrs. Becker, who takes part in the Civil20 working group, what are your main goals, and with regard to your slogan is “The World We Want”, can you sum up what kind of world you want?

Barbara Fürst: The C20 is one of the so-called engagement groups that existed during the German G20 presidency. Civil society organisations have been active to engage with the G20 since the first summit in 2008 in Washington, DC. A more structured process of civil society representation as ‘Civil 20’ or ‘C20’ was first facilitated by Russian civil society organisations during the Russian presidency in 2013. Since then, civil society organisations have engaged regularly with the G20 and the respective G20 presidencies under the umbrella of the C20, depending on the local conditions in the host country. The C20’s main objective is to facilitate a structured and sustained exchange of critical reflection and political perspectives amongst civil society in G20 countries and beyond on the G20 agenda. In the past there has been a strong focus on advancing reforms of the global finance architecture as well as demanding a paradigm shift in the political approach of the G20 towards globalisation, to a truly sustainable and inclusive development. The current economic system facilitates a globalisation that is incompatible with the objectives of sustainable development, and contributes to rising inequality around the world. Civil society coming together under the C20 is therefore urging a major overhaul of the political rules shaping economic and financial globalisation to address the plight of the poorest and most disadvantaged members of society.

Charlotte Becker: The challenges are enormous and our global economic system is on the wrong track. The world is facing extreme levels of inequality. In 2017, only eight billionaires (all of them men) own as much wealth as the bottom half of the world’s population (3,6 bn. people). The gap between rich and poor is widening in most countries around the world. This is also reflected in persistent gender inequalities. Without policy changes, the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals that the world’s heads of state and governments adopted only three years ago will not be achieved if business as usual continues. The world remains vulnerable to new economic crises and environmental degradation. Bold actions are needed by all governments. The principle of “Leave No One Behind” means affirmative action for the poor, disadvantaged, discriminated, excluded persons and countries. It also means adjusting trade, fiscal, energy, climate, agricultural and other policies accordingly. We need a new vision for a different kind of economy, that works for the poorest, for women in particular and for the majority. That’s not a world that delivers only for rich men.

 

In your working group “Inequality, Gender and Social Protection”, the C20 urged the G20 to stand by their commitment to reduce the gender gap in employment by 25 percent by 2025. How can this goal be achieved and which specific measures are required from the G20 members?

Charlotte Becker: Women across the world make up the vast majority of the lowest-paid workers in jobs with minimal security or safety, and are overrepresented in part-time work. At the same time, women bear the brunt of unpaid care work and do most of the unpaid labour. Key concerns for women that prohibit their full participation in the workforce include their large and absolutely disproportional share of unpaid care work, the gender wage gap, domestic violence and harassment, particularly sexual harassment, lack of childcare, regressive tax measures, poor labor standards and lack of security.

Barbara Fürst: While some G20 countries have made progress towards achieving the 25 by 25 goal and have put forward measures to boost female labor participation, other countries still lag behind. Achieving the goal requires a comprehensive set of country-level actions and global engagement as well as changes in macro-economic and financial systems, along with changes in legislation, attitudes and norms that discriminate against women. However, real economic empowerment must not only focus on the number of women working. It is also the quality of work available to women that matters. Gender inequality affects the jobs women have access to, the money they earn and the way society values their work. The G20 need to tackle the structural barriers to real women’s economic empowerment.

 

What role can women play in reforming the global financial system?

Charlotte Becker: The current global financial system is neither resilient nor sustainable. Significant risks and regulatory gaps remain. Citizens are vulnerable to a new financial crisis, abusive economic practices such as tax dodging and new technological challenges. But the financial sector should serve the needs of the people, also women. However, the G20 still promotes a financial system and monetary policies that create financial instability, social and environmental havoc, gender inequality and excessive debt. Hundreds of billions are lost to illicit financial flows each year. Tax evasion and avoidance by the super-rich and multinational corporations, the race to the bottom through tax competition and financial secrecy as revealed in the Panama Papers deprive countries of crucial revenue. Thus, national tax systems and our international tax architecture need to be reformed. Taxation systems and policies need to take note of unequal gender roles and must work to redistribute them. The G20 can ensure gender-equitable fiscal policies by promoting financing of public services to reduce women’s unpaid care work and expand their job opportunities. They also should promote the elimination of gender bias in national budgets and tax codes, and ensure decent work and social protection that benefit women.

