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Where Are the Women at the G8?

Hugo Dobson
University of Sheffield
July 9, 2008

Having been dominated since its inception by white, middle-class men predominantly from Europe and North America, the G8 appears to be a highly masculinized realm of global governance. During the period 1975 to 2008, fifty-seven men attended the G8 summit as the elected representative of their respective countries (this figure does not include representatives of the EU Commission and EU Council); during the same period, three women attended: UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher attended twelve summits in total (1979 to 1990), German Chancellor Angela Merkel has attended three summits (2006 to 2008) and Canadian Prime Minister Kim Campbell attended one (1993). So, Cynthia Enloe’s question (2000) of ‘where are the women’ is especially pertinent to the G8. It appears that men control the G8, the way in which it is organized, who attends and what the agenda will be. As J. Ann Tickner reminds us ‘[i]nternational politics is a man’s world, a world of power and conflict in which warfare is a privileged activity. Traditionally, diplomacy, military service and the science of international politics have been largely male domains. In the past women have rarely been included in the ranks of professional diplomats or the military’ (Tickner 1991: 27). Not only does the G8 offer both a highly masculinized locus of global governance, it also presents a largely unexplored case study of the impact of masculinization on the agenda-setting, processes and outcomes of global governance.

So, within this highly masculinized forum for global governance, to what extent and how have gender issues been addressed? Although it tends to be the United Nations (UN) rather than the G8 that has dominated gender issues, looking back at the G8’s communiqués, declarations, statements and press conferences, it is clear that the G8 has increasingly sought to address gender issues. Although the reason for the creation of the G8 was originally to discuss macroeconomic issues, even at the first summit in 1975 the fact that discussion could not easily be limited to this area was acknowledged:

In these three days we held a searching and productive exchange of views on the world economic situation, on economic problems common to our countries, on their human, social and political implications, and on plans for resolving them (G8 Information Centre 1975).

Since then, issues that include a gender or women’s perspective such as human rights, democratization, education, employment, refugees, peacekeeping, health, population growth and development, in addition to a series of conflicts, have been discussed within the G8 and more often than not decisions have been delegated to more appropriate institutions such as the UN and World Bank. However, for twenty years of the G8’s existence these issues were never explored with an explicit gender perspective. For example, the ‘Declaration on Human Rights’ issued at the 1989 Paris Summit to coincide with the anniversary of the French Revolution and the declaration of ‘the rights of man and the citizen’ did not raise the issue through a gender perspective. The rights of the child, disabled and elderly were mentioned but not women (G8 Information Centre 1989). Again, at the 1994 Naples Summit, the political declaration asserted the promotion and protection of human rights: ‘[w] e are determined to strengthen efforts to combat racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, aggressive nationalism, antisemitism and other forms of intolerance’, but did not mention sexual discrimination (G8 Information Centre 1994). Finally, in the 1995 Halifax Summit’s discussion of concrete measures for the reform of the other institutions of global governance, no mention was made of gender mainstreaming or women’s representation (G8 Information Centre 1995). Although the G8’s history is essentially the history of the last four decades of international relations, it appears during this period to have been as ignorant of gender and women’s issues as international politics as a practice and a discipline tends to be.

However, a turning point can be discerned with the Fourth UN Women’s Conference in Beijing in September 1995. The 1996 Lyon Summit was the first summit held after the Beijing Conference and focused upon reform of the UN. Within its Economic Communiqué, reference to promoting the advancement of women was the first explicit mention of women's issues in the G8's history (G8 Information Centre 1996a). However, more explicit was the pledge in the Chairman's Political Declaration at the same summit that:

We will take care to ensure that women as well as men benefit fully and equally from the recognition of human rights and fundamental freedoms, which were reiterated on the occasion of the Beijing Conference, and that the rights of children be respected (G8 Information Centre 1996b).

