RIYADH: The head of Australia’s delegation to the W20, the G20 women’s engagement unit, has described the Saudi presidency of the group as “extraordinary.”
Erin Watson-Lynn added that the coronavirus pandemic has had some positive effects in highlighting and accelerating women’s empowerment.
“I’ve got to say the Saudi presidency of the W20 through Dr. Thoraya Obaid and Salma Al-Rashid and the team has been extraordinary in terms of how they’ve managed and organized the W20 this year. I think it’s been outstanding. So a lot of credit goes to their leadership,” she told Arab News.
“Before the pandemic, women’s empowerment was a huge imperative. Women are overrepresented in low-pay, low-skilled part-time work, so empowering women in the economy is the key to inclusive growth. And the pandemic just accelerates all of this and puts a spotlight on it,” she added.
Watson-Lynn said that women have been burdened by unpaid domestic work, and having to balance work and family responsibilities.
The G20 needs to measure what is going on in terms of gender in the economy. Once you’re measuring data, then you can have policy interventions that you can measure. I think the Workplace Gender Equality Agency in Australia is an example that other countries can look at.
Erin Watson-Lynn, Head of Australia’s delegation to the W20
In Australia, she added, the number of academic papers submitted to journals increased, but the proportion of women submitting them decreased.
“Men can contribute more during this time because they’re working from home. But women working from home need to balance the domestic responsibilities so their contribution to knowledge is decreasing,” she said.
One of the key positions the Australian delegation promoted in the W20 is the use of data, Watson-Lynn said. “You can’t identify your weak spots and you can’t measure progress if you aren’t collecting data.
“The G20 needs to measure what is going on in terms of gender in the economy. Once you’re measuring data, then you can have policy interventions that you can measure. I think the Workplace Gender Equality Agency in Australia is an example that other countries can look at,” she added.
The pandemic has made it feasible to integrate family and work, Watson-Lynn said, adding that women continue to do far more unpaid household labor than men. “So encouraging men to take on more flexibility is important. I think the pandemic has demonstrated to some men that it’s possible. And we see a lot more integration between men and family,” she said.
Watson-Lynn warned that equality concerns both men and women and that there always has to be some balance between taking care of children and work, “but how you split that balance between different people in a household, that’s important.”
Her vision of an ideal society is one where people have the choice and freedom to lead the lives they want and have the opportunity to reach their potential. “That sounds lofty, up in the air and idealistic, but when you think about it, this comes down to being economically empowered, politically empowered and being able to make choices about your life.”
Although the G20 is different this year after moving online, it has been easy for delegates to attend events, Watson-Lynn said. “We can take part in a way that we’ve not been able to before. We have met far more regularly because the meetings are online and we’ve been far more focused on outcomes at each meeting than ever before.”
Having those regular meetings has been good for the W20, she added.
Watson-Lynn began her career as a labor market analyst. She has written many papers on gender, work, employment and entrepreneurship, but a big part of her work through the G20 has been focused on women. “I guess my career has been focused on the international relations space. So it’s been a bit of a hybrid career in that sense. It’s great to be able to contribute to international policymaking through the G20,” she said.