Why Gender Equality Needs to be at the Forefront of Climate-Related Decisions
By Mary Levack
It is now common knowledge that we are living in the midst of a Climate Emergency. There is also increasing awareness of the stark gender inequality that prevails in our world. So why is it that we have failed to recognise a connection between two of the most prominent issues in contemporary society for so long? Why is it that they are even viewed as two definitively separate issues when it has been clearly shown that women are more vulnerable to the effects of climate change, and how can these crises be considered in such a way that we are able to collaboratively seek solutions for both?
Today, women are more likely to live in poverty than men as, according to OXFAM, on average they earn 24% less than men, work longer days and are more likely to be working in the informal economy with very few rights and little social protection. The global poor are some of the most negatively impacted people on the planet by climate change – for example, through the increasing frequency of extreme weather events. These events lead to the destruction of agricultural land and crops on which so many rely on as a means of livelihood/survival, whilst also impacting their structurally weak houses which are unable to withstand such extreme conditions. Knowing this, we cannot simply accept the fact that half of the world’s population are more vulnerable to these devastating consequences simply as a result of their gender.
Furthermore, this vulnerability can only explain why (and how) women are more likely to be impacted by climate change, so we must explore the matter in greater depth in order to understand how this cycle of susceptibility is maintained and will continue to do so unless we adapt our approaches to tackling both climate change and gender inequality, with the whole of society’s benefit in mind. As we know, increasing numbers of natural disasters lead to increasing income insecurity, often resulting in girls being taken out of school in order to help manage the household. If not taken out of education to help at home, young girls may begin physically demanding land-based jobs and, if these are rendered impossible due to the effects of climate change on agriculture, women have limited money-making alternatives to turn to. A 2015 study by the World Bank found that 155 out of the 173 economies it researched had at least one law hindering women’s economic opportunities, such as needing a husband’s permission to get a job or not being permitted to work at night. With traditional gender roles being ingrained into the law in so many countries, it is clear how women are consistently left more at risk than men and how difficult it is for women to escape this oppression, exacerbated further by the climate crisis, which has been enforced for so many generations.
Through research, we have discovered that a worldwide temperature increase of only 3°C would “transform human and animal life as it has been known” (Urry, 2009), making the search for a sustainable solution to climate change an urgent matter if we want to continue living on the Earth that we recognise as home. Discussions regarding ‘Gender-responsive’ projects have recently been given more attention and respect in the planning process of effective future eco-schemes. These projects involve the treatment of climate change and sustainability as problems that affect different genders in different ways and aim to act upon the imbalance of participation in climate-related decisions between men and women due to the increasingly supported idea that gender equality is actually a “condition for the achievement of sustainable development”. In this one example of supportive work from which this quote is taken, ‘condition’ is used to highlight the necessity of recognising gender inequality and the ways in which men and women around the globe continue to be affected differently by climate change. Many other organisations such as the United Nations and Action Aid provide similar explanations and theories in favour of managing the environmental future of the planet in this way, showing how the common perception of gender inequality and climate change as completely separate issues is being challenged more and more nowadays.
Thus, going forward, we must continue these discussions and fight for a greater consideration of the impacts felt by different genders in all future sustainability schemes and act in a way that allows all voices to be heard regardless of gender identity. This approach will allow us to reduce the devastations of climate change as well as beginning to eradicate gender inequality, ultimately benefiting the whole of society worldwide.