Thereafter, gender and women’s issues appeared regularly and explicitly in the G8’s communiqués, statements and declarations. The 1997 Denver Summit’s Communiqué stated that:

Democratic governance and the rule of law, in Africa as elsewhere, lay the foundation for human rights, including the rights of women, and sustainable development (G8 Information Centre 1997).

And as regards human rights:

Recognizing that strengthening democracy is essential to strengthening peace and human rights, and looking to the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1998, we will work together in the coming year to build on our governments' most effective democratic development, peacebuilding and human rights programs. Our efforts will focus on promoting good governance and the rule of law, strengthening civil society, expanding women's political participation, and boosting business and labor support for democracy, particularly in young democracies and societies in conflict (G8 Information Centre 1997).

The following year in 1998, the G8 met at Birmingham and made reference to human trafficking:

We are deeply concerned by all forms of trafficking of human beings including the smuggling of migrants. We agreed to joint action to combat trafficking in women and children, including efforts to prevent such crimes, protect victims and prosecute the traffickers (G8 Information Centre 1998a).

The meeting of the G8 Foreign Ministers that preceded the 1998 Birmingham Summit also made reference to gender issues, especially in terms of human rights:

We also call on all Afghan factions to end the appalling human rights abuses in Afghanistan, including discrimination against women and girls (G8 Information Centre 1998b).

And as regards the UN, these foreign ministers pledged to:

support efforts to harmonise and integrate human rights, including a gender perspective, into all UN programmes and policies, including peacebuilding activities (G8 Information Centre 1998b).

No mention was made at the 1999 Cologne Summit but at the 2000 Okinawa Summit education was one of the many issues highlighted and in reference to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) the G8 leaders declared support for ‘the Dakar Framework for Action as well as the recommendations of the recently concluded follow-up to the Fourth World Conference on Women’ and also committed themselves:

...to strengthen efforts bilaterally and together with the international organizations and private sector donors to achieve the goals of universal primary education by 2015 and gender equality in schooling by 2005 (G8 Information Centre 2000a).

The G8 Foreign Ministers Meeting in Miyazaki before the summit had made the following promise:

We encourage further effort by all concerned and we commit ourselves to continue to cooperate closely and further identify effective measures to prevent conflicts, including supporting the role of women, combating cyber crime and developing the principles of corporate citizenship in conflict prevention (G8 Information Centre 2000b).

and in its Conflict Prevention Initiative, stated that the G8:

makes close contact, through UNICEF and other fora, on individual reintegration programs e.g. to identify and share best practice, noting the particular needs of displaced and vulnerable children in rehabilitation and reintegration programs and being sensitive to gender differentiated experiences (G8 Information Centre 2000c).

The 2001 Genoa Summit declared a plan of action for the G8’s Digital Opportunities Taskforce that envisioned information and communications technology (ICT) as playing a role in giving a voice to the disenfranchised, including women (G8 Information Centre 2001a). Previous to this, the G8 Foreign Ministers meeting in Rome had announced a specific initiative entitled ‘Strengthening the Role of Women in Conflict Resolution’ that:

(G8 Information Centre 2001b).

At the 2002 Kananaskis Summit, the phrase ‘gender mainstreaming’ appeared for the first time in the G8’s documentation as part of the Africa Action Plan in which the G8 pledged support for:

(G8 Information Centre 2002a).

In addition, gender equality was repeatedly stressed in the G8’s ‘Education for All’ statement announced at Genoa (G8 Information Centre 2002b). Gender equality was also raised in a report on the progress of the DOT force:

The quality of life of many poor women in Bangladesh has improved through the innovative use of cellular phones....  The CAR Project will implement Edu-Telecentres in Malawi, Kenya, Uganda and Zambia. Along with programs on HIV/AIDS, the CAR Project will provide programs to address women’s empowerment (G8 Information Centre 2002c).

The G8 Foreign Ministers had already highlighted at their meeting:

a particular need to recognise the special requirements of women and child-combatants. Provisions should also be made for the rehabilitation of victims, many of whom are women and children (G8 Information Centre 2002d).

