G-8 on Women

This post has been co-authored with Boi-Tia Stevens, an attorney based in Washington.  She has engaged in international work on criminal justice, human rights and social justice.

In renewing their commitment to “open economies, open societies, and open governments”, the leaders at the G-8 Summit, held June 17th – 18th in Lough Erne, Ireland, highlighted the role of women in three key areas:  (1) Food security and nutrition; (2) Transition of Arab countries; and (3) Rebuilding Afghanistan.Image

Food Security and Nutrition

Food security has been a major focus of the G-8 leaders since 2009. The 2012 G-8 summit launched the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition — a partnership between the G-8 countries and partnering African countries and private sector companies to lift 50 million people in sub-Saharan Africa out of poverty by 2022 through support for agricultural development. The Alliance aims to accelerate the flow of private capital and of new technologies to African agriculture, while engaging and leveraging the capacity of private sector partners, including women and smallholder farmers.

In the 2013 Communique, G-8 leaders continued to recognize the critical role to be played by smallholder farmers, especially women, in advancing the goals of the New Alliance. To this end, they highlighted the need for greater flows of private capital to this sector to ensure that investments have a measurable impact on reducing poverty and malnutrition, particularly for smallholders and women, and are made responsibly and support the sustainable use of natural resources.

Researchers and advocacy organizations used the occasion of the 2013 G-8 Summit to also recognize the integral connection between gender equity and food nutrition. Recent research by public health specialists from Johns Hopkins University has suggested that the degree of malnourishment around the world is greater than previously thought. Highlighting the dire importance of nutrition for pregnant women and the first two years of a child’s life, the researchers explained that “countries will not break out of poverty unless nutrition becomes a global priority,” (Girls Globe Blog).

To this end, the G-8 2013 Communique welcomed the launch of the Global Nutrition for Growth Compact. On June 8th, 2013, sixty (60) leaders from government, private sector and international organizations signed the compact. Its goals include improving the nutrition of 500 million pregnant women and children and consequently saving the lives of 1.7 million children by 2020. The Communique highlighted the financial and policy commitments made by the Compact, and charged the Scaling-Up Nutrition (SUN) Movement with regular reports and reviews of progress toward the outlined goals.

In another article, “Poverty Matters,” Sarah Degnan Kambou, the President of the International Centre for Research on Women (ICRW) called on the G-8 to also make the connection between gender equity and food nutrition in another area as well. Women play an essential role as food producers and income earners for their families and communities. Yet, the article explains, domestic violence against women reduces their effectiveness in this role. As many as seven out of every ten (10) women will experience some form of violence in their lifetimes. In some cases, women have been so abused they are unable to work or to care for themselves and their children, Ms. Kambou wrote, “When women live free from violence they have a better chance of earning an income, and are more likely to focus their spending, and energy, on their children.”

In this context, the Communique welcomed the historic Declaration on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict adopted by G8 Foreign Ministers on April 11, 2013. The Declaration acknowledges that rape and serious sexual violence in international armed conflict constitute grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions. The G-8 leaders encouraged its early implementation. This focus on the impact of violence on the lives of women was also raised in the context of the aspirations of the people in the Middle East and in Afghanistan.

Transition of Arab Countries

In the aftermath of the Arab spring uprisings, G-8 countries embarked on a program to assist Arab countries overcome the challenges of transitioning to a democracy and an open economy.  In 2011, G-8 leaders launched the Deauville Partnership with Arab Countries in Transition, a long-term global effort to provide support to six Arab countries: Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Jordan, Libya and Yemen, engaged in the process of transforming to “free, democratic and tolerant societies.” In addition to these six countries and the G-8 member states, the partnership includes Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, the European Union and several international institutions.

At this year’s summit, G-8 leaders reaffirmed their support for economic and political reforms necessary for the transformation of Arab countries into democratic regimes.  They urged Arab leaders to include respect for the rights of women in these reforms to bring about more open and inclusive societies.   In their communique, the G-8 leaders also recognized women’s contribution to economic stability.

Rebuilding Afghanistan

Since the removal of the Taliban in 2001 women have made significant gains, yet much more needs to be done in the post-conflict reconstruction era to improve the status of women and children in Afghanistan.  Some of the gains realized include: equal rights enshrined in the Afghan Constitution and official Afghan policy, reserved seats in the Afghan National Assembly and provincial councils and enrolment into all tiers of formal education.   Afghanistan, however, is still considered one of the worst countries to be a woman.  Most girls do not go to school for more than six years, girls’ schools are frequently attacked, the maternal mortality rate is among the highest in the world and violence against women and girls is still common place.   In a statement issued in 2010, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women emphasized that women must fully and equally participate in decision making at all levels in the reconstruction and development of the country.

The G-8 leaders at this year’s summit underscored the importance of respect for the rights of women in efforts to rebuild Afghanistan.  They pledged support for an Afghan-owned and Afghan-led reconciliation process, one based on respect for Afghan Constitutional principles, including the rights of women.

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