Human Development and the G20: Series Introduction
This year’s G20 Summit in Hamburg saw productive dialogue between world leaders, and aside from the United States’ backing out of climate commitments, there were compromises made, if not overall consensus, on many issues. From UN Sustainable Development Goals to trade, the 2017 Summit saw more progress among members states than expected. However, the ability of the G20 to engage citizens and hear civil society’s grievances was lacking, as seen with the peaceful – and violent – protests in the streets of Hamburg. Even if the G20 make progress in meeting the commitments set forth, and are able to take part in constructive dialogue among themselves, the issue remains that the institution lacks credibility among a large and vocal segment of the world’s population.
DOC RI’s work analyses current global issues within the Dialogue of Civilisations framework, meaning that mutual understanding is the fundamental prerequisite for humankind’s inclusive development, and that open, respectful, and equitable engagement of all views is essential to addressing these issues. This requires not only dialogue between world leaders such as the G20, but also dialogue between leaders and the public at large, across societies and cultures.
Over the course of the coming weeks, DOC RI will publish a series of articles relating to the G20 and the recent summit. Topics will range from trends in member states’ compliance to specific commitments – such as women’s empowerment, migration, and the spread of digital technology – to civil society’s reactions and the heightened mobilisation of anarchist movements in challenging the current globalisation model. In this way, DOC RI will unravel this topic and provide readers with a balanced and in-depth take on how leaders and the populous are dealing with human development in an age of accelerated global interconnectedness.
The first article in the series will focus on trends in China, Russia, and Germany in terms of women’s participation in the workforce, and how the three countries have been complying with the goal of decreasing the gender employment gap.
G20: Moving Towards Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment?
Women’s empowerment and gender equality are today regarded by many as a crucial precondition for a fair, equal, and prosperous society. The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) state that “gender equality is not only a fundamental human right, but a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world.”
Nevertheless, much remains to be done to empower women and girls and enable them to tap into their full potential and to end gender-based discriminatory practices. A central aspect in this respect is the economic empowerment of women.
The G20 Summit is one of the international forums that is committed to women’s empowerment. This year, the G20-member states agreed to increase the participation of female labour in the years to come. By 2025, as stated during the 2014 Brisbane Summit, the aim is to reduce the gender labour participation gap by 25 percent, taking into account country specific circumstances.
China, Russia and Germany: How are they doing in terms of women’s economic empowerment?
China’s share of female labour participation (age 15+) declined by 10 percent from a high level of 73.5 percent in 1990 to 63.3 percent in 2016, according to World Bank data that are based on International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates. Actually, this share was constantly dropping until 2010, when participation rates stabilised. Nevertheless, with 63.3 percent, China has the highest female labour force participation of all G20 members countries.
Even with initial high female participation, the gap between the percent of women and men in the labour force has widened. In 1990 women made up 45.2 percent of the total labour force in China, while in 2016 this figure dropped to 43.8 percent. This puts Chinese stakeholders even further away from the goal to decrease the labour participation gap by 25 percent by 2025.
The Chinese government delivered an employment plan in 2014, in which actions to reach the target goals were outlined. Unfortunately, no target goal for female labour participation was provided. In the G 20 Compliance Report from 2017, which evaluates the commitments made by the member states, China received zero points for not monitoring the development of female labour participation, which is a special focus area of member states’ efforts.
In contrast to China, Russia’s female labour participation (age 15+) declined by seven percent from 63.3 percent in 1990 to 56.5 percent in 2016, according to World Bank data. Actually, this share was constantly dropping until 2010, when participation rates stabilised.
However, the gender gap was shrinking for a number of years. The percentage of women in the work force vis-à-vis their male counterparts was on a downward trend, from a level of 48 percent (1990) to 47 percent (1995), reaching its peak at 49.5 percent almost achieving gender parity in 2006. This achievement subsequently declined to 48.6 percent in 2016.
Since the 2014 G20 commitment to decrease the labour participation gender gap, the Russian case essentially remained at the same level. Remarkably, Russia has the smallest labour participation gender gap of all G20 members. However, this is probably partly due to the fact that female life expectancy in Russia is on average 10 years longer than for men.
Judging from this data it becomes clear that Russia is rather not moving closer to its commitment to reduce the labour participation gender gap by 25 percent, even though it is the G20 country closest to gender parity in labour participation. Also, the overall female participation rate is relatively stable and has not been increasing in recent years, making the 2025 goal more difficult to realise.
Nevertheless, in contrast to China (as well as Germany), the 2016 G20 compliance report states that: “Russia has developed its employment plan, systematically and transparently monitored the implementation of its employment plan, and monitored female and youth goals”. According to the G20 Research Group, this qualifies Russia to receive the highest score of +1 (scores range from -1 to +1). Judging from the presented data, one could of course argue whether this score is justified, given the recent stagnating development in recent years.
Germany’s share of female labour participation (age 15+) increased by 11 percent from the low level of 43.4 percent in 1990 to 54.5 percent in 2016, according to World Bank data that is based on ILO estimates. Actually, this share was rising until 2015.
The participation of women in the labour force out of the total population rose from 40.5 percent in 1990 to 46.3 percent in 2016. The German government delivered an employment plan in 2014, and interestingly, the numbers on female labour participation substantially deviated from the World Bank data because unemployed women, still considered by the government to be part of the labour force, were also included.
The fact that in both areas (female labour participation and female labour participation in relation to men) rates have been increasing, indicates that Germany is moving in the right direction to narrow the participation gender gap. Nevertheless, taking into account that Germany has not been making any significant progress in recent years, the aim to narrow the gap by 25% until 2025 seems unrealistic.
In the latest G 20 compliance report, Germany received a score of 0, because Germany has not monitored its employment plan with regard to female and youth participation, and moreover not developed its employment plan.
In the overall picture, one has to say that Russia and China, as former socialist countries that historically showcased a high participation rate of females as compared to the majority of market economies, has witnessed a declining trend from very high levels of participation. In contrast, Germany’s increase started from quite low levels of participation. It is doubtful, if Germany and China are able to reach their target. Russia, with its 48.5 percent share of females in the labour force, is of course closest to gender parity, but considering the recent downward trend it is unlikely that the commitment will be fulfilled.
The need for additional indicators
All in all, one can say that indicators such as the percentage of women in the overall labour force, as well as their labour participation in proportion to men, are only able to provide a very general picture on gender equality. In order to gain a more complete picture of the state of gender equality in a particular G20 country, it is key to include additional indicators into future monitoring processes. Firstly, it is advisable to access part-time versus full-time employment, or hours worked. In many (Western) countries, a substantial number of women are caught in the ‘part-time trap’, which is not at all reflected in the current G20 statistics. Another crucial phenomenon is the gender pay gap, which prevails in many countries of the world and discriminates against women in comparison with their male counterparts. Thirdly, in a large number of countries females are significantly underrepresented in senior managerial positions in both the private and public sectors. These issues have to be addressed if G20 countries are genuinely interested in advancing the economic empowerment of women.
 It should be mentioned that historically the female labour force participation was substantially higher in Eastern Germany than in Western Germany.
 One could add that in case this target would be reached merely because of the withdrawal of men due to lower life expectancy this could hardly be regarded a success.