At the 2003 Evian Summit, the G8 expressed pledged ‘additional support to programmes against female genital mutilation in West Africa’ and support for:

the priority given by NEPAD to the integration of women and girls into the social, political and economic sectors of society in an equitable way. Specific examples of types of programmes supported by the G8 are: girls' scholarship programmes across the continent; women's peace centres in Burundi; finance programmes for the rural women of Rwanda; initiatives on equity in education in Ethiopia; programmes to increase women's participation in grassroots development activities in Benin (G8 Information Centre 2003a).

And also called for the reinforcement of ‘the skills and knowledge of different actors in the water sector, particularly local governments and relevant actors of civil society, acknowledging the vital role women play in local communities’ (G8 Information Centre 2003b).

The 2004 Sea Island Summit was noted for the spouses' roundtable (as mentioned below) but the leaders also discussed gender issues calling for the empowerment of women and support for business, entrepreneurship, and vocational training programs to help especially women, and noting the G8’s efforts in ‘supporting regional efforts to expand women's participation in political, economic, social, cultural, and educational fields and by enhancing their rights and status in society’. Activities cited included:


At the 2005 Gleneagles Summit, the G8 welcomed:

African institutions’ engagement in promoting and enhancing effective governance, including NEPAD's strong statements in support of democracy and human rights. Well-governed states are critical to peace and security; economic growth and prosperity; ensuring respect for human rights and promotion of gender equality and the delivery of essential services to the citizens of Africa;

called on:

African countries to implement the African Charter on Human and People's Rights and its protocols in order to encourage respect for the rights of ethnic minorities, women and children;

recognised that women and children were ‘among those most at risk from dying from preventable causes’;

and agreed to ‘support youth employment in Africa for both men and women, including vocational education and training relevant to market demands’ (G8 Information Centre 2005a).

In the ‘Partnership for Progress and a Common Future with the Broader Middle East and North Africa Region’, the G8 encouraged progress in a number of areas including promoting equality for women and the role of the Civil Society and Business Dialogues in promoting the role of women through political, educational and economic reform (G8 Information Centre 2005b).

Finally, the ‘Progress Report by the G8 Africa Personal Representatives on Implementation of the Africa Action Plan’ made numerous references to gender parity and equality, the empowerment and representation of women in state institutions, African-led research on gender issues, gender disparities in education, the property rights of women in the context of HIV/AIDS, global advocacy for women’s sexual and reproductive health (G8 Information Centre 2005c).

The following year at the 2006 St Petersburg Summit, the G8:

…agreed to cooperate with our development partners and other stakeholders to achieve high quality basic education, literacy and gender equality in accord with the education-related Millennium Development Goals and the objectives of Education for All programme (G8 Information Centre 2006a).

In the document Education for Innovative Societiesin the 21st Century, the G8 pledged to:

…actively cooperate to achieve high quality basic education, literacy and gender equality in accord with the education-related Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the objectives of Education for All (EFA).

We will support the educational elements that develop critical thinking, and the open exchange of knowledge, which build both democratic societies and well-functioning economies with opportunities for all. Creation of an educated population and workforce is vitally important. To achieve this strategic objective, the world community embraced the education-related MDGs which prioritized the EFA goals of universal primary completion and gender equality at all levels of education. We regret that interim targets related to eliminating gender disparities in primary and secondary education have not been achieved. Greater concerted action by all will be needed to fulfill these key goals by 2015. We reaffirm our commitments in this regard (G8 Information Centre 2006b).

As regards HIV/AIDS, the G8 pledged to adhere to the principle of ‘scal[ing] up support to address the rising rates of HIV infection among young people, particularly young girls and women’ (G8 Information Centre 2006c).

