Non-member leaders at Outreach meeting adds new dimension
First time a Head of State of Sri Lanka invited
Women included in the Agenda to continue to be priority in Japan that will reflect on Asian women
What is described as ‘The Land of the Rising Sun’ and the ‘Land of Cherry Blossoms,’ Japan is agog to host this year’s G7, once again, to be held in Asia after eight years.
Dressed up for the occasion, the welcome ceremonies are on at the ports of entry to this serene region, Ise-Shima, the venue for this Summit scheduled for 26 and 27 May.
Both cities of cultural significance and scenic beauty, is a region described by those who have ties with it as “omotenashi” (Japanese hospitality), business advantages, rich harvests from sea and land. Ise city is mostly known as the spiritual heart of Japan due to the famous Jingu Grand Shrine that draws 10 million visitors.
The Group of Seven (G7) Summit is an annual meeting of seven of the world’s strongest economies and industrialised democracies – Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States – that provides the opportunity to the leaders to discuss topics such as the global economy, health, and foreign policy and present themselves as united by their commitments to democracy and human rights.
However the Prime Minister of Japan who is holding the Presidency this year, as per done on rotation among the members, have added a different dimension to its composition with an added session on this occasion. For the first time an invitation by the Prime Minster of Japan has been extended to the Heads of States of some non-member countries include Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Republic of Chad, Papua New Guinea and Lao People’s Democratic.
Thus this is hugely significant for Sri Lanka being the first time the country’s Head of State has been invited for the G7’s Outreach Meeting to be held on 27 May. This has served as a golden opportunity for our President Maithripala Sirisena to have the bilateral relations with the key leaders at the summit.
Japan and Sri Lanka have had strong relations, International Relations specialists will see and expect much more than what meets the eye at this opportunity. At a time when China and India are competing and much is on offer to Sri Lanka, Japan too would be the friend that Sri Lanka can look to at this juncture.
The writer is reminded of in particular the famous speech of former late President, J.R. Jayewardene, in his capacity of Finance Minister, and what it did for Japan-Sri Lanka relations when he made that famous speech during the San Francisco conference.
The former President, popularly known as JR, played a major role in re-admitting Japan to the world community at the San Francisco Conference in Ceylon’s defence of Japan. The relations reached a zenith with Japan doing much and even incidentally being the architect of the current building that the Parliament of our country is housed.
Ceylon’s defence of Japan
The famous San Francisco treaty reports reveals: “A major player in providing support for a post-war free Japan was the delegation from Ceylon. While many were reluctant to allow a free Japan capable of aggressive action and insisted that the terms of surrender should be rigidly enforced in an attempt to break the spirit of the Japanese nation, the Ceylonese Finance Minister J.R. Jayewardena spoke in defence for a free Japan and informed the conference of Ceylon’s refusal to accept the payment of reparations that would harm Japan’s economy.
His reason was: “We in Ceylon were fortunate that we were not invaded, but the damage caused by air raids, by the stationing of enormous armies under the South-East Asia Command, and by the slaughter-tapping of one of our main commodities, rubber, when we were the only producer of natural rubber for the Allies, entitles us to ask that the damage so caused should be repaired. We do not intend to do so for we believe in the words of the Great Teacher [Buddha] whose message has ennobled the lives of countless millions in Asia, that ‘hatred ceases not by hatred but by love’.”
He ended the same speech by saying: “This treaty is as magnanimous as it is just to a defeated foe. We extend to Japan the hand of friendship and trust that with the closing of this chapter in the history of man, the last page of which we write today, and with the beginning of the new one, the first page of which we dictate tomorrow, her people and ours may march together to enjoy the full dignity of human life in peace and prosperity.”
Minister Jayewardene’s speech was received with resounding applause. Afterwards the New York Times stated: “The voice of free Asia, eloquent, melancholy and still strong with the lilt of an Oxford accent, dominated the Japanese peace treaty conference today.”
With the temperament and style in which President Sirisena has moved in with the international community he has achieved huge support. This is yet another opportunity to clinch in renewing ties to the level that Sri Lanka once enjoyed not only with Japan but all other in the developed world and has shown great potential of accomplishment judging by the responses. This would be the bridge to cross to further the prospects and ties that would serve as the catalyst for the economic turnaround that the country badly needs.
Women in the Agenda of G7
The host country plays a decisive role not only in organising the event but also in setting the Agenda, as the rotating Presidency of the G7 selects additional current topics for the leaders to address.
