The C-20’s work on gender equality during Turkey’s G-20 presidency

During Turkey’s G-20 presidency in 2015, the C-20 was particularly important for those of us working on gender equality. Composed of the countries with the world's biggest economies, the G20 is a platform for policies that can have a global impact towards reducing inequality. Since the G20 focuses significantly on economic policies, these, by definition, impact gender inequality.

The G20 countries account for 85% of the world's GDP, 75% of global trade and two-thirds of the world’s population.[1] Just these three figures demonstrate the potential human impact of the economic policies adopted in the G20. Even though they may not be legally binding or enforceable, the targets that the G20 publishes every year in the Leaders’ Communiqué help create standards, and they encourage member and non-member states, investors, and development finance institutions and others to meet those goals. Particularly in recent years, the G20 has become one of the main policy-making platforms for global economic and financial issues. It is in this context that gender equality has been put on the G20's agenda. In the 2012 Los Cabos Leaders’ Communiqué, the G20 leaders committed themselves to removing obstacles to the full participation of women in social and economic life.[2] In the 2013 G20 Leaders' Communiqué, they committed to further removing these obstacles, including those preventing women from joining the work force. They also committed to opening the Finance Centre for Women together with the IFC.[3] In the 2014 Leader’s Communiqué, all of the member countries established a target to reduce the difference between men and women’s participation in the work force by 25%, thereby adding more than 100 million women to the work force.[4]

Despite these commitments undertaken by the G20 leaders and the many initiatives that have been launched in different countries, the expected results have not been achieved in terms of reducing inequality in the work force. As of 2o15, women only earn approximately 77% of what men earn for the same work. At this rate, it is expected that the gap between women and men will be closed only in 2086. Women own, either partially or fully, only 31 to 38% of the registered SMEs in developing countries. Women utilize only 15% of the credit allocated by financial institutions. In the United States, although women represent nearly half of the total work force, they compose only 25% of the workforce in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) industries. In Turkey, women’s participation in the work force is only 30% and Turkey ranks 132 out of 142 countries in the index of economic participation and opportunities. The ratio of women is 5.7% in unions and 7.2% in employers’ associations. 9.2% of women above the age of 25 are illiterate.

The Civil-20 (C20)

Since the G20 began meeting at Summit level, civil society has been active in terms of its attempts to influence policy.  Over the years, especially in 2013, the C20 formalized its platform for civil society organizations with the aim of creating a dialogue between the countries of the G20 about the problems facing the world. The dialogue is organized each year by civil society representatives from the country that is hosting the G20.

Like the other official engagement groups of the G20 such as Business20, Labour20 and Think20, the C20 is officially recognized by most G20 nations. Although gender equality was not designated as a main topic during the C20s that were organized in 2013 and 2014, both included policy recommendations focusing on gender equality. During Russia's G20 presidency, the C20 stated that it was necessary to increase women's inclusion in finance and their participation in the workforce. During Australia's G20 presidency, the C20 sought to include policy recommendations focused on achieving gender equality throughout all of its documents, commitments and final declarations. Due to the urgency that gender inequality merits both in Turkey and throughout the world, the C20 coordinated efforts aimed at bringing the gender issue into the mainstream discussion during its 2015 activities.

The Turkey C20 and the Gender Equality Working Group

Even before Turkey assumed the presidency of the G20, civil society organizations in Turkey had begun working on the C20 in April 2014. Initially, 14 civil society organizations came together, including the Foundation for the Support of Women's Work. They formed the C20's Executive Committee under the secretariat of Oxfam and İKV (İktisadi Kalkınma Vakfı – Economic Development Foundation) and decided on the working principles and advisory procedures that they would carry out.[5] An international advisory committee was founded in 2015 to give support on strategic and technical topics in order to reach the C20's objectives. The committee included GCAP China, INFID, InterAction and the Huairou Commission. At the beginning of 2015, the committee initiated an advisory procedure with representatives of civil society organizations from Turkey as well as other countries. As the first step in this process, the committee prepared an online survey to help define the main areas in which the Turkey C20 would operate. Over the course of seven weeks, 388 organizations and 1169 individuals from civil society organizations from all across the world completed the survey. The survey results indicated that, for the first time, Gender Equality should be one of the key focus areas for the C20.[6] The emphasis placed on this topic during the survey reinforced the C20's decision to focus on bringing gender equality issues into the mainstream. Within the broader theme, 41% of participants indicated “women's access to social protection” and 38% of participants indicated “women's employment including SMEs” as top priority sub-themes. The C20 Turkey also decided on Governance, Inclusive Growth and Sustainability as the other main areas to work on.[7]

