A historic leap to advance India’s G20 women agenda

In November 2022, when Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi accepted the G20 presidential baton from Indonesia and declared that India will give priority to women-led development in its agenda, advocates of gender equality and women’s empowerment were delighted but not surprised. For, PM Modi has pioneered this concept, and passionately championed and driven action in India and international forums. He sees women’s participation and leadership as indispensable for national and global sustainable development. He also believes that women’s economic, social, political, technological, educational, skilling and digital, workforce and entrepreneurial empowerment and freedom from violence must enable that leadership.

The G20’s overarching priority of economic and financial management and resource mobilisation for global good – including crisis response which was the raison d’etre of the G20 – must also be gender responsive. (Shutterstock)

PM Modi has portrayed women not as passive objects of development but as empowered subjects of it. Witness his affirmation at the Indian Science Congress that its motive should be “to empower science by the contribution of women, not just women via science.” He sought to create a compelling narrative of Nari Shakti (women power) as the prime beneficiary and vital enabler of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The United Nations (UN) says that the world is lagging in achieving gender equality-related SDGs and targets. Structural barriers to women’s economic empowerment – including gender unequal historical, cultural, social, legal and corporate norms, mindsets and stereotypes – are slowing progress. The calamitous Covid-19 pandemic, and conflicts including the Russia-Ukraine war, have triggered setbacks. Its dismal prognosis is that gender equality targets will be achieved in 40 to 120 years, not by 2030. India will push for the G20 group – which comprises some of the most powerful economic engines of the world with over 60% of its population – to commit individually and collectively to drive decisive global action and investment in women’s empowerment in telescoped time.

Any significant advance in women-led development for India’s “greater 50%” will contribute enormously to implementing the UN’s comprehensive Gender Equality Compact. PM Modi has, therefore, donned the mantle of a global pracharak (publicist) for Nari Shakti – as he has done within India – and called for a mindset change globally through the G20.

India will no doubt seize the opportunity to showcase gender responsive policies, best practices and programmes pioneered within the country to provide a life of dignity and equitable access to opportunities for all women and girls. These measures – targeted and transversal – can provide templates for national, regional and G20-wide adoption and replication to scale, especially in the Global South. Equally, India’s own gender equality project will receive a fresh impetus.

I have been associated with the W20 – the Women Engagement group – since its launch in 2015. It has been doing credible work in defining and advancing the women’s empowerment agenda of the G20, complemented by the G20 women’s affairs ministers’ meetings. A dedicated working group is desirable as an institutional motor for gender-mainstreaming and monitoring of implementation.

The G20 process and summit communique, its eight finance and economy working groups, a dozen workstreams and 11 engagement groups, the other priority themes such as technological transformation and digital public infrastructure, green development, Lifestyle for Environment (LiFE) and climate finance, SDG implementation, and accelerated, inclusive and resilient economic growth – must all be gender mainstreamed. Women must be well represented in all panels, mechanisms and G20 events.

The G20’s overarching priority of economic and financial management and resource mobilisation for global good – including crisis response which was the raison d’etre of the G20 – must also be gender responsive. The actionable outcomes and deliverables must target speedier achievement of women’s empowerment. The dozen or so outcomes of the G20 summits so far – including the Empower Initiative to accelerate women’s representation, leadership and empowerment in the private sector – need to be harvested and built upon. India could launch the following impact making G20 women lighthouse projects.

One, transformative financing initiatives such as a platform for funding women-led startups linked with angel investors – akin to Startup India. This could include facilities for funding women-led micro, small and medium enterprises, a women entrepreneurs’ finance Initiative, effective gender responsive budgeting and government procurement commitment.

Two, the private sector could commit to the UN’s women’s empowerment principles. They would be accountable for gender equality within the company by recruiting and promoting women, in the marketplace through sourcing from women suppliers, and in the community through targeted corporate social responsibility spending on women’s empowerment projects.

Three, launch a women’s EDGE – Ecosystem for Digital Empowerment programme – through access to public infrastructure, devices, education and skilling.

Four, promote a G20 green economy, LiFE and climate action campaign valorising and supporting women’s leadership, especially at the grassroots, community and household levels.

Five, launch a G20 gender data alliance on systematic collection, analysis, monitoring and evaluation of gender data and policies.

Six, agree on a G20 care economy compact for valuing and reducing the burden of care work for women, public provision of care services, freeing them up for formal work and generating one billion quality jobs and trade in this 21st century sunrise sector encompassing child and elderly care, wellness and personal care, and health care.

The G20 countries have a duty not to miss this once-in-two-decade chance of a host country – the largest democracy with the biggest youth cohort – being so invested in the women-led development mission for humanity. They must make a historic leap of transformation for gender justice and generation equality.

Lakshmi Puri is a former assistant secretary general, United Nations and Ambassador

The views expressed are personal

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