At the 2007 Heiligendamm Summit, the G8 acknowledged:

Globalization and technological progress have resulted in rapid structural change in many regions and economic sectors. We acknowledge that structural change is the in evitable result of progress and that it brings dislocations along with opportunities. Open markets rest on political acceptance, social inclusion, gender equality and the integration of traditionally under-represented groups such as older workers, youth, immigrants and persons with disabilities. In order to address the social dimension of the globalization process, we identify the four following areas of action (G8 Information Centre 2007a).

Adding to this, the G8:

recognized that the access to quality health services remains a critical challenge in many African countries. We therefore agreed to assist our partner countries in developing and strengthening health systems to help them work toward the availability of appropriate health services for all, including poor and vulnerable groups such as women and children…. The G8 acknowledged the increasing feminization of the HIV/AIDS pandemic and agreed to specifically focus activities on the needs of women and girls (G8 Information Centre 2007b).

Sustained references to gender issues were made within the document Growth and Responsibility in Africa, including:

In implementing development assistance we are committed to promoting universal values of respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms, peace, democracy, good governance, gender equality, the rule of law, solidarity and justice as well as sustainable management of natural resources.

The G8 emphasize the importance of the political and economic empowerment of women as a contribution to sustainable growth and responsible government. We are promoting the World Bank’s Gender Action Plan and welcome this and further initiatives supporting our African partners' efforts to foster the economic empowerment of women such as those taken by the United Nations.

Countries with functioning financial markets grow faster and achieve lower poverty rates by helping to channel resources to their most productive use, reduce dependence on external financing, and facilitate risk management. Financial sector deficiencies such as the lack of long term financing in local currency, pose key obstacles that act to constrain African investors, including small scale and informal entrepreneurs and women.

Education is a fundamental driver for national development and economic growth, providing a skilled labour force, and promoting equity, enterprise, and prosperity. Education also promotes good health, empowers girls and women, and leads to healthier families. We are committed to working with partner governments and the private sector to expand opportunities for disadvantaged girls and boys, including beyond the class rooms, to learn 21st century skills and increase their participation in society. We reaffirm that no country seriously committed to ‘Education for All’ will be thwarted in their achievement of this goal by lack of resources.

In close coordination with the AU, we will help with initiatives such as to build capacities at AU headquarters and regional levels to plan and supervise the use of the new civilian component, help identify the training needs for civilian experts, offer appropriate training and assist in building up a continental roster of experts. A strong focus has to be placed on the training of civilian police for post-conflict scenarios and the need for experts in areas such as justice, transitional justice, administration, gender, human rights etc.

About 63% of all people in the world infected with HIV live in Africa. 72% of Africans who need ARV-treatment are still being left behind. Of particular concern are also the continuously rising HIV/Aids infections of women and girls.

Recognizing the growing feminization of the AIDS epidemic, the G8 in cooperation with partner governments support a gender-sensitive response by the GFATM, with the goal of ensuring that greater attention and appropriate resources are allocated by the Fund to HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment, and care that addresses the needs of women and girls. Coverage of prevention of mother to child transmission programs (PMTCT) currently stands at only 11%. In the overall context of scaling up towards the goal of universal access and strengthening of health systems we will contribute substantially with other donors to work towards the goal of providing universal coverage of PMTCT programs by 2010. The cost to reach this target, as estimated by UNICEF, is US$ 1,5 billion. The G8 together with other donors will work towards meeting the needed resources for paediatric treatments in the context of universal access, at a cost of US$ 1,8 billion till 2010, estimated by UNICEF. We will also scale up efforts to reduce the gaps, in the area of maternal and child health care and voluntary family planning, an estimated US$ 1,5 billion.

By achieving the MDG on education, 700,000 new HIV-infections could be prevented every year. Education not only improves the understanding for infectious diseases but also improves women's and girls' economic prospects and empowers them. The G8 will take concrete steps to support education programs especially for girls, to promote knowledge about sexuality and reproductive health and the prevention of sexually transmitted infections. The G8 will support the nationwide inclusion of appropriate HIV/AIDS-related information and life-skills information in school curricula, in the context of nationally owned sector plans as well as prevention information with regard to malaria and other relevant health topics.

