Thursday, April 2, 2009

Where are the women at the G20 Table?

Women are 52% of the world’s population, but only occupy 10% of leadership in the countries that control 85% of the Global Economic Output.
If you type in “women at the G20” in your search engine, you will most likely see headlines that include “Sizzling G-20 Wives” and “Forget the G-20, what are the spouses wearing?” As leaders of the world’s 20 largest global powerhouses descend upon London for the annual G20 Summit to discuss critical economic, social and political issues, the voice of women worldwide may still be absent from the dialogue at the table; widespread media gossip about spouses’ attire and etiquette will not illuminate the economic inequities that exist for women worldwide. Considering that 70% of the worlds 1.2 Billion impoverished people are women (according to the UN Millennium Development Goals Report), women’s issue should not be cast into the shadows beneath petty headlines---but unfortunately, they are. The media focuses so much attention on the shopping skills of the women behind the G20 leaders, that they miss the issues that these women champion---if they would dig deeper they would find gifted individuals: a mathematician, lawyers, activists, trained musicians, educators and mothers---who reach out to others as caregivers in addition to their roles as diplomats and liaisons. If only these women would be invited to join their partners at the table…

Of the 20 leaders at the table during the G20 Summit, only two----President Cristina Kirchner of Argentina and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany are women. Although, President Obama and other world leaders may have deep respect for women’s rights and issues that affect families, the question remains, will they convey the same perspective that a room full of women would? Although strides have been made in many countries to bring gender equality to elected leadership (In 2008, Women were elected to fill 45/80 Seats (56.3%) in the Rwanda lower house----far exceeding the 30% national quota for women’s representation in the National Parliament), it takes much effort to get world leaders to take issues of women’s rights and basic human rights seriously.

Even though there are organizations like the U.N. Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), the Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and the U.N. Division for the Advancement of Women, women continue to be exploited for political gain, as exemplified in the recent decision of Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, to sign a law that essentially legalizes rape in marriage; the most disconcerting clause in the bill states that “women cannot refuse to have sex with their husbands, and can only seek work, education or visit the doctor with their husbands' permission.” Although the UN and even the US Secretary of State Clinton has stated that this action is a human rights violation and that "This [women’s rights] is an area of absolute concern for the United States…Women's rights are a central part of the foreign policy of the Obama administration,” there is obviously much work to be done if we are to completely obliterate such wide sweeping and unprecedented actions against women. "Rhetoric with no teeth will shamefully perpetuate slow progress in ending gender-based violence and inequalities (Taina Bien-Aim, Executive Director of the New York-based Equality Now states)."

A coalition of over 300 women’s organizations and advocates in over 50 countries, including U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, are in support of creating the Gender Equality Architecture Reform (GEAR), a new women’s agency within the U.N that would play a more powerful role in shaping women’s rights globally. The agency estimates that it will request $1 billion dollars to fund the initiative. A small sum when you consider that the US will spend $534 Billion on the DOD Defense Budget in 2009. The question remains, will the United States and the world’s most powerful political leaders play an influential role in advancing women’s issues forward at the G20 Summit and into the future.

If Susan E. Rice's (the new American ambassador to the United Nations) recent support of moving the United States to join the United Nations' Human Rights Council is any indicator of America’s future support of international treaties like CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women), we may be headed in the right direction. Unfortunately, until we breach that point, it will be the burden of women who are in privileged positions to put pressure on International leaders to support the wives, mothers and “women that support them”. That is, until we are equally represented at the table of global power.

•The Straight Facts on Women in Poverty:
•International Population Center:
•Pressure on Hamid Karzai to Scrap Afghan Women’s :aw:
•Development: Global Coalition Backs New U.N. Gender Body:
Global Database of Quotas for Women:
U.N. Flunking on Gender Empowerment:
Q&A: Time Has Come for a New U.N. Women’s Agency:
In Reversal, U.S. Seeks Election to U.N. Human Rights Council:
G20 Must Bailout Women’s Hardships:

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