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Green – but too male

Dr Ranjana Kumari
Director, Centre for Social Research, India

The threat of climate change is increasing and its impacts are starting to be felt across the world. Thus developing climate mitigation strategies and policies at local, national and international levels is becoming increasingly important.

Abundant evidence that traditional economic frameworks are escalating environmental damage has led to the emergence and expansion of new, environmentally sustainable markets. New opportunities have been opened up for people working within these fields as the need for

new policies and initiatives grows. Developing environmentally and socially progressive structures also provides a space to address gender discrimination in the environmental and economic spheres and in decision-making bodies.

Traditional economic models are underpinned by patriarchal attitudes and beliefs. They are also heavily reliant on natural resources in order to fuel development and economic growth. However, they do not take into consideration the limited nature of the world’s resources or the impacts of human activities on the natural environment. Their failure to address climate change highlights the need for new and innovative economic frameworks. Traditional economic models also reinforce social inequalities and gender bias. The exclusion of women from capitalist economies has restricted their ability to meet the needs of all members of society and limits opportunities for social and economic development.

The emerging green economy provides an opportunity to address both environmental degradation and gender discrimination within economic frameworks. It aims to develop new, environmentally sustainable economic structures that are underpinned by scientific thought, respect the limitations of the world’s natural resources, and recognize our impacts on the environment. Thus the development of the green economy has the capacity to initiate social change and to support and facilitate women’s economic empowerment.

Yet it appears that this opportunity is being ignored. As the green economy expands, women continue to be excluded and historical gender biases are perpetuated. The International Trade Union Confederation has estimated that 50 million green jobs will be created worldwide in the next 20 years. But at least 80 per cent of these are expected to be in male dominated industries, such as construction, engineering, financial and business services, and manufacturing. According to UN Women, women currently only account for between 9 and 24 per cent of the global workforce in these four industries — making it likely that men will be the main beneficiaries of the green economy. It is clear that women are being excluded from the green economy because job opportunities are generally not in their traditional fields. They are also more likely to participate in informal economies and unpaid work that is excluded from the green economy. Women’s marginalization from environmental discourse and climate change mitigation strategies also reflects wider patriarchal structures that subjugate and control them.

Excluding women from developing and implementing the new green economy reinforces these structures, which are central to traditional economic frameworks, and restricts the capacity of the emerging economy to address the needs of both sexes and the environment.

Women are also being marginalized from international environmental dialogue and decision-making bodies. According to the Women’s Environment and Development Organisation, women accounted for only 35 per cent of all delegates attending the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 2010. This is one of the main bodies responsible for developing climate policy at an international level, thus women’s unequal participation in those meetings demonstrates their exclusion from environmental decision-making bodies. This also results in the marginalization of women’s ideas and perspectives as decision-making bodies continue to rely heavily on male perspectives.

This, in turn, invariably leads to the development of policy initiatives that are less effective overall, and particularly for women. The recent Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development highlighted the insensitivity of the global environmental movement towards the issue of gender and it’s interconnectedness with the achievement of environmental sustainability and economic stability.

As the Women’s Major Group emphasised, the Conference outcome document, The Future We Want, completely ignores the connection between gender and climate change. Women’s increased vulnerability to environmental degradation and the strong contribution they could make to climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies are also omitted. The sidelining of gender issues within the Rio+20 negotiations calls into question the capacity of international agreements to achieve legitimately sustainable development.

International agreements must be developed to ensure that women’s rights are realised and they are given opportunities to participate in the green economy. The Fifth World Conference on Women — proposed by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon in March this year and, if approved by the UN General Assembly, to be held in 2015 — provides an opportunity to discuss the gender dimensions of climate change and offers a space for developing strategies for achieving women’s empowerment and sustainable development. Government action must also be taken to ensure that women have the same opportunities as men to participate in environmental planning and to benefit from the green economy.

There is a strong need for targeted training programmes for women so that they have the knowledge and skills required to take on new green jobs. Initiatives are also required to break down gender stereotyping within the workforce and to encourage women to undertake training in non-traditional fields, and quotas must be implemented to ensure women have the opportunity to participate in these fields. Women must also be supported to take on leadership roles within the environmental movement, so that climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies take into consideration women’s experiences, perspectives and understanding of environmental management and degradation.

The green economy offers a unique and rare opportunity to address climate change and to develop an economic framework that is both environmentally and financially sound. To succeed in this, however, it must address social and economic inequalities that continue to restrict development and jeopardize the success of climate mitigation strategies. A green economy that fails to take into consideration the social dimension of sustainable development will be unable to support vulnerable members of society, including women and children. Instead, it will perpetuate traditional economic models that give preference to profit over people.

Quite simply, it will be unable to achieve sustainable social or environmental development. This is not the future we want.

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