Gender equality is having a moment in 2019. After being the focus of the 2018 G7 Summit in Canada, this year’s G7 in France will also put gender equality at the center. The Gender Equality Advisory Council (GEAC), convened last year by Prime Minister Trudeau, is solidifying its work under the impetus of President Macron. This week in Vancouver, Canada is hosting Women Deliver, the world’s largest conference on gender equality, bringing together more than 8,000 world leaders, influencers, advocates, academics, activists, and journalists to accelerate progress for girls and women everywhere.
This attention is welcomed because we are not moving fast enough. The World Economic Forum estimates that at the current pace, it will take 108 years to close gender gaps in health, education, economic opportunity, and political representation.
Can anything really change with these large international gatherings? They can focus the attention of decision-makers and can provide a stage for funding or policy change announcements. But to make sure these are not forgotten as soon as they are made, politicians need an incentive to take bold actions and keep their promises. This requires robust and effective accountability.
Unfortunately, in the area of gender equality, there is currently no permanent initiative that can deliver this. Those that exist look at the past rather than what future reforms are needed. They also do not require countries to make measurable and time-bound commitments and lack meaningful involvement of civil society and the private sector.
Another big international gathering provides a clue as to what robust and effective accountability means: the Open Government Partnership, which held its global summit last week in Ottawa. This initiative was created to increase countries’ ambition in implementing policy reforms related to transparency and anti-corruption. The OGP managed to move the needle on a very sensitive and complicated topic, making it a useful model for gender equality.
One of the things ONE wants for women and girls in 2019, and on which we hope to see progress at the G7 in France, is the creation of a strong accountability mechanism to move gender equality forward: a new Global Alliance for Gender Equality. To be successful, this partnership should include the following ingredients, based on the OGP model:
- Be a partnership of governments, but also include civil society and the private sector as active members at all stages of the process;
- Be global and include G7 and non-G7 countries, starting with a few committed ones to get the ball rolling;
- Require countries to meet minimum eligibility criteria before joining, such as the abolition of certain sexist laws, to ensure that there is a real political will to improve;
- Require countries to develop National Action Plans based on “SMART” (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound) legislative and policy commitments;
- Include an Independent Reporting Mechanism made up of gender equality experts and charged with assessing the quality of “SMART” commitments and their implementation over time;
- Keep the global political momentum alive by inviting the Heads of State of members to meet every two years to review each other’s progress.
To deliver on its promise, such an Alliance should be backed by a small secretariat which would offer guidance to countries and would be charged with overseeing the Independent Reporting Mechanism.
We need progress not promises on gender equality. A Global Alliance would give real teeth to the recommendations of the G7’s Gender Equality Advisory Council. It would give a needed boost to the fight against gender inequality while allowing for approaches that can be adapted to each country. Let’s not wait 108 years to close the gaps.