In recognition of International Women’s Day, we honor the sustainability efforts of women all around the globe. This is a day for everyone, as Gloria Steinem once explained, women’s day is not just for women, it is for those who care about human rights. This is an occasion to celebrate the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. This day is also an opportunity to expose inequality and advance gender parity. The theme this year is “choose to challenge” which promotes change that leads to greater equality between the sexes.
As revealed by the UN, Women’s empowerment and advancing gender equality can deliver results across a variety of sectors, including food, economic security, and health. It can also lead to more environmentally friendly decision-making at household and national levels. Gender equity is synonymous with addressing sustainability issues like climate change. In addition to being more environmentally friendly than men, women are also leading the battle against environmental degradation. Polls show women care more about climate change than the general population and they do more to address it. While less than 60 percent of the general population is concerned about climate change, more than 83 percent of mothers say they are concerned.
The World Economic Forum has concluded that the involvement of women is key to solving the climate crisis. In recent years we have seen how female political leaders have led the charge in the war against climate change. Women are also leading in other male-dominated arenas. Female investors make more money than their male counterparts by caring about people and the planet. Research also shows that investing in companies led by women has generates good returns. Despite their proven abilities, there are still many impediments to women in the workforce. To start with, women are paid less than men for the same work and they also are given less opportunity to advance. Although women represent more than half of the population, only 20 percent of the people on boards of directors are women and female entrepreneurs have a hard time getting noticed by venture capitalists. Women also have less access to education and economic opportunities in general.
UN research reveals that women bear the brunt of the negative effects of climate change and as Kate Zerrenner wrote in Triple Pundit, they are also bearing more of the burdens associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. The CBC reports that the virus threatens to “wipe out decades of progress for working women”. Some have called the pandemic induced economic downturn, the “first female recession.”
Women are key stakeholders, yet they are often not given a seat at the solution-making table Even though investing in women offers broad societal benefits during a pandemic, they have been excluded from Coronavirus response efforts, They are also being left out of efforts to find solutions to the global hunger crisis.
Despite the array of obstacles aligned against them, women have done extraordinary things to protect the environment, and sometimes they have been forced to make tragic sacrifices. Three recent winners of the Goldman Prize are great examples of inspirational planet defenders. Leydy Pech is an Indigenous Mayan farmer and beekeeper in Mexico who has fought deforestation and pesticide use associated with plantations. In Ecuador, Nemonte Nenquimo is an Indigenous woman who defended millions of acres of forest from the environmental impacts and the social effects of oil extraction. In France, Lucie Pinson launched a successful campaign encouraging banks and insurance companies to stop financing and insuring coal.
In the United States, the Biden administration has included many women in prominent leadership positions. It has Kamala Harris, who is both the first woman and the first person of color ever to be vice president. It nominated five women including Janet Yellen as the first female Treasury Secretary and Deb Haaland, who if confirmed by the Senate, will become the first Native American Cabinet member. Early in March, the majority of the Senate voted to confirm Cecilia Rouse as chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, making her the first Black woman to serve in the post.
The situation is improving, but we all need to “take the challenge” to ensure that women take their rightful place. Gender parity is essential to the implementation of the SDG’s. Women’s empowerment is not only about fairness, it is a powerful way of advancing a wide range of sustainability issues.