Feminists for Green Change

Feminists for Green Change

By: Maria Onatt
Published on:
  • Climate Justice

In this post, guest blogger Maria Onatt discusses how Green New Deals are not considering the gendered impacts of climate change, and why they must take an intersectional feminist approach to create a sustainable future for all women.

With soaring temperatures, ecological destruction, and inflation on the rise, multiple countries have been trying to take pivotal steps to combat the devastating effects that climate change and other human activities have on our livelihoods.

The approach of Green New Deals (GND) is very popular and is being used in many regions of the world including the US, UK, and the EU. Green Deals can generally be understood as a set of policy proposals to enable a sustainable transformation by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The European Green New Deal is a policy framework created and published by the European Commission in 2019 and its main pillar is to work towards a sustainable future by investing in green jobs and energy transition while fostering economic growth. A GND has also been proposed for Scotland by Professor Richard Murphy, who is a member of the Green New Deal Group and a Professor of Practice in International Political Economy at the University of London.

However, the European Green New Deal arguably fails to grasp the gendered dimension of climate change and ignores that a gender-blind framework will exaggerate already existing inequalities. By ignoring the importance of gender and without actively promoting feminist solutions, it is jeopardising its success rate in creating a truly sustainable future for all.

Why is it important to include gender in environmental policymaking?

Firstly, it must be recognised that there are differences in how men and women contribute to emissions and therefore influence climate destruction. According to research, men’s dietary habits and travel choices, often centred around heavy meat consumption and private car usage, influence the environment more negatively. However, more women, on the other hand, tend to enjoy more plant-based diets and use public transportation; behaviours more beneficial for the planet.  

Yet, despite men having a greater contribution to climate change, the consequences affect women more severely. Climate change can affect women’s health, safety and education. Natural disasters and extreme weather events can have specific risks for pregnant women and new mothers, as well as causing displacement and migration which can increase the risk of gender-based violence and sexual exploitation of women and girls. In some cultures, girls already face challenges in accessing education, and climate change will only exacerbate this.

Intersectional feminism reminds us that women from diverse backgrounds experience these problems differently, depending on where they live, their jobs and caring responsibilities, and their access to the natural and built environment. Other factors include age, nationality, class, geographic location, health, and education, all of which intersect and create unique climate consequences for women.

Circling back to the European Green New Deal – it is important to remember that this policy framework which aims to lead us into net-zero with its just transition approach focuses on energy transition and economic expansion, and not gender equality.

How the energy transition is leaving women behind.

The energy transition aims to shift the way we supply and consume energy into a sustainable one. The energy transition recommended by the European Green Deal relies on new technologies, which include replacing windows, installing secondary glazing, new insulation and heating techniques, and generating energy from renewable sources such as wind, water, and solar. These new technologies are usually implemented in private houses which could leave women behind if they are unable to invest in them due to having generally lower incomes, for instance. There is not enough gendered data to expose the differences in energy poverty. However, research conducted in Austria reveals that twice as many households led by women struggle with energy poverty compared to male-led houses.

This has two interconnected effects on women’s health. Women usually take on the majority of caregiving responsibilities, and if they spend more time in poorly heated spaces, this increases their vulnerability to illnesses caused by cold environments and mould exposure. Single mothers and elderly women in particular are the ones who are the most vulnerable to energy poverty, and thus unable to afford to install new technologies in their homes – these women must actively be considered when formulating new policies to enable an equitable just transition.

We need to move away from GDP obsession and advocate for a well-being society.

While the GND prioritises GDP growth as a main pillar of the just transition, research suggests that long-term sustainable economic expansion is not feasible. Feminist scholars recommend focussing on a society centred on social well-being, an aspect currently overlooked in measurements. Valuable areas such as art, culture, care work, social reproduction, and education should be considered in the metrics for a good society.

As part of my dissertation research, I interviewed professionals working in politics, academia, and economics. They also said that we need to radically rework our vision for a green future. One socio-economist expert who wished to remain anonymous said, “We need to shift away from a GDP obsessed society and focus on social well-being, especially investing in the care sector.”

Intersectionality and inclusive representation can help create a fair, feminist future for all

It is not enough to just include “women” per se and assume that it covers everyone – usually, that means just white middle-class women. An intersectional approach helps us understand that women with different backgrounds experience life differently and therefore need policies tailored to them.

It is about time we let women speak for themselves and make their own decisions about their lives and their planet. Having women from a wide variety of backgrounds present at the decision-making table will change how women’s issues are being framed by legislators and policymakers. We need to collectively raise awareness about tokenism practices and create safe spaces where women are involved in decision-making processes. This is how we as a society can explore unique, progressive ideas which can be seen as a big step in the right direction of creating inclusive feminist policies.

Now let’s talk about young women!

We should not forget to include younger generations as current environmental destruction will have consequences beyond generations, and younger people will have to deal with them. We have been speaking up, but we are often belittled, our concerns ignored, and our opinions overlooked. But we cannot and will not give up! Policies need to address our individual experiences as young women, and politicians must stop coming up with ‘one size fits all’ solutions.

Young women are the future – with our feminist insights and unique perspectives we can lead Scotland to net-zero by creating a better society for all and not only by relying on more technologies and economic growth.

Further Reading:

European Environmental Bureau (2021) ‘Why the European Green Deal needs ecofeminism’, EEB – The European Environmental Bureau.

Onatt, Maria (2023), The promises of a feminist Green New Deal.

Maria Onatt, biologist and ecologist smiling at camera.

Maria Onnat

Maria is a 23-year-old biologist and ecologist living in Edinburgh. Maria is interested in exploring and understanding the intersection of gender and environmental challenges to enable a fair and safe future for women in times of climate crisis. Find Maria on LinkedIn here.

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