2018 marks the fifth anniversary of the first grouping of the W20, which brings together women from business, international organizations, civil society, think-tanks and academia from G20 member states. The W20 was established under the aegis of the G20 with the purpose of making international economic governance – the domain of the G20 – more gender-responsive, in recognition of the need to correct the stark gender inequalities in the economy, in the labour market, in the distribution of resources – including education – and in many legal arrangements. These inequalities infringe on basic human rights, and hinder economic activity and productivity growth by preventing many women from fully participating in the formal economy – and in the case of the informal economy by not adequately counting their contribution. By choosing for the first time to focus on these crucial gender-equality issues at the strategic level, the G20 leaders implicitly agreed to make this premier economic forum accountable for taking women seriously and improving their lives.
This paper takes stock of the critical steps in the development of the W20 over the past five years. It focuses on both the positive and the less successful outcomes brought forward by the W20, assessing whether and how the commitments made by the G20 on gender equality and gender-inclusive economic growth have been turned into policy goals and policy measures. The paper starts by considering the background, rationale and foundations of the W20, and identifying the areas of economic governance where it has so far contributed the most and the areas where more action is needed. It then discusses the engagement group’s structure and organization, arguing that its establishment has helped define new frontiers for economic governance and shift the traditional approach from gender-neutral – or gender-blind – to gender-responsive. Next, it outlines the steps necessary in order to strengthen the role of the W20 as a credible player and to shift global economic governance while contributing to good gender-responsive domestic policies. In conclusion, the paper reflects on the W20’s impact on the dynamics within the G20, in helping to ensure that international policy cooperation and peer pressure should help narrow the gender gap and remove inequality.