This year’s Open Government Partnership (OGP) summit just wrapped up in Paris, and it looks to have been a great success. The OGP is a partnership of countries that make voluntary but concrete commitments to promote transparency and empower citizens, with the oversight of a steering committee that includes government and civil society representatives. It is time to replicate the model—and a focus on gender equality would be a great place to start.
From a founding membership of eight countries back in 2011, the Open Government Partnership has grown to include 75, which have collectively made over 2,500 commitments on everything from publishing more details on federal and local budgets through government contract publication to digitizing notary public registries to improving legislation on whistleblower protections. The OGP supports independent review of commitment implementation, and brings open government champions together to learn from each other about new approaches to transparency and engagement.
Why the OGP has worked
There are lots of reasons the OGP has had such a successful start, but one is that the partnership model really makes sense. It was launched by eight heads of state—including those of Brazil, Indonesia, the UK and the US—and it had strong backing from funders and civil society. The Internet revolution has allowed for a range of transparency approaches that weren’t possible before, many of which are low cost or save money (open e-procurement, for example). And open government is an area where developing countries are often in the lead—Ukraine’s ProZorro government procurement site won the 2016 Open Government Award at the Paris summit because it really is the world-leading example of open contracting.
Another area where a global partnership on the model of OGP could make a difference is around gender equality. As with open government, developing countries are often considerably ahead of (at least some) OECD countries on a range of different gender equality measures: 37 percent of parliamentarians in Tanzania were women in 2016 compared to 19 percent in the US. 29 percent of Chinese inventors listed on international patents are women compared to 12 percent in the UK. And 32 percent of firms included in the World Bank’s enterprise surveys of East Asia and the Pacific are managed by women compared to 15 percent in high income OECD countries. That suggests there are lessons to be learned across income divides in both directions. And as with open government, a lot of reforms or innovations are low cost or even make money—removing restrictions on women’s labor force participation is a positive force for growth for example. Progress doesn’t need to wait on prosperity.
Why (and how) a Global Gender Equality Partnership will work
Like the OGP, a Global Gender Equality Partnership would focus on generating voluntary, specific and monitorable commitments to policy change from member governments. This would ensure the presence of a sustained platform for commitment making and accountability among world leaders around issues of gender equality, building on previous one-off efforts such as the 2015 Global Leaders’ Meeting on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment—a session on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meetings in which heads of state committed to actions to improve gender equality. It would be overseen by representatives of government and civil society who would support an independent review mechanism as well as champion progress and share ideas at an annual high-level summit. For example, Nigeria might commit to revise legislation that restricts women from working in mining by 2018, or the US might commit to expand women-owned small business set-asides for government contracts to increase the proportion of contracting undertaken by women-owned firms by 2019. The UK might commit to increase statutory maternity pay after the first six weeks to a minimum of 200 GBP by 2020, or Saudi Arabia might commit to legal reform that allowed women to drive a car by 2021. The Global Gender Equality Partnership would track these commitments and independently review their implementation, celebrating particularly novel, ambitious or successful reforms at summit events.
In terms of early, high level engagement, the women premieres of Chile, Germany, the UK, and Liberia are all plausible candidates for founding membership, but a Global Gender Equality Partnership should be championed by men as much as women—including candidates such as China’s president, who co-hosted the Global Leaders’ Meeting on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment; President Luis Guillermo Solís Rivera of Costa Rica (a co-chair of the UN High-Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment); President Joko Widodo of Indonesia (a UN Women HeForShe ambassador); or Canada’s Justin Trudeau, who appointed a gender-balanced cabinet last year “because it’s 2015.”
In 1995, the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action declared:
Women’s empowerment and their full participation on the basis of equality in all spheres of society including participation in the decision-making process and access to power, are fundamental for the achievement of equality, development and peace.
There has been considerable progress since then, but no country has achieved “equality in all spheres of society”—and most are very far from it. A global partnership of countries committed to policy change for gender equality and willing to be held accountable for that commitment could accelerate progress and help turn worthy intention into action.