G8 Summit 2009: from an Italian female eye
by 27.08.2009 16:40-
As everybody knows, the G8 is something more than the three days of summit in the world's spotlight. Staff working within the Sherpa offices of the G8 members, senior officials, civil society following the process and other key stakeholders interested in influencing the decisions taken by the most industrialised countries work quite hard, especially in the first sixth months of each rotating presidency.
Since the end of the Japanese summit in Toyako last year, the Italian chair struggled to find some good thematic angles, new approaches or a special initiative whatever could show that the G8 is still a relevant place to discuss global issues and that the summit in 2009 would provide valuable outcomes in responding to the multiple crises affecting the Earth.
Meanwhile the US administration changed, the G20 assumed a credible leadership in global governance, and the financial downturn impacted on the real economy. All this made the scenario unclear and objectives harder to be achieved with the old ways of proceeding; rumours were along the tune of: "The G8 in Italyis going to be a failure; nothing relevant will be decided. Responses the world needs will come from elsewhere."
Civil society at national and international level has always been conscious of the limits of such a forum but nonetheless chose to mark and remind people about the number of commitments the G8 countries have taken over time that shouldn't be forgotten. The risk was (and is) in fact that with the excuse of enlarging its own constituency the much-needed resources to finance development and actions needed in terms of economic justice, financial transparency and fair trade would be just watered down or delayed.
What's behind the flashes? The responses given by the G8
Ministerial meetings organised, stunts and rallies done, documents drafted amended and released, the event in L'Aquila went well. Everybody happy, Mr. Obama bringing solidarity, very good organisation and logistics according to delegations, media and NGOs hosted there. But what's behind all the massive show and resounding declarations? Generally speaking, the Italian summit ends with lights and shadows as can be read in the Global Call to Action against Poverty (GCAP) final statement: "civil society groups have strongly condemned the G8's inaction in crucial areas with no timetable to meet its ODA commitments by 2010 and no financial support to guarantee a planet-saving deal is made possible at Copenhagen", but some appreciation was nonetheless expressed for what regards accountability, thanks to the publication of thematic assessment reportsaimed at evaluating achievements and the delivery of pledgesby the most industrialised countries in the areas of education, health, water and sanitation.
Women's rights at the G8? Mission impossible but...
Not least among the criticisms of the G8 is that it has always been and remains a predominantly male forum. From 1975 to 2008, only three women have taken part in the G8 meetings: British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (who, however, boasts a record of most frequent participation with her presence at 12 summits), German Chancellor Angela Merkel (at the table since 2006), and Canadian Prime Minister Kim Campbell (who was present in 1993).
Considering the remarkable number of documents and the length of the declarations and attachments from over 30 years of meetings, we can say that references to women's rights are rather few and far between; we might note that the areas with the most frequent calls to empowerment and equality are education and health together with references to the MDGs after 2000 followed by governance and economic empowerment. Rarely are the declarations completed with indications for spending or the names of specific programmes or projects for their implementation.
The G8 was rather late in introducing instruments and terminology relative to gender and development compared to the international community of governmental and non-governmental agencies (gender mainstreaming, for example, appears for the first time in official documents in 2002, seven years after the Beijing Conference on Women). Often the statements of recognition are repeated without a thorough evaluation of what remains to be done.
In this context, one positive exception was the 2007 summit, held in Germany under the presidency of Chancellor Angela Merkel, which, by supporting the gender programme of the World Bank and encouraging a more solid gender perspective within the work of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, brought substance to the formerly vague declarations, especially in issues of health and economic empowerment.
Many have already argued: why shouldn't we talk about gender equality when some of the issues that will be addressed by this summit, as in the previous ones, will have different impacts on the female and male universe? How can we discuss solutions to climate change or the food crisis while ignoring the contribution and proposals coming from women who materially face these challenges every day? Is it really possible not to think that if more women were sitting at the table, things would go differently?
A report published by ActionAid Italy in March 2009 has tried to demonstrate that this is, in certain respects, a paradox, as AIDS, conflicts and peace, food security, governance, and education are in the first place "women's business". But the often announced new framework for global development, inclusive enough to bring together growth and sustainability, profit and rights, governance and participation, failed to include a stronger gender analysis and didn't manage to take women's empowerment as the steering force for new directions. Despite the fact that 2009 marks the 30th anniversary of the CEDAW, no vigorous commitment against gender inequality can be found in the outcome documents of the G8. No relevant progresses have been registered in gender mainstreaming.
Most of references that can be found in the 2009 G8 summit documents continue to be business as usual, with vague references to "women and children" as the most vulnerable and the over-quoted "gender equality". Neither the final declaration, Responsible Leadership for a sustainable future, nor the thematic reports show significant steps forward. More attention is dedicated to women in the health report, basically because of the off-track MDG4, where progress has been granted. Sexual and reproductive health care and services, together with voluntary family planning, are mentioned, but no schedule or concrete funding plans are provided. There is no mention of gender-based violence in relation to MDGs and HIV/AIDS (which is different from the 2007 summit). Many strong messages on these issues were delivered by networks such as Action For Global Health and partnerships such as The White Ribbon Alliance. But, disappointingly, everything that specifically related to women's rights has seemed to be delegated to the First Ladies, who attended a meeting at the World Food Programme's Romeheadquarters on the last day of the summit, an event organised to address the role of women in the fight against hunger and in promoting maternal and child health. Among the spouses were Sarah Brown (UK), Laureen Harper (Canada), Chikako Aso (Japan), Gursharan Kaur (India), Kim Yun-ok (South Korea), Nompumelelo Ntuli (South Africa) and Maria Margarita Barroso (EU).
Who knows how many other G8 summits we need to wait for before women's rights aren't downgraded as women's business and, instead, are brought to the heart of efforts towards a more equitable and sustainable development.
Beatrice Costa is a Policy Officer for ActionAid Italy and Coordiantor of the Gender and Development Network, associated with WIDE.
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