After the survey was completed, two co-presidents were elected to head two working groups on the main areas of focus. One would represent national civil society, and the other would represent international civil society. Şengül Akçar, the founder of the Foundation for the Support of Women's Work and a member on the Board of Directors, together with Sandy Schilen, Groots International global facilitator took on the roles of co-presidents of the Gender Equality Working Group. The members of the working group were determined after invitations were sent to civil society organizations that work on gender equality. The members consisted of 11 civil society organizations from around the world including KAGİDER and the Association for Women's Rights in Development (AWID) from Turkey.[8]

Perhaps the most powerful aspect of the Turkish C20 was the frequent and participatory consultation procedures that were carried out in the process of developing policy recommendations for the G20 leaders in the defined priority areas. Efforts were carried out to ensure that civil society representatives—not just from Turkey, but from all across the world—actively participated in the C20's procedures so that the requests of civil society from around the world were included. Platforms were created to ensure contributions not just from foundations and experts, but also from private individuals. 65 foundations from 11 countries joined the working groups. In this process, these foundations met with numerous representatives of civil society and collected their contributions to policy recommendations via meetings in person as well as online. A rough estimate of 5,000 civil society representatives contributed their policy recommendations. The perspectives of civil society representatives from across the world and from Turkey who could not join the meetings were also collected online.

The working group for gender equality organized two regional consultative meetings in May and June of 2015, one in Istanbul and one in Brussels. Representatives from important organizations such as the Feminist Task Force, the European Women's Lobby, Eşitiz and Oxfam joined these meetings and discussed which policy recommendations should be given priority relative to gender equality issues in Turkey. Academics and experts in the field together with numerous foundations such as Groots Kenya, Women's Environment and Development Organization, Women's Learning Partnership, Simurg – Union of Women’s Cooperatives, GCAP China, Heinrich Böll Foundation, all gave their perspectives.

Gender Equality Policy Recommendations

During the consultations, the policy recommendations for gender equality that would be presented to the G20 leaders were organized into four main themes: Women's Employment; Removing Structural and Social Obstacles to Women's Equality and Providing Social Protection to Women; Women's Participation in Policy-Making Processes; and Monitoring the Gender Equality Work of Policy-Making Foundations at the Local, National and International Levels.[9] These recommendations were later shared with the public in the form of a document called “C20 Turkey Policy Paper on Gender Equality.”[10] The paper emphasized the following recommendations:

1. Recognize, measure and account for all forms of work, including the unpaid care economy, to ensure a decent standard of living and self-sufficiency: the G20 leaders were invited to allocate the necessary financial resources for a project that could depict of all of the different kinds of work carried out by women and men. They were also invited to take a leading role in reducing the burden of unpaid care undertaken by women and to implement a series of policy initiatives, including paid family care. Emphasis was placed on transforming unpaid work in the care economy into paid work by allocating public investment on the scale of public infrastructure spending. During the same period, a study prepared by İpek İlkkaracan, Kijong Kim and Tolga Kaya and published by İTÜ BMT-KAUM and the Levy Economic Institute argued that in Turkey, “there is a strong economic rationality in calling for spending on early childhood care and preschool education. This would help create suitable employment, improve gender equality by increasing demand in the workforce for women, reduce poverty and increase financial sustainability, in addition to having an impact on female labour supply.”[11]

2. Adopt Gender-equitable Macroeconomic Policies for Inclusive Growth: the G20 leaders were invited to advocate for budget transparency initiatives and to work together with women’s groups. These initiatives would aim to promote gender-responsive budgeting, to develop a broader context of gender-equitable macro policies and to further democratize policy-making processes. Emphasis was also placed on the need to analyze fiscal policy from the perspective of gender equality and from the perspective of the poor. It was also argued that “equitable and progressive national and international tax systems are necessary in order to achieve gender-based, comprehensive development.”

