Words by Smiley Team
‘Where are all the women?’ queried the headlines as global leaders gathered for the UN’s climate summit, COP26 last year. In 2019, only 21% of summit delegates were women and while the exact figure remains uncertain for 2021, it’s estimated at a maximum of 33%.
According to Kate Metcalf of the Women’s Environmental Network (Wen), this exclusion of women is a gross error, not only on principle but also because overcoming inequalities is key to confronting the climate crisis.
“You can't actually address the climate crisis successfully unless you put gender and racial equality at its centre,” Kate tells Smiley News. “These are not separate issues.”
The links between climate change and gender inequality are for many, most obvious when looking at countries in the Global South.
In these more deprived areas of the world, women are more likely to bear the burden of fetching basic necessities such as water and firewood. These become increasingly scarce due to climate-related weather events including drought, forest fires and floods. The further women have to stray from the safety of their communities, the greater the risk is that they will be assaulted on their travels.
What people are generally less aware of, according to Kate, is that women are also worse hit by climate change in the Global North. She gives the example of the heatwave that struck Europe in 2003, which had a starkly disproportionate impact on women.
“Many more elderly women were killed than men in 2003. These were widowed, single and divorced women who are more likely to be in poverty,” she explains. “Because of this, women tend to live in worse housing without air conditioning, insulation or sufficient escapes to cooler places.”
To take on these challenges, Kate believes that women must come together. As a united force, they could offer a large part of the solution for all life on Earth. But before that can happen, their voices must be heard.
The women’s network she works for, Wen, brings together a huge array of organisations striving for gender equality, drawing women’s concerns to the fore of efforts to tackle climate change.
“We're hoping that through engaging women and amplifying their views, we can take women’s concerns to policymakers and drive positive change on a wide scale,” she says.
At the grassroots level, Wen supports women of all kinds, from refugees overcoming trauma to urban professionals looking for healthier, eco-friendly products.
But Wen also operates on a broader scale, notably by promoting the Feminist Green New Deal. This set of policy ideas uses women’s experiences, especially those of marginalised women, to create a blueprint for transforming the economy to fit the needs of the planet and people’s wellbeing.
What this means in practice is that through prioritising women’s rights and those of other disadvantaged groups, the proposed policies will help address inequality and develop solutions to the climate crisis.
For example, a large part of the Feminist Green New Deal is devoted to the care economy, in which women play an integral role. At least 58% of social carers in the UK and 78% of unpaid care workers globally are female.
“By investing in this women-dominated sector, we would benefit the climate, but also everybody's well being,” adds Kate.
To achieve this dual goal of social equality and climate mitigation, Wen is working at multiple levels to bring women together, raise their voices and promote solutions.
DONATE: To help the Women’s Environmental Network strive for social and climate justice, donate to Wen.
GET INVOLVED: Join Wen and drive positive change for people and the planet. Become a Wen member.