The G7 is a big thing in politics, and there is a lot of hullabaloo about it. I wonder how much the country is engaged with it beyond the classic photoshoot of mostly men in suits on a staircase. My first real memory of being aware of it going on was in 1998, when the G8 (before Russia was excluded) was held in Birmingham. I distinctly remember there being snipers on the roofs for security when I was shopping with my mates. There was a lot of fuss about Bill Clinton being in town, although I feel he was playing second fiddle to the fact that around the same time, the Eurovision song contest was also taking place in the city centre.
I may have been a mindless teenager at the time, but you can see a similar thing happening now. We don’t always think about what we could and should be demanding as the leaders of most of the richest countries in the world assemble on our shores, but we are all exercised each time we get nil points in Eurovision.
The only women leaders who have ever attended the G7 (and at one point the G8) are Angela Merkel, Margaret Thatcher and Theresa May – and it shows. But don’t worry, ladies: we are always treated to a shot of the spouses of the leaders, usually in their pretty frocks.
I don’t wish to downplay the importance of the G7, which assembles to deal with issues such as the climate crisis and global debt, and will this year undoubtedly be looking at solutions for problems brought about by the pandemic. This annual gathering is a real opportunity to make big, bold changes in the world. I just cannot help but hope that the experiences of women in our world could just once be one of the main themes up for debate.
As these leaders gather in Cornwall to talk about the global recovery from Covid-19, will they have a specific eye on the fact that on average, 1 in 3 women globally experiences physical or sexual violence in their lifetime? When the conversation turns to promoting prosperity by championing free and fair trade, will they consider the prosperity of women in the world? If you want to talk about free trade, I’ll tell you what is being traded for free in every country of the world – women’s labour. Even before Covid-19, women and girls performed three times as much care and domestic work than men and boys, often unpaid. Over the course of the pandemic this has increased by a further 30-40 per cent, as they have cared for sick family members, children out of school and the elderly. The burden of unpaid care work is crushing for women. We must address it.
Covid-19 has had a huge impact on everyone, but it is undeniable that women and girls have suffered disproportionately. This pandemic has not only been a health emergency for women, but a crisis that has reached into every corner of women’s lives, affecting their safety and welfare, along with their work, aspirations, hopes and dreams. Women and girls in my constituency, in the UK and around the world have experienced extensive disruption to their education, and are more likely to be employed in the service and informal sectors, which were hit hardest by lockdown and restrictions. Since the outbreak, reports show that all types of violence against women and girls have intensified, particularly domestic violence, as women and girls have been more exposed to abuse during lockdown.
Despite these multiple threats, women have been at the forefront of the response to Covid-19 and their expertise must be valued and funded. Unfortunately, as the UK prepares to take up the G7 presidency this weekend, it is simultaneously implementing devastating cuts to its aid budgets. These cuts, and the way they are being implemented, will have wide-ranging and longstanding impacts on the world’s poorest people – in particular, women and girls. For example, analysis shows that 15 million people in need, mainly women and girls, are currently left out of gender-based violence (GBV) service provisions.
This week I joined Care International, the Women’s Institute, Action Aid, Plan, and other women’s organisations at 10 Downing Street to demand that the specific problems faced by women must not be forgotten when the world’s leaders gather. We are a long way away from there being enough women in that particular room, so all we can do is bang a drum outside and ask them not to forget us when they talk about recovery and our world’s future.
Alas. I suspect that by the time the helicopters take off at the end of the G7 in our beautiful corner of the world, the main G7 story for women will be about what Carrie Symonds was wearing. Women often end up with nil points.
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