Why are women uniquely positioned to work towards climate change?
Every day, millions of people around the globe awaken to face a seemingly endless series of challenges. The world we inhabit continues to warm moment by moment, storms have become more destructive, populated areas have either too much or not enough water, our ability to feed ourselves has become exponentially more difficult. And yet, in the midst of these turbulent times, a remarkable and underutilized force stands ready to seize the opportunity and shine: women.
Across the globe, women are at the forefront, fearlessly tackling the devastating impact of floods, failed crops, droughts, rising temperatures, and countless other climate-related crises. They are working to construct climate solutions that will not only benefit their own communities but also safeguard the well-being of our entire planet. While the communities in emerging economies may differ vastly in terms of culture, needs, and obstacles, they share a common thread: the invaluable role of women in forging climate resilience and sustainability.
Women possess a unique set of attributes that position them perfectly to spearhead climate solutions on a global scale. They are not only deserving of equal participation in public life as vital members of society but their involvement also yields more effective and equitable outcomes for the climate. Due to their distinct life experiences and socialization, women assess risk through a different lens than men. They prioritize the welfare of their families and communities in resource management decisions, and this divergent decision-making extends even to the realm of national politics. A compelling 2019 study discovered that national parliaments with a higher representation of women are more likely to pass stringent climate policies, highlighting the transformative power of their influence.
The impact of women's leadership extends beyond just politics and into the workplace. Companies with higher percentages of women on corporate boards are more inclined to disclose crucial information about their carbon emissions, fostering transparency in climate impact. Research has also demonstrated that women are quick to adopt innovative and preventative measures. A comprehensive review of 17 studies from around the world revealed that women's involvement in conservation and natural resource management leads to the implementation of stricter and more sustainable extraction rules, greater compliance, enhanced transparency and accountability, and improved conflict resolution. This showcases the profound connection between empowering women and the strengthened capacity of societies to confront and navigate the challenges posed by climate change.
Beyond the boardrooms and corridors of power, women bring a wealth of community knowledge and indigenous practices to their work, both within and outside the home. Often entrusted with the management of shared natural resources at the local level, women emerge as active and effective agents of climate adaptation and mitigation. Throughout history, they have honed firsthand knowledge and skills in critical areas such as water harvesting and storage, food preservation and rationing, and natural resource management. In emerging economies worldwide, women play a dominant role in fuel collection, particularly for lighting and cooking, where 90% take the lead in feeding and running their households. Remarkably, in nearly two-thirds of households in these economies, women and girls shoulder the responsibility of collecting water, possessing vital knowledge of local water systems and stewardship practices. Recognizing this, the United Nations has repeatedly emphasized that the success of sustainable water resource management hinges on engaging women at all levels of decision-making and implementation. Excluding women from water supply and sanitation planning has proven to be a significant factor contributing to the failure of such initiatives. This failure is compounded by the fact that women are disproportionately affected by climate disasters- they are less likely to survive, more prone to injury, and face greater challenges in accessing relief and assistance. Paradoxically, they are often the first responders in community-led efforts to combat the ravages of natural calamities. Women are at the epicenter of not just the effects of the climate crisis but also the mitigation endeavors across various fronts.
What's Stopping Women from Reaching Their Climate Potential?
Yet, despite their remarkable capabilities, women face formidable barriers that hinder their participation in climate action. In fact, their unique position on the frontlines of climate challenges makes their involvement both more difficult and more crucial. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) findings clearly indicate that those who are already vulnerable and marginalized will bear the brunt of the most significant impacts. While both women and men working in natural resource sectors, such as agriculture, are susceptible to these impacts, the effects of climate change on gender are not equal. Women, especially those living in poverty and with a disproportionate reliance on threatened natural resources, are increasingly recognized as more vulnerable to climate change's repercussions. Astonishingly, women aged 25-34 are 25% more likely than men to live in extreme poverty worldwide. In the world's poorest countries, where 1.5 billion people survive on less than $1 per day, women constitute the majority of this struggling population. Agriculture, a critical employment sector for women, is profoundly affected by periods of drought and erratic weather patterns, leading to failing crops and increased hardships in securing a stable income. Tragically, these circumstances often force girls to abandon their education to assist in the fields. The dire consequences of climate-related events are estimated to prevent at least four million girls in developing countries from completing their education, according to the Malala Fund.