The G8 will emphasize the importance of programs to promote and protect human rights of women and girls as well as the prevention of sexual violence and coercion especially in the context of preventing HIV/AIDS infections. We welcome the commitment expressed by African partners aiming at promoting the rights and role of women and girls. We will also work to support additional concerted efforts to stop sexual exploitation and gender-based violence.

The G8 will emphasize the importance of programs to promote and protect human rights of women and girls as well as the prevention of sexual violence and coercion especially in the context of preventing HIV/AIDS infections. We welcome the commitment expressed by African partners aiming at promoting the rights and role of women and girls. We will also work to support additional concerted efforts to stop sexual exploitation and gender-based violence (G8 Information Centre 2007c).

The ‘Summary of G8 Africa Personal Representatives’ Joint Progress Report on the G8 Africa Partnership’ stated that:

Some G8 partners have supported the World Bank Gender Action Plan focusing on economic empowerment of women as a tool for promoting gender equality.

At the 8th APF in Berlin, we have jointly with our African partners discussed important recommendations regarding climate change, investment, peace and security as well as gender equality (G8 Information Centre 2007d).

Finally, the G8 Foreign Ministers:

…reiterated their commitment to the Broader Middle East and North Africa (BMENA) Initiative. Based on true partnership with governments and civil societies in the region in the spirit of respect for each country's diversity, the G8 offer their support to efforts geared at promoting good governance, the rule of law, human rights, including equal rights for women…

and also:

discussed the continuing grave human rights violations in Darfur, including sexual and gender based violence, and expressed the conviction of our governments that the perpetrators should be brought to justice (G8 Information Centre 2007e).

At the 2008 Toyako-Hokkaido Summit, the G8 continued to highlight gender and women’s issues but only in one document. Its statement on ‘Development and Africa’ pledged that:

We will promote gender equality and women's empowerment as a principle in our development cooperation through mainstreaming and specific actions.

Later in the same document but on the subject of health, the G8 emphasized:

…the importance of comprehensive approaches to address the strengthening of health systems including social health protection, the improvement of maternal, newborn and child health, the scaling-up of programs to counter infectious diseases and access to essential medicines, vaccines and appropriate health-related products.

and noted:

that in some developing countries, achieving the MDGs on child mortality and maternal health is seriously off-track, and therefore, in country-led plans, the continuum of prevention and care, including nutrition should include a greater focus on maternal, new born and child health. Reproductive health should be made widely accessible. The G8 will take concrete steps to work toward improving the link between HIV/AIDS activities and sexual and reproductive health and voluntary family planning programs, to improve access to health care, including preventing mother-to-child transmission, and to achieve the MDGs by adopting a multisectoral approach and by fostering community involvement and participation.

Equally, on the subject of education, the G8 stated that:

…we attach importance to life-long learning and a holistic approach to the education system, namely, continuing to prioritize universal completion of quality primary education by boys and girls, while responding to the need for striking a good balance between primary and post-primary education in relation with national constraints and economic needs.

and pledged that:

We will pay specific attention to countries affected by conflicts or crisis, to girls and to marginalized populations who remain mostly excluded from school (MOFA 2008).

Thus, despite a period of twenty years during which gender and women’s issues were nowhere to be seen on the G8’s agenda, since 1995 the G8 leaders have responded to developments elsewhere in the network of global governance and dealt with a gender and women’s issues in an iterative fashion in their summit documentation. This has been particularly evident in the fields of development, education, population, employment and health, in addition to more political areas such as conflict resolution, peacekeeping, democratization, political representation and human rights.

