Tackling the climate crisis is a matter of gender equality

Gender and climate change
26 January 2022
Tackling the climate crisis is a matter of gender equality

Let’s face it, the climate crisis and gender inequality are without any doubt two of the greatest challenges of this century. The emergency of the situation calls for a swift reaction from the international community, at all levels. The call has partially been answered with the adoption in 2015 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The 17 Sustainable Development Goals show a strong commitment to tackle these issues and shape a more sustainable future for all of us. But while most responses tend to separate gender equality from the climate emergency, we now know for certain that they are intricately related and need to be addressed together. 

The climate crisis and gender inequality: two sides of the same coin?

The climate crisis hits men and women differently. This is not new, as the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action already warned us in 1995 about the greater threat that global heating poses to women. Studies have demonstrated that the poorest and more vulnerable populations are significantly more at risk to suffer from the consequences of the climate crisis. Global warming has a detrimental impact on access to food, water, and other basic needs. This caused further hardship to the most marginalized populations who also have to deal with harsher weather conditions and an increasing number of natural disasters. Just like the climate, poverty has a gender dimension, and women and girls make up the majority of the world’s poorest. Because of their socioeconomic disadvantage and their perceived role in society, women and girls have significantly less access to resources and education. It makes them more exposed to the consequences of the climate crisis and less capable of responding to its adverse effects. As a matter of fact, 80% of people displaced by the climate emergency are women and children.

But women’s empowerment has also proven to be one of the most effective ways to address climate breakdown. This is explained by the fact that women's presence in decision-making brings different perspectives on climate and environmental issues and allows for more innovative solutions and behavioral changes thanks to their unique capabilities, different perceptions, and attitudes towards options for climate change mitigation and adaptation. Interestingly, research demonstrates that women are in general more worried about the climate crisis than men. Some studies go as far as to establish a correlation between the level of greenhouse gas emissions of a country and the presence of women in high political office. Therefore, shaping a more sustainable, just, and fairer Europe, requires a gendered response, with the mainstreaming of gender equality in all EU environmental policies. However, women still only represent  7.7% of CEOs in the EU and 32.2% of members of national parliaments.

A gender-transformative European Green Deal

The COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown measures have impacted women and men differently, from their health to working and living conditions. They brought additional stress on our societies and further deepened these inequalities, but with the new long-term EU budget and the Next Generation EU, the EU is finally giving itself the means to better achieve its ambitions and mind these gaps. The Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF) makes a special mention to SDG 5 on gender equality. It invites Member States to include the gender dimension in each of the 6 pillars of the RRF, including the green transition, when drafting their national recovery and resilience plans (NRRPs). It is also worth noting that the 2020-2025 Gender Equality Strategy stresses the necessity to take into consideration the differentiated impact of global warming on men and women in EU climate actions. With this strategy, the EU will strengthen its legislation and introduce new policies with the aim to bring women on equal footing with men in every aspect of their lives.

Although the Green Deal is the most ambitious and comprehensive framework ever put forward by the EU to face the consequences of the climate crisis and environmental challenges, it lacks a clear gender-sensitive approach. This is problematic as the objectives of the Green Deal is not only to achieve climate neutrality but also to protect human life and ensure a just and inclusive transition for all. This cannot be done without taking into account the situation of women in all of its policy areas. The S&D Group in the European Parliament is particularly vocal on the matter and has already made it a top priority of its political agenda to push for Green Deal policies to be “designed and implemented with a clear gender and social dimension”

From redesigning our urban spaces to reshaping our industries and creating new jobs in the green economy, the Green Deal will lead to a profound transformation of the environment we live in. We have to decide whether to seize the opportunity to shape a future where men and women finally stand as equals or to see these inequalities deepen.

Bringing gender equality to the heart of the European Green Deal

The mainstreaming of the gender perspective in all EU policy areas is a long-standing battle of the progressive family. The European Committee of the Regions already took a strong stance on the matter thanks to the work of our members, Concha Andreu, President of the Spanish region of La Rioja, and Donatella Porzi, regional Councillor for the Region of Umbria. While Concha Andreu’s opinion on the Gender Equality Strategy 2020-2025 calls on the need to adopt a gender-sensitive approach to all EU policies, Donatella Porzi’s opinion focuses specifically on cohesion policy programs, and the need for them to be gender-tailored. 

