This article first appeared in our Women: time for action issue of My Green Pod Magazine, distributed with The Guardian on 02 July 2021. Click here to subscribe to our digital edition and get each issue delivered straight to your inbox
‘Patriarchy, spotlighted by the pandemic, is bad for inclusive climate leadership’ said Katharine Wilkinson, co-founder of the All We Can Save Project, in a recent interview with Time magazine.
Over the last year, the pandemic and the climate crisis have together highlighted the gender inequality that exists within our society. Without a significant upsurge in the representation of women’s voices and efforts at the climate table, the sustainability movement will struggle to succeed.
Crucially, I am not calling for female bias; sustainability and the climate crisis are not gender specific, and the speed of our action is more important than who gets us there. However, by failing to include female voices we are missing the richness and diversity of thinking that the subject needs.
As Chiara Corazza, managing director of the Women’s Forum for the Economy and Society, said: ‘to create a sustainable world, women and men must be equal partners in the fight.’
The gender imbalance
The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2018 states the largest gender disparity is in political empowerment, which maintains a gap of 77.1%. Women represent only 6% of ministerial positions responsible for national energy policies and programmes and 15% of Green Climate Fund boards, according to the Women’s Forum for the Economy and Society.
The gender imbalance is stark, and we need to be doing more to empower women in politics, leadership, organisations and communities to come forward and have their voices heard.
From a personal standpoint, I have used my position of leadership to push my organisation to become more sustainable internally, and to put structure in place to help us better support customers who want to be more sustainable, too.
Here are my thoughts on why we need women’s voices to be heard, urgently, within the sustainability debate.
Giving women a seat at the table
The Women’s Connected Leadership Declaration on Climate Justice states: ‘Women and girls are already boldly leading on climate justice, addressing the climate crisis in ways that heal, rather than deepen, systemic injustices. Yet, these voices are often under-represented and efforts inadequately supported.’
According to the Women4ClimateAction Daring Circle 2019 report, some 80% of people displaced by climate change are estimated to be women, and women are 14 times more likely to die during environmental disasters.
70% of the world’s poor are women. At a grassroots level, women who sit at the forefront of their communities have the knowledge needed to adapt to the climate crisis and are being active in developing practical solutions.
To tap into this valuable insight, women deserve to be given a seat at the table to play an important role in decision-making. Currently, there is no clear relationship between those making decisions and those taking action.
The Charter for Engagement on Women Leading Climate Action calls on governments, businesses and individuals to work together to drive inclusive climate action at scale and to push towards a sustainable and equal world.
The primary goal of the charter is to achieve gender equality in climate decision making bodies by 2030. By failing to ensure gender equality in companies, in government, in NGOs and elsewhere, the climate movement itself is reinforcing a gender crisis.
However, there are some great examples of what’s possible when women do have a seat at the table.
New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, declared a climate emergency when she was re-elected last year, paving the way for New Zealand’s public sector to become carbon neutral by 2025. She also passed a Zero Carbon Bill during her first term, which mandates net-zero emissions by 2050.
In the UK, Celine Herweijer, innovation and sustainability leader for consulting firm PwC and group sustainability chief for HSBC, has advised some of the world’s largest financial services organisations and asset management companies on climate risk strategy and sustainable finance initiatives. She has served on many committees for the World Economic Forum and the UN.