National View: Women must be leaders of the green economy
Optimistic environmentalists believe that future generations will view the first half of the 21st century as the birth of a global green economic revolution. Indeed, investment and advances in technology, coupled with anxiety regarding climate change, are already pushing global leaders to embrace a sustainable future. Unfortunately, that optimistic vision is clouded.
The stark fact is that almost all green-revolution investors and decision-makers — those who are defining and designing the green economy — are from a single demographic: men. International Women's Day presents a timely and important opportunity to examine why women should be leaders in the green economy.
Like any revolution, a substantial risk exists that the green revolution will move in unpredictable or wrong directions. All economies are stronger when the people leading them bring diverse points of view. Certainly, creating a sustainable economy and breaking habits of over-consumption and fossil-fuel dependency are difficult tasks. Let's examine some of the reasons why including women in the construction of the green economy is a good idea:
- Women make the vast majority of consumer choices. Stimulating women's enterprises is critical to taking advantage of this important commercial opportunity.
- Women are driving economic growth. The increase in women's employment in rich nations of the world has contributed more to global GDP growth in the past two decades than new technology or new economic giants China and India.
- The proportion of women in a country's legislature significantly reduces the level of corruption in the country. Less corruption benefits not only women entrepreneurs but also all businesses.
- Women are better at putting resources back into the community. Women usually reinvest a much higher percentage of their earnings in their communities than men, accelerating development.
- Women's repayment rates are higher. When women are direct beneficiaries of credit, their repayment rates are higher throughout all regions of the world.
Despite these facts, real barriers to women's full participation in designing and developing the green economy exist. For example:
- Women-owned companies face problems in bringing their businesses to scale, including lack of access to capital and business networks. While women own about 30 percent of U.S. businesses, only about 5 percent of all equity capital investments go to businesses headed by women, and just 3 percent get investments from venture capital.
- Women have less access to the global supply chain. Only a fraction of governments and large corporations actively source from women-owned businesses.
- Women entrepreneurs face discriminatory laws in many places around the world.
How do we fix this? To start, corporations, governments and international institutions should adopt quotas for participation — from board rooms to national forums to multilateral negotiations.
Once the initial problem of representation is taken care of, we can get down to the business of breaking down legal barriers to women's full participation in the green economy. We need a comprehensive examination of national and international law and protocol dealing with the economy, energy and environment for bias against women. Then, we need to alter the language to promote inclusiveness.
Once problems in the system are fixed, we can go further. For example, formal policies and legal mechanisms should be adopted to support preferential treatment for loan guarantees; promote women's full participation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics education; and create investments and market incentives to enhance women's entrepreneurship.
In the meantime, we also have to fix how women as leaders of the green economy are perceived. We need training for journalists that includes heightened awareness of the gender gap. And we have to make gender, development, the green economy and climate change "hard" issues — and not perceived as "soft" issues only for women journalists.
As the world tries to recover from its financial crisis and, at the same time, recognizes the lack of sustainability of the existing economy, we cannot afford to let barriers to women's participation stand. The facts are clear: Bringing women into the design and development of the green economy will result in a better, more sustainable, more just economy. Let's ensure that happens.
The opinions expressed in these articles are the sole responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official position of UNEP