3. Operationalizing the Decent Work Agenda, Creating Quality Employment for Women and Eliminating Gender-based Wage Gaps: G20 leaders were invited to prepare an action plan to increase women's participation in the workforce, bring minimum wages to a sufficient living standard, apply the principle of equal wage for equal work, remove gender-based discrimination across professions and implement programs to guarantee employment for women. Some of the recommendations included encouraging alternative work models like cooperatives and social entrepreneurship as well as the establishment of micro- and small and medium sized enterprises; establishing gender quotas for public tenders and the management of public sector companies; implementing programs to increase women's access to technology and finance; and to ensure that women are guaranteed the right to land, property and inheritance. It emphasized the importance of applying and developing policies to improve the conditions of women who work in the home and women in rural areas who work without pay.

In addition to all of the above, emphasis was placed on the need for special policies targeting marginalized women such as those who are refugees, migrants, poor or from minority backgrounds. The most important of all of these recommendations was perhaps the recommendation to establish a mechanism that would monitor commitments in the field of gender equality.

The C20 Turkey Summit and Communiqué

The C20's policy briefs on these four working areas were sent to civil society representatives across the world and input was requested for the policy recommendations for the C20 Communiqué that would be finalized at the C20 Summit in September. With the comments that were received, a draft of the C20 Turkey Communiqué was prepared including recommendations pertaining to the four working areas. The C20 Turkey Summit was organized at Boğaziçi University on the 15th and 16th of September, 2015.[12] The Summit employed interactive and participatory methods and was attended by more than 500 civil society representatives from Turkey with great excitement.[13]

Some of the session topics organized under the theme of gender equality included: how to alleviate the burden on women created by the care economy; support mechanisms targeting women's enterprise; directing development financing towards women; gender-responsive budgeting; advocacy work for gender equality; and monitoring the G20's commitments to gender equality. These sessions were directed (chaired) by names that have worked for many years in gender equality like Esther Muiru from Groots Kenya, Suranjana Gupta and Fides Bagasao from the Huairou Commission, Asma Khader from the Sisterhood is Global Institute and Haleh Vaziri from the Women's Learning Partnership. The conference succeeded bringing together 100 experts in gender equality from different regions of Turkey and across the world.

The final draft text of the communiqué was completed using feedback from those who participated in the “Communiqué Kitchen “during the Summit.[14] After heated debates and contributions from hundreds of people, the Communiqué (subtitled “A World Economy that Includes All”) was finalized and made the following calls to the G20 Leaders pertaining to gender equality:

“Recognize and Reduce Women's Unpaid Work”

  • Recognise and measure all forms of work and embark on national income accounting that includes unpaid care work.
  • Promote programs and policies that recognize and reduce women’s unpaid care work through mechanisms such as paid family care leave and paid care work, thus easing the burden of unpaid care work on women.
  • Remunerate the unpaid organizing and advocacy work undertaken by local communities, especially by grassroots women, to upgrade the living conditions of their communities including upgrading infrastructure, enhancing access to basic services, reducing corruption and facilitating delivery of government programs.
  • Increase public investment in infrastructure that enhances access to basic services –water health, sanitation, education, etc – which are prioritized by women and serve to ease their burden of care.

Create Gender-Responsible Policies and Legislation

  • Champion constructive engagement with women’s organizations on gender responsive budgeting and gender equitable macroeconomic policies, such as equitable and progressive national and international tax systems, including the lowering of regressive taxes like VAT, and advance women’s access to financial resources and secure women’s property rights, particularly to land and housing.
  • Establish legal and policy frameworks that eliminate gender-based wage gaps and occupational segregation, penalize gender based discrimination at work and introduce gender quotas for employment, public procurement and representation on corporate boards up to 50%, as well as policies that address the rights and well being of women in the informal economy, both in urban and rural areas.
  • Provide state support for women owned micro, small and medium enterprises, including alternative institutions such as women’s cooperatives and federations that foster women’s leadership, entrepreneurship and access to productive resources.