Valuable research by the IMF shows how gender and economic inequality intersect. The problem of the growing gap between rich and poor is most intimately linked to the fight for equality between women and men. Countries with higher income inequality also tend to be countries that have higher gender inequality. It is not just that women and girls suffer most when governments are deprived of revenues that they fail to provide basic services and social protection. Our societies depend on the disproportionate unpaid care work that women do. Yet it remains largely unrecognised and unvalued in current macroeconomic thinking. Moreover, neoliberal economic approaches thrive on the social norms which disempower and push women down.

Oxfam works with women garment workers in Myanmar, producing fashion items for German retailers. These women work 70 hours a week, are locked in and trapped in poverty, and if they get pregnant they are fired. These women provide most of the cheap, lowest-paid labour that our global market needs, but with minimal security or safety. 75 percent of women in Asia and Africa are in insecure, informal employment. Within the G20, we have indeed seen greater recognition of the importance of gender equality to inclusive growth. But G20 policies continue to be largely gender-blind, whilst those policies adopted to increase gender equality have been poorly implemented.

Inclusive and sustainable growth cannot be achieved without putting gender equality at the core of the G20. Much of the focus has been on increasing women’s entrepreneurship and women’s representation at the top, but more attention is needed to the root causes of gender inequality, as for example, access to education, health and social protection. We don’t want to shoehorn women into an economy that is rigged against them, but to rewrite the rules so they work for them and the majority. This is why we want to see progress to actively support decent work with rights and living wages, collective bargaining, as well as investment in care work.

G20 countries have to tackle the structural barriers to women’s economic empowerment and systematically integrate gender analysis in all of its agendas and policy frameworks. Reforms of the international financial system are needed that promote gender equality, especially in the area of access to financial resources of women, equitable representation of women in decision making positions, engagement with women’s rights organisations, civil society participation and fair tax systems. We need to make sure that our economic model does not undermine gender equality.

 

Why is gender equality in the so C20 relevant, and how can female empowerment contribute to a just society?

Barbara Fürst: We live in a world where most women do not enjoy an autonomous life and the same chances as their male counterparts, but experience discrimination and marginalisation on a daily basis due to their gender. It is an illusion that there is any area in which the integration of aspects of gender justice would be irrelevant. Even though I utterly hope for developments that will turn this into a part of our history, we have to face a deeply gender-discriminatory economic system that is linked to women’s poverty and, in many cases, prohibits women from realising their full potential.

Charlotte Becker: We need an inclusive and sustainable economy. This can only be achieved if gender justice and women’s rights are an inherent part of all policies and initiatives. May it be on the level of the G20 or national, regional and global levels. The Women20 Germany 2017 Communiqué states that women realising their full potential will not only stimulate sustainable growth but also be an imperative for diverse, stable and viable societies, pillared by active citizenships, and thus the well-being of humankind. And this is the answer to the question, how female empowerment contributes to a just society. It contributes to the well-being of humankind – of all of us. Oxfam is concerned with gender equality and women’s rights as ends in themselves and because their absence drives poverty, while their fulfilment has been shown to drive development.

 

Barbara Fürst is the Oxfam coordinator on international cooperation and represented Oxfam in the C20 Steering Committee. She has worked with UNICEF and Welthungerhilfe on the topics health and education. 

Charlotte Becker is the coordinator for Oxfam’s work for gender equality and against social inequality. She has profound research experience on sexual violence and worked in Vietnam and Tansania. 

The project “Women’s Economic Empowerment and the G20” is part of Polis180’s program area Women and International Politics.

The Polis Blog serves as a platform at the disposal of Polis180’s members. Published comments express solely the authors’ opinions and shall not be confounded with the opinions of the editors or of Polis180.

Image source: “Myanmar: A new path out of adversity” , International Labour Organization, http://bit.ly/2rHcmUN , lizensiert unter Creative Commons license 2.0.:https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/.

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Miriam Meier

Miriam is an MA Philosophy student at the Freie Universität Berlin with a focus on economic democracy and the theory of justice. At Polis180, she works in the programme area “Women and International Politics".

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