From official G7 gatherings in the Bavarian mountains to court rulings in Washington, it almost seems like the Earth is turning upside down.
Does the arc of the moral universe, which has become almost cliché, really lean towards justice? Is history moving towards more freedom, more equality, more democracy, more peace? One could be forgiven for thinking that these ideas are the product of naively optimistic minds. But is this the right conclusion? Let’s come back to that in a moment.
In Bavaria, it may have been pure coincidence, but the jokes were rich in macho content. Apparently discussing whether to take off their jackets for a group photo, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson asked, “Jackets? Jackets removed? Shall we undress? »
All, of course, for geostrategic purposes. “We have to show that we are tougher than Putin,” Johnson added. Canada’s Justin Trudeau jokingly suggested doing the Putinesque “shirtless riding show.”
Johnson liked the idea, “Here! We gotta show them our pecs!”
Around the table with the seven leaders was Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission and a “unlisted member”
from the G7 club; the only woman. She muttered valiantly, “Horseback riding is the best.” Was she gritting her teeth inside?
(The EU, not a country but a “supranational organization”,
occupies a special place within the G7).
With regard to the G7 summits, one of the most iconic images
came in 2018. You remember then-German Chancellor Angela Merkel standing with her arms leaning against the table, her eyes downcast, facing former President Donald Trump, who sat below her , looking at her, arms crossed.
This was the summit where Trump undermined the alliance, arrived late and left early,
refusing to sign the joint statement and unsuccessfully pressuring the group to readmit Russia and President Vladimir Putin, who were expelled for invading Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in 2014.
The last time the G7 had no women, in 2005, was actually the G8, with Russia on board. A photograph of this summit,
in Scotland, shows Putin in his tuxedo with the other leaders and Queen Elizabeth II, their ceremonial host.
For a decade and a half, Merkel was a key player in the G7, always the only woman except for the two years when Britain’s Theresa May joined her. The reality is that the grouping, like the most powerful institutions in the world, has always been overwhelmingly male.
Every once in a while it seemed like a trend was starting. Merkel joined in 2006, May in 2018, and for a time it looked like the U.S. could have a female president
. Now we are back to 100% national membership of the G7 led by men.
There are many reasons why the fight for women to have a seat at the table – many seats – is so difficult. The decisions of a United States Supreme Court whose members were all chosen by male presidents and confirmed by male-dominated Senates are illustrative. (Although the most recent addition to the court is a woman.) After the court overturned Roe, the UN women’s agency warned, “Women’s ability to control what happens to their bodies is also associated with the other roles women can play in society
whether as a member of the family, the workforce or the government. »
Centuries of imbalance cannot easily be reversed, as is now shockingly evident.
However, our view of history is limited. And the story is long.
The battle is tough, frustrating and includes crushing – temporary – defeats. But the story does not end there. And setbacks, significant as they are, don’t happen everywhere.
A look beyond the front seat of the G7 reveals something interesting. Of the seven countries, a majority – France, Canada, Germany and the UK – have female foreign ministers. The United States started having men in the State Department again after Madeline Albright
, Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton. But everywhere in the world, the battle for women shows that what is happening in the United States despite the display at the G7, looks more like an anomaly than a trend.
In fact, global condemnation of the US abortion decision has extended to G7 leaders. French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted
her support for American women “whose freedoms are undermined” by the Court, as her party’s legislators proposed to guarantee the right to abortion
in the French constitution. Canada’s Trudeau called the decision, “horrible,
and Johnson called it a “huge step backwards.”
The United States is in a tiny minority to add restrictions to the right to abortion. Dozens of countries have rewritten their laws in recent years, nearly all of which have made reproductive choices more readily available to women. This is true even among devout Catholics Latin America
and Ireland. In Israel, in response to shock
of the United States, the government made access to abortion easier, in what the Minister of Health described as a “100-year setback in women’s rights”.
A very dear friend, a very successful woman, told me a few days ago that without the right to abortion, “I would be living in a caravan”. The stakes are simply too high to allow the usurpation of rights.
Eventually – I don’t know when – the United States will restore the national right to abortion. History does not move in a straight line, but eventually it does. Freedoms are won and lost. Democracies move forward and sometimes take nasty detours. Sometimes disaster strikes in places that seemed promising. This is one of the frightening lessons of history.
Another lesson from history is that positive change doesn’t happen without hard work by people who are committed to doing the work it requires. The image of the G7 will include women national leaders in the not too distant future. And in the United States, women will regain the rights that are now taken away from them.