By Mareen Buschmann
Women’s and girls’ opportunities to participate equally in the economy and carry out decent work are steeply declining. The World Economic Forum warns of an emerging gender crisis in the world of work. The World Bank projects that on current trends, we will be unable to eliminate poverty by 2030 – one of the cornerstones of the SDGs.
CARE International’s new report “Making the Green Transition Work for Women” shows the potential that the green transition holds to reverse these worrying trends, if it is done in a gender-just way. Set against a context of complex crises, this is an opportunity we cannot miss.
COVID-19 has rolled back progress on gender equality by a generation. Women and girls are picking up increasing levels of domestic and care work. Women and girls are affected disproportionately by famines and hunger, as well as climate change. The climate crisis is approaching a point of no return and there is an urgent need to shift towards green economies.
The green transition has huge potential – holding the promise to create up to 65 million new jobs. But women and girls will not automatically benefit from these opportunities. Without ambitious political action and financing, there is a significant risk that the green transition could worsen gender inequalities and the crisis in the world of work.
New and “good” work opportunities are largely being created within male-dominated sectors, such as STEM, construction and manufacturing, which have high barriers of entry to women. The work that women engage in – they are overrepresented in the informal sector, health, or domestic roles – is at the lower end of the green work spectrum or isn’t currently captured by the prominent definition of green jobs. Women and girls are also underrepresented in political and workplace decision making, and international climate talks, and are excluded from co-leading and shaping the transition to green economies as a result.
Despite these challenges, women and girls are already leading the way. Solar entrepreneurs are providing their communities with solar lamps and clean energy products. Informal workers in the waste-picking industry are seeking improved and formalised working conditions through collective bargaining. Women in the conservation industry are creating environmental benefits and fostering sustainable entrepreneurship, such as the women-led San Bartolomé cooperative in Guatemala.
Sri Lankan entrepreneur Sarojini’s example shows the persistence, business skills and resilience women bring to foster their economic opportunities. Out of a crisis situation, Sarojini had to provide for her family and overcome barriers of securing a loan without property or guarantors. She was able to set up a flourishing green construction business, which now employs seven other women workers. The system shouldn’t require women to fight hard for equal opportunity, instead it should foster equitable opportunities and inclusive growth right from the start.
Decision makers – from governments, multilateral agencies and private sector stakeholders– should lead the way and put gender equality at the heart of green transition policies and financing. Urgent action is needed to:
- Prioritise policies and investments that women and girls will benefit from, and working with sex-, age- and disability disaggregated data to ensure positive impacts on marginalised groups
- Proactively address the barriers that prevent women from benefitting from green work opportunities, especially by building a caring economy, and providing social protection floors that capture women working in the in the informal sector, migrant and refugee workers
- Generate decent green work opportunities for women by providing targeted training and education opportunities that open up “good” and decent green work opportunities, and fostering their entry into those
- Broaden the definition of green work to encompass sustainable and low-carbon sectors that are dominated by women, such as care and social work
- At the private sector level, increase understanding of gender inequalities in businesses and the company’s supply chains and suppliers, whilst fostering gender-just corporate decision-making and equal opportunities.
- Strengthen women’s leadership in the green transition, in political and workplace decision making and implementation, and increased investments to women’s rights organisations and their priorities
Fostering a gender-just green transition is both essential and smart – and can lead to a triple win for people, economies and the planet. Climate action with a gender-lens will increase women’s economic justice (which is urgently needed to counter the gender crisis in the world of work). Decreasing gender gaps in employment alone can significantly stimulate economic growth, and increase global wealth by $160 trillion (which is urgently needed to recover from compounded economic impacts from current crises). Investments in sustainable green jobs, such as low-carbon jobs and care work, will benefit societies, economies and the planet – and help get us back on track towards an inclusive, feminist, sustainable and climate-smart future.