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At the G8 Camp David Summit,
Where Are the Women? Everywhere!

Julia Kulik and John Kirton, G8 Research Group
May 20, 2012

Where were the women and the gender dimension at the G8’s Camp David Summit in May 2012? At first glance they were everywhere, at least at the end — mentioned in the concluding communiqué. Moreover, they appeared not merely as mothers, as in the 2010 Muskoka Initiative on Maternal, Newborn and Child Health — as important as this is. The Camp David Declaration recognized and engaged women in a very different and much broader way. It recognized the role of women in agriculture, the rights of women in Afghanistan and their fundamental role in political stability, democratic governance and economic growth. The declaration also highlighted the importance of the rights of women and girls, especially in regards to the political transitions going on in Afghanistan, the Middle East and North Africa.

Female representation at the summit itself — while heavily unbalanced — fell on the shoulders of German chancellor Angela Merkel, the sole female leader present. In the lead-up to the Camp David Summit, there were predictions that an austerity-minded Merkel would be isolated and outnumbered in the summit’s defining debate on austerity versus growth. The opening statement in the leaders’ section acknowledged the imperative to promote growth, indicating that this view may have been true. However, in reference to economic stability in Europe, the G8 leaders reaffirmed their commitment to implement fiscal consolidation and their commitment to austerity. Still, references to women remained absent from the economic section of the declaration, suggesting G8 leaders neither knew nor cared how their economic governance affected the women of the world.

While the G8 leaders — mostly men — were hard at work, how did their spouses — all women — spend their time? While U.S. president Barack Obama hosted discussions with his colleagues on the global economy, food security, and political and security issues, his wife, First Lady Michelle Obama hosted the leaders’ spouses. Mrs. Obama invited them to an intimate lunch prepared by Chef José Andrés and his White House colleagues using produce from the White House kitchen garden. The spouses were also offered a tour of the White House from curator Bill Allman. Unlike G8 summits past, this time the spouses did not visibly come together to give greater attention and thus advance a particular important global cause, as they did in 2011 on the subject of HIV/AIDS.

In the hard core of the leaders’ communiqué, why were the women, while by no means everywhere, at least in more places and in more roles than in summits past? Many of the men and women working both at the summit and behind the scenes at Camp David were the same as had prepared the last small, short, secluded G8 summit — that at Muskoka in 2010. The spouses of Japanese prime minister Yoshihiko Noda, Italian president Mario Monti and French president François Hollande were welcomed for the first time, but did not have enough influence to shift the attention and agreement in the Camp David Declaration to women and girls. One great different stands out between the 2010 Muskoka Summit, which introduced the Muskoka Initiative, and the Camp David Summit, with its great surprise of mainstreaming the rights of women and girls. The attendance of the politically powerful Angela Merkel remained constant from 2010 to 2012. But at Camp David she was uniquely joined by another woman in a position of power – Hillary Clinton, secretary of state of the country that served as the summit host.

Both the symbolic impact and political reality of Merkel’s and Clinton’s presence and influence at the Camp David Summit may explain why its declaration emphasized the rights and role and fundamental importance of women and girls as moving beyond the communiqué at Muskoka, which heralded the protection of mothers and children. In Muskoka there were very few references to women and girls specifically, as its communiqué was dominated by references to the protection of maternal and child health. The Camp David Summit, however, had twice as many references to women. It moved away from the maternal role and highlighted women and girls as a central component of political and social development. At Camp David, the G8 leaders recognized for the first time that female rights and relevance go much beyond the role of motherhood and that women are instrumental in ensuring political stability, democracy and economic growth, particularly in those states in transition to a democratic future.

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