- - -

Alternatively, one area in which women have played a consistent role in the G8 is as wives of the world’s leaders within the programme for spouses on the edges of the summits. Although the extent of their participation has been limited to ceremonial events, there have been occasions when the wives have adopted a more overtly political role. An early example of their influence was when the G7 announced at the 1985 Bonn Summit as regards the problem of drugs that:

We are determined to fight it resolutely. We have agreed to develop - in addition to measures already in place - a most comprehensive and effective strategy by relying on the services of existing agencies in order to fight the drug manufacture, the drug trade, and related crimes more effectively.

We will charge experts to discuss and evaluate this strategy as well as effective measures which might be adopted through supplementary initiatives. We have agreed that the necessary proposals will be submitted by the end of this year to enable us as soon as possible to draw the necessary conclusions (G8 Information Centre 1985).

Amongst the G8 leaders, this was an issue championed by US President Ronald Reagan supported by his wife, Nancy. Nancy Reagan was well-known as anti-drugs campaigner and during the Bonn Summit made a public visit to an Italian drug rehabilitation centre with Anna Craxi, wife of the Italian prime minister. This G8 initiative can be traced back to Nancy:

The action [G8 adoption of the above pledge] surprised the foreign ministers and their aides, who during many weeks of preparation for the annual economic summit conference, had never planned that drug trafficking become a major item on the agenda... some of the heads of state reported being influenced by their wives, who had attended a First Ladies’ ‘drug summit’ organized by Mrs Reagan last week in Washington... And so it was that the president, seizing on a lull in the conversation, quickly turned the summit leaders’ attention to international drug smuggling during their first dinner meeting here Thursday night (The Japan Times, 5 May 1985, p. 3).

Another example was evident at the 2004 Sea Island Summit when a day-and-a-half roundtable discussion amongst the spouses was hosted by Laura Bush ‘to expand upon the projects that [the] husbands are working on ...Our conversation focused on how we can help achieve the goals that out husbands are also working on for equality, for justice, for democracy’ (G8 Information Centre 2004b). In addition, there was discussion of women’s issues in the Middle East, education and health care. In addition to Bush, the discussion was attended by Cherie Blair, Bernadette Chirac, Ludmilla Putin and Sheila Martin, and included women representatives from the Iraqi Governing Council, the Afghan Governing Council, an Iraqi Fulbright scholar and Paula Nirschel, a US woman who started a scholarship programme for Afghan women at US universities.

However, at the 2008 Hokkaido-Toyako Summit, the spouses programme returned to the largely ceremonial activities including luncheons, kimono displays, tree-planting ceremonies and visits to environmental displays within the International Media Center. The programme was hosted by Fukuda Kiyoko and attended by Sarah Brown, Laura Bush, Laureen Harper, Svetlana Medvedev and Margarida Sousa Uva, wife of EU Commission Chairman Jose Manuel Barroso, but not by Angela Merkel’s husband or Carla Bruni, much to the chagrin of the media in the case of the latter. So, although the spouses’ programme reverted to the highly feminized photo opportunities of previous summits, a majority of spouses still chose to participate.


Enloe, Cynthia (2000) Bananas, Beaches and Bases: making feminist sense of international politics, Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.

G8 Information Centre (1975) Declaration of Rambouillet, 17 November. Available on-line at: http://www.g7.utoronto.ca/summit/1975rambouillet/communique.html, visited on 7 July 2008.

G8 Information Centre (1985) Chancellor Helmut Kohl’s Concluding Statement. Available on-line at: http://www.g7.utoronto.ca/summit/1985bonn/kohl_english.html, visited on 7 July 2008.

G8 Information Centre (1989) Declaration on Human Rights, 15 July. Available on-line at: http://www.g8.utoronto.ca/summit/1989paris/human.html, visited on 7 July 2008.

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Tickner, J. Ann (1991) ‘Hans Morgenthau’s principles of political realism: a feminist reformulation’, in Rebecca Grant and Kathleen Newland (eds) Gender and International Relations, Milton Keynes: Open University Press, pp. 27-40.

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