Russia’s W20 Representative Victoria Panova: India has made the protection of women’s rights a priority for the G20
“Women’s G20” makes recommendations that will improve the status of women around the world
As part of a special media project BRICS & G20. 2023 on the eve of the G20 summit, the TV BRICS International Media Network and its partners, the largest national media outlets of the BRICS countries, interviewed leading experts from Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.
TV BRICS is the officially accredited media of the G20 summit in New Delhi.
In an exclusive interview with TV BRICS, Victoria Panova, representative of the Russian Federation in the Women’s 20 (W20), Vice-Rector of the Russian National Research University Higher School of Economics, and an expert of the Valdai International Discussion Club, spoke about the results of the W20’s work, what educational initiatives the Women’s 20 can offer, and much more.
Victoria Panova graduated from the Faculty of International Relations of MGIMO, Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. PhD. She is a member of the board of the Eurasian Women’s Forum. She headed the Primorsky branch of the Women’s Union of Russia. Her research interests include global governance and international organisations such as the G7, G20 and BRICS.
“The Women’s G20”, one of the youngest formats of the G20 group, which was established in 2015. What are the main results of your work that you can tell us about?
Before we get to the story of the format itself, we need to recall the leaders’ decision in Brisbane in 2014 on the need for each of the G20 countries to increase the number of women in the labour market by 25%. To build economic resilience around the world, it was decided to capitalise on the then underestimated potential of women in the economy. Erdogan, who chaired the G20 at the time, came up with this initiative, and we should pay tribute to him, or rather to our G20 Sherpa Svetlana Lukash, who was one of the ideologists of launching this format.
The format is well-established, it continues to evolve. If you look at the G20 group documents, you will see that women’s issues regularly appear there. What’s more, their number is increasing every year. Initially, all 19 countries and the EU countries were still in very different positions regarding women’s rights and opportunities. In Russia, for example, at least at the legislative level there is full equality between men and women. And at that time, Saudi Arabia had only recently allowed women to drive, started providing maternity leave, maternity pay, childcare and so on.
And the Women’s G20 is working on recommendations that will improve the status of women, the rights of women everywhere, both in the G20 countries and around the world.
You led the Russian delegation at the recent Women’s G20 summit. Tell us how it went and are you happy with the results or not?
It was a meeting place for like-minded people, a meeting place for people who have a common goal – to equalise the rights of men and women, to develop new mechanisms and solutions so that women have more rights and opportunities. And that’s exactly what the summit was characterised by. We followed the priorities that the Indian chairman had. This included women’s entrepreneurship, the role and increasing the share and opportunities for the creation of micro, small and medium enterprises where women are owners. Indeed, a number of recommendations have been proposed and elaborated on in this regard.
One of the most important areas is closing the existing digital divide. It is, let’s say, not that relevant for our country, but on a global scale it is a really serious problem. There is a certain danger of producing algorithms that will in some way disadvantage women within the ethical framework. There is a certain vision that men have of the role of women, of how society should be structured. Women’s vision may not be the same as men’s. And the algorithm already includes the parameters that are accepted, let’s say, in the male community. Not all countries have the same access to information resources. This is also an important point.
What do you expect from our country’s participation in the upcoming G20 summit? What exactly would you like to see in the final document?
The G20 is still a mechanism that includes countries with different political and economic models. But they are nevertheless systemically important and aimed at preserving some kind of stable economic and financial system. I would like this to not be forgotten at the summit. Then all those decisions prioritised, including those on the increased role of women, will be achieved. It is important that these points are not distracted from, that social, economic, financial aspects are worked out without politicisation. Women’s rights, entrepreneurship issues, digital infrastructure – it would be useful to have an agreement on this at the G20 summit.
If we talk in general about the prospects for the development of the world economy and the vector of this development, about international cooperation, what are your expectations from the upcoming G20 summit?
I have more optimistic expectations due to the fact that now there is a series of presidencies of developing countries from the world’s majority countries, which are constructively determined to put cooperation and interaction at the centre of the issues that are important for the economy.
In the current environment, with the recent BRICS summit and its initial expansion, I could expect integration. We know that there were still a large number of people wanting to join – about 23 applications plus about 20 countries have expressed interest in the bloc. Six countries have joined. That is about 50 countries in the world – that’s practically half the population. This is where we can expect some kind of integration. So I would say that the G20 is an additional platform for the world’s majority countries, which are basically grouped around the BRICS.
You’ve already mentioned educational projects. More broadly, what other initiatives in this area can the W20 offer? And how do you see the development of the education system in the BRICS countries?
Within the G20, we can talk about the development of some mobility options within BRICS, BRICS+. These are absolutely overdue and necessary tools. And of course, further negotiations on mutual recognition of qualifications, on standardisation and further adaptation of legislation so that diploma network programmes can be promoted. It seems to me that the humanitarian sphere should be the foundation for everything else – both in the G20, BRICS and BRICS+.
How well do you think the topic of protecting women’s rights is reflected in the G20 agenda? And what is Russia doing in this sphere?
If we talk about the G20, India has put women’s rights as a priority this year. That’s an important point because it really hasn’t happened before. India is exactly the country where Prime Minister Narendra Modi is now actively working to overcome all the challenges that India has. These include rural women’s issues and women’s access to digital infrastructure. Many countries have such difficulties, so through prioritisation in the G20 group and the investment of states in these areas, we will really be able to see progress, including on respect for human rights.
This is what the Women’s 20 has been doing since the beginning. In Russia, too, not everything is good so far. We have certain stereotypes about women, there is a pay gap, for example, so there is room to move.
We have a National Action Strategy for Women, adopted until 2030. This includes participation in political life, economy, education, development of competences for women and so on.
How do you rate women’s cooperation? Is the pace now sufficient, in your opinion, or is there something missing?
You can always move faster, better, more intensely. Yes, there are supporting mechanisms, but more funding can always be found. One of the proposals in the Women’s G20 is to allocate at least 5 per cent of lending to businesses specifically to those owned or managed by women, based on national circumstances. It is important to strengthen the role of women, it is important to promote full equality of opportunity.