The Committee of the Regions is just taking another decisive step in our fight to bring an end to gender inequality. This time, it is thanks to our Vice-President and Deputy Mayor of Budapest, Kata Tüttő, whose opinion pushes for the inclusion of the gender perspective in the European Green Deal. 

The opinion calls for:        

  • gender equality in the European Green Deal, although the integration of the gender dimension in all EU policies is necessary to achieve gender equality, the Green Deal makes no mention of it for the moment. 
  • the empowerment of women in decision-making as involving women in decision-making both in the public and private sectors allows for different perspectives and sustainable solutions to be brought to the table and more efficient climate actions, and sustainable solutions to be brought to the table.            
  • green jobs to fight inequalities, as the Green Deal policies are expected to generate 2 million additional jobs in the green economy by 2050. More can be done to ensure women can take advantage of these opportunities by including a gender perspective in the creation of new quality jobs or retraining.
  • sustainable public transport and mobility, bringing a gender perspective in the transformations led by the Green Deal since women use public transport more frequently. This would mean bringing changes that will make mobility patterns more efficient and also make women feel safer, for example with well-lit cycling lanes or night buses stopping on request. Gender-sensitive urban planning is key.
  • a gender focus to fight energy poverty, because women are disproportionately affected due to lower incomes, housing conditions, and socioeconomic disadvantages. Thus, to effectively reduce energy poverty, energy policies and renovation initiatives must be gender-oriented.
  • Anchoring gender budgeting everywhere so that gender mainstreaming becomes a reality in the adoption and implementation of the EU budget, but also the Recovery and Resilience Plans. This is needed to ensure that all EU expenditures include a gender perspective and that Europe’s recovery is the basis to build a sustainable society.

Therefore, the EU needs to bring gender equality at the heart of the Green Deal, making sure that the Fit for 55 package policies is designed and implemented with a clear gender and social dimension. The EU must also empower cities and regions to achieve this goal, as they are best placed to integrate social issues with climate action. This is the only way to build a more sustainable Europe leaving no one behind.      

Progressive cities and regions take the lead!          

Progressives are already on the move to make their cities and regions greener and gender-equal! When it comes to gender mainstreaming in urban planning, two cities in particular lead the way: Vienna and Umea.

The Austrian capital, led by PES Group member Mayor Michael Ludwig, started to adopt a gender-oriented approach to design its public spaces in 1992 with successful results. From urban green spaces built such as to guarantee the safety of women and families to social housing designed to accommodate the needs of women with children, Vienna is today a city where life is good, for men and women alike! The children are not forgotten either, when a survey conducted by the City showed a gap between the number of little boys and girls in parks, the local authorities began to rethink the way playgrounds were designed, involving young girls in the planning to better grasp their needs and interests.

The Swedish city of Umea, led by PES Group member Mayor Marie-Louise Rönnmark, is another example of best practices that could be emulated to fight gender inequalities through sustainable and gender-sensitive Urban planning. Umea relies on data gathering and gender impact assessments to build infrastructures that have considerably improved the lives of women living there. Thanks to this approach, many successful urban projects, like redesigning the tunnels of the city to make women feel safer, have been carried out by the city of Umea.     

With the green transition likely to create jobs in the public transport sector, Budapest, a city led by PES Group member and Deputy Mayor, Kata Tüttő, is already taking steps to make sure it will contribute to reducing the gender employment gap. The Hungarian capital’s public transport company has launched a campaign to attract women. Advertisements were successful in increasing the share of women working as drivers, engineers, or mechanics in the company’s metro team. Budapest now has 40% women among tram drivers and 30% among metro drivers. Similar advertisements have been launched to raise the number of women bus drivers which is still very low in the Hungarian capital. 
Budapest women in public transport campaign

These are only three of the many examples of what local and regional authorities are already doing to mainstream gender equality in urban development. The Green Deal offers the opportunity to transform our cities and regions for the better, but it can only succeed if it adopts a gender-oriented approach. The climate crisis and gender inequality are two sides of the same coin, they need to be addressed together. A world without equality will never be sustainable.