G7 sherpas wrap up meeting in Waterloo, focus on gender equality for June summit

The G7 sherpas, representatives of leaders from the world's major industrial democracies, met in Waterloo this week to discuss the upcoming G7 summit, set to happen in Quebec in June.

Canada is setting the agenda for June's G7 Summit in Charlevoix, Quebec

G7 sherpas and experts gathered in Waterloo this week to plan 2018 G7 Summit in Quebec. From left, Diana Sarosi of Oxfam Canada, Catherine Abreu of Climate Action Network Canada, deputy minister Peter Boehm and Andrea Sussman of Plan International Canada. (Danielle Kappele/CBC)

The G7 sherpas wrapped up two days of meetings at the Perimeter Institute on Wednesday, after planning for the upcoming meeting in Charlevoix, Que. in June.

Though they share a name in common with the world-famous Nepalese climbing guides, the sherpas are actually senior government bureaucrats from Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States. They represent their national leaders and lay the groundwork for the annual G7 "summits" — which is how they got their name.

Canada holds the presidency for 2018, and will host the event on June 8 and 9, which means it is setting the agenda. 

"We've discussed the themes of the summit, as have been set out by the prime minister," said Peter Boehm, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's sherpa and deputy minister for the G7 summit. 

The themes are "investing in growth that works for everyone, gender equality and women's empowerment, jobs of the future, environment, climate change, energy and oceans, and of course, peace and security," said Boehm, who is originally from Kitchener. 

Canada sets the agenda for the G7 summit

This week's planning meetings stretched over two days. The first was devoted to topics related to the changing economy, including sessions with experts about jobs of the future, artificial intelligence and disruptive technologies. 

Wednesday, though, was devoted to one of Trudeau's favourite topics: gender equality. It will be the primary focus of the G7 summit in June. 
Catherine Abreu of Climate Action Network Canada told reporter that climate change is one of the most pressing issues facing women and girls globally. (Danielle Kappele/CBC)

"We'd like to see tangible gains for women and girls," Amanda Sussman of Plan International Canada told the G7 sherpas. "We put forward a number of evidence-based proposals to do just that, particularly on women's economic empowerment."

"But we feel that a really clear step that they can take, this year, is to focus on the most excluded. That would be education of girls and all children living in situations of conflict, natural disaster [and] humanitarian emergencies," she said. 

Catherine Abreu of the Climate Action Network Canada told the sherpas that "climate change exacerbates many of the most pressing issues facing women and girls. And it also presents a huge opportunity to envision a world that is more justice and prosperous." 

Will good intentions turn into action?

G7 summits rarely end with detailed agreements or step-by-step plans. Instead, member states make well-meaning pledges they take back to their own countries, but there is little to no formal accountability.

That may be why Oxfam's Diana Sarosi told reporters she is "eager to see how Canada's feminist leadership is going to translate at the G7 level and really turns nice words and commitments into concrete actions."

Prime Minister Trudeau has been calling himself a feminist for years. But not all the G7 leaders have taken the same stance — U.S. President Donald Trump, notably.

"It's an ongoing discussion on gender equality," said Boehm.

"We're at various stages, of course, in legislating certain norms and practices. But certainly, gender equality will be something that will really form our presidency."

Though gender quality may dominate the agenda for June's G7 summit, its membership still reflects a male-dominated society. 

All seven sherpas are men, and only two of the seven leaders they represent are female. 


  • A previous version of this story said the G-7 Summit in Charlevoix, Que., was June 9 to 10. In fact, the summit will be held June 8 to 9.
    Feb 01, 2018 10:10 AM ET