Last year, on 7 and 8 June, when the G7 leaders met at Schloss Elmau in Bavaria, Germany, the German G7 Presidency spearheaded by Chancellor Angela Merkel at the G7 helm for the second time, made history by including women’s economic empowerment on the 2015 Agenda as one of the selected key issues.
This decision gave the G7 a landmark opportunity to address the needs of women, and after the summit the Chancellor’s concluding remarks focused on women and their participation in politics and the economy. The Chancellor said: “Whether security, corruption, working conditions, or global climate change, women are the focus here.”
“It’s not only in developing countries, but also industrial countries,” she said referring to the gender inequality across the globe.
Women’s economic empowerment is crucial for societal development and for unlocking potential around the world. When we invest in women’s economic empowerment, we also invest in gender equality poverty eradication, and more inclusive economic growth. Providing female farmers with the same level of resources as male farmers could reduce the number of people living in chronic hunger by 100-150 million.
Furthermore, studies from a range of countries show that increasing the share of household income controlled by women, either through their own earnings or cash transfers, changes spending in ways that benefit children.
Despite the numerous benefits that result from women’s economic participation, women face significant barriers to inclusion in the labour force. Women are disproportionately affected by poverty, discrimination, and uneven distribution of labour in their households.
These obstacles limit access to economic resources like land and loans, as well as the time to pursue economic opportunities. When women do participate, they are overrepresented in low-status, low-paying, insecure, or informal jobs. The data is familiar.
Investing in women’s economic empowerment sets a direct path towards gender equality, poverty eradication and inclusive economic growth. Women make enormous contributions to economies, whether in businesses, on farms, as entrepreneurs or employees, or by doing unpaid care work at home.
But they also remain disproportionately affected by poverty, discrimination and exploitation. Gender discrimination means that women often end up in insecure, low-wage jobs, and constitute a small minority of those in senior positions. It curtails access to economic assets such as land and loans. It limits participation in shaping economic and social policies. And, because women perform the bulk of household work, they often have little time left to pursue economic opportunities.
The G7 committed to “increasing the number of women and girls in developing countries receiving technical and vocational training through G7 measures by one third by 2030”. This is an important step given that relevant skills can increase employment and entrepreneurship opportunities, build women’s agency, and help women transition from the informal into the formal economic sector. However, the G7 has not outlined a plan for how they will bring this goal to fruition.
Within G7 countries, leaders committed to reducing the gender gap in workforce participation by 25% by 2025. They noted the need to improve working conditions that allow women and men to balance family life and employment, such as access to parental leave and childcare, but failed to establish a concrete plan for achieving this objective. Leaders also agreed to the G7 principals on women’s Entrepreneurship. Some of these principles include encouraging girls’ participation in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields, addressing the specific needs of female entrepreneurs (e.g., by promoting networks for women entrepreneurs and providing mentoring), and facilitating women’s access to finance and technology. More broadly, the G7 stated support for UN Women’s Empowerment Principals, and encouraged companies around the world to incorporate them into their practices.
Additionally, leaders established a new G7 working group on women that will help to coordinate G7 efforts surrounding women’s economic empowerment. The creation of the group indicates that women will continue to be a priority for the G7 in subsequent years rather than simply being incorporated as addendums or target populations within existing initiatives, as has been the case in the past.
A G7 focus on women in 2015 was long overdue thus was welcomed. As half of the population, addressing the needs of women and girls is essential for effective development and for meeting the world’s greatest challenges.
The G7 has taken steps to prioritise women and girls, and continued to do so at the G7 Forum for Dialogue with Women Dialogue with women in business, science and research and civil society on 16 September 2015 in Berlin. However, just being on the Agenda is insufficient. The G7 must deliver on their promises and continue to drive women’s empowerment forward because the evidence is clear: when women benefit, everyone benefits.
The main Agenda for the G7 Ise-Shima Summit includes, Global Economy & Trade. Foreign Policy, Climate Change & Energy Development, Quality Infrastructure Investment, Health and women.
Japan has been working towards creating a society where all women are actively engaged. As part of this initiative, Japan has been hosting the World Assembly for Women since 2014, inviting a wide range of international leaders to join comprehensive discussions on issues surrounding women. It is poised with their third meeting this year, in the spotlight under the Japanese G7 Presidency.
Building on the progress made at the Schloss Elmau Summit in 2015, at the G7 Ise-Shima Summit several issues with a specific relevance to women will be on the Agenda. These will include empowering women through education, promoting greater engagement in natural sciences and technology, and accelerating the international momentum for women to take on even greater roles in a wider range of areas.
Japan’s initiative will reflect positively on the Asian region, and the Asian countries including Sri Lanka can follow suit in the principles and policies that are determined at these Summits.