Nevertheless, empowering women and expanding their access to productive resources can yield remarkable benefits, such as increased agricultural production, enhanced food security, and reduced carbon dioxide emissions. If all women smallholders were granted equal access to adequate resources, their farm yields would rise by20 to 30 percent, and 100 to 150 million people would no longer experience hunger. Such agricultural advancements can alleviate the pressure to deforest additional land, thus mitigating additional emissions.
However, the current reality paints a different picture. Women in developing countries are more likely to work in informal sectors, rendering their livelihoods more vulnerable to economic and environmental shocks. Furthermore, the repercussions of climate change can exacerbate social, political, and economic tensions, often subjecting women to an increased risk of violence associated with conflicts. Studies reveal that a staggering 80% of people displaced by climate change are women. The economic and health impacts of prolonged droughts, reduced food production, and severe weather events disproportionately affect women, exacerbating existing inequalities.
Amidst these harsh realities, the disparities between men and women manifest in divergent roles, responsibilities, decision-making authority, access to land and resources, opportunities, and needs. Globally, women face significantly lower access than men to vital resources such as land, credit, agricultural inputs, decision-making structures, technology, training, and extension services, which are essential for bolstering their capacity to adapt to climate change.
Why Investing in Women Founders Makes a Difference
As the world undergoes a transformative global transition, we have an unprecedented opportunity to reshape the innovation sector and expand economic prospects for women. Already, as renewable energy takes center stage in the energy sector, women are making strides, notching up their representation to 32% in the renewable energy workforce, surpassing the 22% figure in the oil and gas industry. However, it is imperative to ensure that this wave of innovation places those most affected, particularly in emerging economies worldwide, at the forefront of progress.
In many essential sectors, women remain underrepresented. Gender considerations in climate finance integration remain limited, making it challenging to obtain reliable data. However, Oxfam research indicates that only 1.5% of overseas climate-related development assistance identifies gender equality as a primary objective, with two-thirds of projects and programs failing to consider gender equality in their design, budgeting, or implementation. Shockingly, a mere0.2% of this aid reaches women-led and women's organizations. Leading research emphasizes the pivotal role of mission-oriented innovation, centered around low and middle-income countries, in fostering climate solutions that place women at the core.
Unlocking the enormous potential for climate innovation requires investing in women-led solutions. It cannot be emphasized enough how increasing employment and leadership opportunities for women benefits both individual companies and the overall economy. Businesses with three or more women in senior management positions are estimated to score higher on all dimensions of organizational performance. Female-founded companies in significant venture capital portfolios have outperformed companies founded by men by 63%, delivering substantially higher revenue. Moreover, in a study of over 350 startups, women-led companies achieved over twice as much return per dollar invested. And perhaps most convincingly, according to a McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) report, if all countries in a region were to match the rate of progress of the fastest-improving country in terms of gender equality, the global economy could add up to $12 trillion, or 11%, to its annual GDP by 2025. Furthermore, if women were to play an equivalent role in labor markets to men across all countries, the global annual GDP could increase by as much as $28 trillion, or 26%, by 2025. Clearly, investing in women just makes sense.
So, How Can We Help? STEM Education and Training Matters.
To reach this, ensuring access to quality education for girls serves as a critical pathway to achieving gender parity in climate leadership. Girls' education can act as a catalyst for gender equality within families and communities and is closely linked to a country's female political representation.
Climate education tailored for girls, including technical and environmental training, can enhance their resilience and equip them with the capacity to engage critically with climate information and lead climate solutions. In both developed and developing countries, girls' equal participation in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education can empower them to access traditionally male-dominated "green" jobs and contribute to an equitable and just transition.
Women are already at the forefront of climate change solutions. Now is the time to provide them with the necessary tools, support, and investment to build a better future for all.
Looking ahead, the GIST Initiative takes pride in its efforts to support women innovators in emerging economies worldwide. In celebration of the U.S. APEC host year, we are proud to share our transformative program, CATALYST | Women in Climate, designed to support women climate innovators. This program aims to highlight women innovators with technology solutions focused on addressing urgent climate challenges, including infrastructure, water, health, food security, and displacement and migration.