Monitor Commitments Made by the G20

  • Set up and finance a national monitoring mechanism that includes representation of women’s organizations, including grassroots women’s organizations; puts in place baselines and systematically measures progress in gender equality and empowerment through quantitative and qualitative data; and recognizes, utilizes and resources community surveys, and data collection undertaken by local, and national CSOs.

The Communiqué’s closing paragraph stated the following:

“The C20’s recommendations to the G20 presented in this communiqué are vital – but not exhaustive – steps towards tackling global inequalities that have reached unsustainable economic, political and social levels. Without determined action to reverse current trends, including militarism and fundamentalism, the future of peaceful coexistence in the world will be put at risk, and the chance of future economic, social and/or political disruptions will increase, threatening the well being of generations of citizens, families and communities. There is an urgent need to halt the further exclusion of women and men living in poverty, and to stop further degradation of their rights and dignity. Civil society across the world is keen to continue dialogue with G20 leaders in order to find a comprehensive solution for shared human development and to jointly create a world of unity where the benefits of growth are genuinely enjoyed by all.”


It is clear that these passages call on the G20 leaders to pursue policies not just on economic matters, but on political matters that should not be considered separately from the economy. They contend that systematic change is needed at this time, when inequalities are progressively increasing in every way.



The establishment of W20 was one of the important developments relative to gender equality issues during Turkey's G20 presidency. Shortly after the C20 Turkey Gender Equality working group was founded, Turkey submitted a request to the G20 to form a new engagement group, Women20 (W20), which was subsequently accepted by the G20. The government of every G20 member appointed three organizations to the W20 board of directors. Turkey appointed KAGİDER, KADEM and TİKAD to the W20, and as the rotating presidency was held by Turkey at the time, these three organizations organized the first W20 in 2015. The purpose of the W20 is to develop policy recommendations for gender-inclusive global economic growth. With this goal in mind, the W20 Turkey carried out various consultation projects. The recommendations that were formulated during these processes were further elaborated in a policy brief and organized under 12 main headings.[15] These recommendations were discussed at the W20 Summit that was held from the 16th to the 17th of October in 2015, and a final declaration was published at the end of the conference. The recommendations that came to the fore in this declaration were as follows: “strengthen the ties between education, employment and entrepreneurship to empower women economically”; “support the balance of work and private life while building and improving the infrastructure mechanisms that are necessary for social support”;  “increase the number of women in managerial positions in the public and private sectors”; and “give women access to financial assets, the means to produce goods and the market.”[16] The fact that the W20 was founded during Turkey's rotating presidency and that Turkey demonstrated leadership in founding the W20 had a particular importance because of the negative image of gender inequality in Turkey. As can be seen from the W20's recommendations and the Final Declaration, the recommendations from the C20 Gender Equality working group in fact resembled the recommendations from the W20. In addition to what the W20 had proposed, the C20 had given more space to the changes that should be made to macroeconomic policy and had emphasized the need for cooperation between governments and organizations working on gender equality, as well as the need to establish a monitoring mechanism. The W20 had recommended concrete indicators to measure the steps taken in this field.

The 2015 G20 Summit and the work of the C20

The C20 and W2o continued their lobbying efforts to convey their recommendations to the G20 leaders through November, when the G20 summit was held in Antalya. At the G20 Summit, C20 representatives were accredited and five representatives from the C20 Gender Equality continued their work in an intensive manner at the G20 Media Centre that the Summit organized for two days. The C20 and the W20 organized a joint press conference on Gender Equality.[17] C20 representatives gave interviews about the push for gender equality to both national and international newspapers and magazines, while organizing press conferences and distributing press releases on these issues.

But despite all of their efforts, the calls made by the C20 and W20 were not addressed in the  G20 Summit's final communiqué; other key themes took precedence, such as the sluggishness of the global economy, the war in Syria, the state of the Middle East or the refugee wave that Turkey was experiencing.[18] The sole segments of the G20 Leaders' Communiqué that touched on gender equality were as follows:

We will continue monitoring the implementation of our Employment Plans as well as our goals to reduce gender participation gap and to foster safer and healthier workplaces also within sustainable global supply chains.


