Where art thou? Women at G20 remain a ridiculous rarity

Where art thou? Women at G20 remain a ridiculous rarity

G20 Osaka
The saying goes that a picture paints a thousand words but, really, the pictures from the annual G20 Summit, held in Japan this year, paint a picture that can be summed up with far fewer than a thousand words. Men in suits, just about covers it.

As ever.

There were 38 official participants: 21 world leaders, including two representatives from the EU, eight invited guests and nine heads of international organisations. Of these 38 just 3 were women. Theresa May, Angela Merkel and Christine Lagarde.

The absence of women at the summit is not oversight or a photoshop fail. It is a genuine reflection on how few women hold leadership positions.

The G20 Summit is formally known as the “Summit on Financial Markets and the World Economy”. It is considered the “premier forum for international economic cooperation” representing more than 80% of the global GDP.

But representing women remains a bridge too far. Women, who comprise just over 50% of the world’s population, comprise 7.8% of official representatives at this global pow-wow. Next year Theresa May won’t be there and from 2021 neither will Merkel.

There is no indication, and certainly no guarantee, that they will both be replaced by women so in the year 2021 it is an absolute possibility that there could be one woman out of 38.

For at least the past few years the absence of women has been a talking point for spectators of the G20 summit: the images inevitably render it impossible to miss.

The year 2019 is no different. It is particularly sobering to consider that back in 2014, when the G20 met in Brisbane, increasing women’s workforce participation as a way of achieving gender equality was identified as a specific goal.

Is it any wonder we’ve barely progressed an iota since then when the gender inequality in this group of world leaders is so desperately stark?


It’s jarring to consider the ‘side event’ that was hosted in Osaka on women’s economic empowerment. Perhaps if it wasn’t a “side event”, but rather a main priority, we might achievement meaningful progress in terms of women’s economic empowerment and the representation of women in positions of power?

The inclusion of Ivanka Trump, the daughter of US President Donald Trump, adds another dimension. Yes, she is another woman present in many of the images, meetings and meals fro Japan. But, no, she’s not an official representative and her presence is highly unusual. It certainly doesn’t reflect a position of power she’s been elected to.


Sadly the G20 Summit in Osaka serves as another potent reminder why gender equality remains so elusive in 2019.

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