Macron's G7 on inequality yields mixed results for development

French President Emmanuel Macron speaks during a press conference at the end of the G-7 summit in Biarritz, France. Photo by: REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

BRUSSELS — Development advocates delivered a mixed verdict on this year’s G-7 summit of wealthy nations in Biarritz, France, welcoming increased pledges to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, while regretting a lack of detail on efforts to stabilize the Sahel and champion gender equality.

French President Emmanuel Macron set the fight against inequality as the theme of this year’s gathering from Aug. 24-26 with the leaders of the United States, United Kingdom, Japan, Canada, Germany, and Italy, as well as the European Union. Macron also invited a number of African heads of state to participate in some meetings, and involved their staff in shaping the agenda. Rwandan President Paul Kagame tweeted his thanks to Macron and the other leaders, saying “This is what it should be!”

“I am not sure they’ve [Macron and Merkel] got the partners they need across the G-7 to make a meaningful step forward [on the Sahel].”

— Gayle Smith, president and CEO, ONE Campaign

U.S. officials had complained to the New York Times prior to the summit that Macron was putting too much emphasis on “niche” issues, rather than trade and economic growth.

Seeking to avoid a repeat of last year’s public discord between leaders at the G-7 in Canada, Macron instead released a one-page declaration of relatively uncontroversial points to accompany official documents on inequality, Africa, climate, and digital transformation.    

Promising funds and support

The EU used the occasion to announce a €550 million ($609 million) contribution to the Global Fund, a 16% increase on its previous contribution. Germany promised €1 billion for the next three years, an increase of 17.6%, and Italy pledged €161 million, a 15% increase.

The fund has set a target of raising $14 billion at its sixth replenishment in Lyon, France, in October — 15% more than the amount raised for 2017-2019. Gayle Smith, president and CEO of the ONE Campaign, told Devex the pledges to date, especially Germany’s “huge” contribution, were exciting, but noted that France and the U.S. had yet to announce how much they would commit.

France became the fifth country to support the replenishment of the Green Climate Fund, pledging €1.5 billion to the fund which has allocated more than $5.2 billion to 111 climate projects in 99 countries.

Sahel

On the Sahel, leaders endorsed the outcome of the G-7 development ministers’ meeting in July — which was criticized for not setting specific human development targets. German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters that a new partnership for security and stability would not involve sending more troops but rather responding to the needs of local security services for things such as more equipment or training.

Oxfam dismissed the Franco-German partnership on the Sahel as “hazy”, with a spokesperson saying that the focus on security was futile when just 1% of G-7 countries’ development aid goes to the region.

Smith said that the Sahel focus at Biarritz had not yielded commitments that were “significantly different” from existing initiatives, though she praised Macron and Merkel for investing political capital. “I am not sure they’ve got the partners they need across the G-7 to make a meaningful step forward,” she said. 

Gender equality

A document on partnership with Africa came with three annexes, on digital transformation, transparency in public procurement and the fight against corruption, and women’s entrepreneurship. The latter included an endorsement of the African Development Bank’s Affirmative Finance Action for Women in Africa initiative to support female entrepreneurs, with G-7 countries contributing $251 million in loans.

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Ahead of G-7, gender equality activists have issued a shadow gender declaration offering a list of minimum commitments to be included in the final G-7 gender declaration.

Gender equality featured heavily in the lead-up to the summit, with the French government commissioning a report from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on women’s digital financial inclusion, and the 35-member G-7 Gender Equality Advisory Council providing recommendations and examples of laws already in place to improve women’s rights worldwide.  

The French government announced during the summit that all G-7 countries, as well as India, Chile, Australia, Senegal, and Rwanda, had committed to trying to implement at least one measure favoring gender equality. On Tuesday, the French G-7 presidency published the “Biarritz Partnership on Gender Equality,” including an annex of initiatives that leaders described as “a first expression of our priorities.”

Reactions from civil society to the gender component of the G-7 were mixed.

Friederike Röder, EU and France director at the ONE Campaign, saw the initiatives in the annex as “a real step forward.” “Some are totally new commitments, either at legislative or public policy level,” Röder told Devex. “Some are indeed about implementing laws or policies that had been developed before Biarritz. However, even in this case, we shouldn’t dismiss this as useless. We’ve seen in the past, in different policy areas, that laws were enacted but then not fully implemented.”

However, Women 7, an alliance of feminist organizations from G-7 countries, regretted “the lack of clarity on financial commitments to ensure their implementation, the fact that some countries recycled existing measures and the lack of details on an accountability mechanism.”

Macron said more details would follow in the coming days on an independent monitoring process involving civil society and the private sector to hold leaders accountable for the commitments taken in Biarritz.

Megan O’Donnell, assistant director of the Center for Global Development’s gender program, told Devex that this year’s focus on trying to change specific laws could be seen as a reaction to the broad-stroke efforts to address gender equality under the Canadian G-7 presidency in 2018. “It was sort of everything in the kitchen sink, and I think rightfully so, leaders had difficulty knowing what to do with that,” she said of last year’s approach.

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As for the role of the G-7 Gender Equality Advisory Council, which met three times in Paris this year, O’Donnell said some members had used their role skillfully to advance their policy goals, such as Grammy-award-winning Beninese singer Angelique Kidjo who championed the AFAWA initiative.

But O’Donnell also warned: “We know many of these commitments have been recycled; they’re not new. We need more clarity on which of these commitments have been spurred by the GEAC’s call to action. Absent that, we should ask ourselves whether the formation of the Council is really furthering our objectives beyond highlighting the importance of gender equality, or more of a ‘pinkwashing’ of the G7.”

Leaders also backed an effort by Nobel Peace Prize laureates Nadia Murad and Dr. Denis Mukwege to create an International Fund for Survivors of Conflict-Related Sexual Violence, with France contributing €6 million and the EU an initial €1 million. A conference in London in November on ending sexual violence in conflict was flagged as another chance to garner support for the fund, which an EU spokesperson said “will award financial compensation to individuals and groups in order to address the long-term consequences of large-scale sexual violence following conflicts, and to support transitional justice.”

About the author

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    Vince Chadwick

    Vince Chadwick is the Brussels Correspondent for Devex. He covers the EU institutions, member states, and European civil society. A law graduate from Melbourne, Australia, he was social affairs reporter for The Age newspaper, before moving to Europe in 2013. He covered breaking news, the arts and public policy across the continent, including as a reporter and editor at POLITICO Europe.