We remain focused on promoting responsible investment in agriculture and food systems, improving market transparency, increasing incomes and quality jobs, and fostering sustainable productivity growth. We will pay particular attention to the needs of smallholder and family farmers, rural women and youth.[19]


However, the issue was given more consideration in the Antalya Action Plan,[20] which was included in the appendices of the G20 Communiqué. The text lists many reforms that were carried out by G20 members regarding employment. This included the following section, which touched on women's participation in the work force:

Low female participation rate is an issue in many G20 countries, which is a clear indication of the underutilization of the labour force, hindering our economies to reach their potential. Last year, we set a goal to reduce the gender participation gap by 25 percent by 2025, and this year we established a structured mechanism to monitor our progress. We also commit to take the steps needed to improve opportunities and labour market outcomes for women. To advance our gender related efforts further, we have established a Women-20 outreach group to promote gender inclusiveness and equality.

Both of the aforementioned texts only addressed gender equality from the perspective of increasing women's access to the labour market. However, it is clear that without implementing measures aimed at removing structural and social obstacles, increasing women's participation in decision making processes and making changes to macroeconomic policies, women will not be able to access the labour market to the desired extent. Furthermore, although the discussion of a monitoring mechanism in the Antalya Action Plan was a very important development, there was no information shared with the public or with experts and organizations working in this field about what such a mechanism would entail. Likewise, although it was clear what initiatives had been undertaken on this topic throughout the last year, there was no debriefing on any of these activities. Even though the establishment of the W20 participation group during Turkey's G20 presidency demonstrated that some importance was allocated to these issues, the fact that only two sentences of the Leaders' Communiqué touched on gender equality indicated that much more work needs to be done for this topic to become one of the top priorities on the leaders' agenda.

Unfortunately, Turkey has made only slow progress towards accomplishing the limited commitments that it undertook towards gender equality in the G20 Leaders' Communiqué. As of August 2016, women's participation in the labour force is 33% (32% in August 2015). Women represent 10.5% of employers (8% in August 2015) and 15.3% of those who are self-employed (15.9% in August 2015). Women represent only 22.8% of those working in the industrial sector (22% in August 2015).[21] One can deduce from these statistics and the slow rate of progress that the government has not implemented comprehensive reforms aimed at achieving gender equality. One can also conclude that the government has not formed a systematic and strategic partnership with civil society organizations working on such issues, nor have they exhausted the opportunity to carry out consultations to kick-start new dynamics.

After the C20 in Turkey

Although many may have anticipated that G20 policy makers would give little space to policy recommendations from civil society, civil society nonetheless reaped benefits during C20 Turkey. Perhaps for the first time in the history of the C20 an effective and participatory consultation process was carried out. Hundreds of civil society organizations from around the world had the chance to work together during the entire process. Perhaps for the first time since the Habitat Summit organized in Istanbul in 1996 did many local civil society organizations in Turkey have the chance to join an advocacy project of this global scale and become acquainted with this process. This had a significant impact in terms of strengthening the capacities of Turkey's small-scale NGOs. Although the accomplishments on a policy level were limited, civil society was once again reminded that civil society representatives can carry out effective advocacy campaigns through joint efforts, even as work on these issues is getting progressively more difficult.


[2] The 2012 Los Cabos Leaders' Communique:

[3] The 2013 St. Petersburg Leaders' Communique:

[5] For the members of the C20 Turkey Executive Committee:

[7] For the main working areas of the C20 Turkey:

[8] For further information on the members of the Gender Equality Working Group:

[9] For a summary of these policy recommendations, see

[10] “C20 Turkey Policy Papers: Gender Equality,”

[11] İ. İlkkaracan, K. Kim, T. Kaya; “Sosyal Bakım Hizmetlerine Kamu Yatırımlarının İstihdam, Toplumsal Cinsiyet Eşitliği ve Yoksulluğa Etkileri: Türkiye Örneği”; August 2015. For the full piece of research:

[13] A short film on the C20 Turkey Summit:

[15]  The 2015 W20's recommendations:

[16] 2015 W20 Bildirgesi’nin tamamı için:

[18] An analysis on the extent to which the C20's concerns were taken up by the G20: ve….

[19] The G20 2015 Leaders' Declaration: