Copenhagen negotiators aiming to reduce the world’s carbon emissions will need to bridge the gap between developing and developed nations. Closing the gender gap may be one of the key ways to achieve those reductions.
Women worldwide are more likely to support environmental policies and are often the ones making eco-conscious decisions for their families. Last year, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development concluded in a report that women were more likely than men to support government policies to reduce emissions, such as carbon taxes. Women also are more likely to buy sustainable products with a Fair Trade seal.
Advocates for sustainable development, which encompasses economic, environmental, and social factors, want to ensure that this eco-friendly sentiment is rewarded with equal opportunity for employment. According to a recent draft report by the International Labour Foundation for Sustainable Development (Sustainlabour) and United Nations Environment Programme, at least 80 percent of new global green jobs are expected in the construction (retrofitting buildings, transport infrastructure), manufacturing (fuel-efficient vehicles, pollution-control equipment), and energy-production sectors. Women hold less than 25 percent of the world’s manufacturing jobs, including non-labor-intensive computer and machine operation.
Their presence is even less pronounced in the workforces of construction and energy. In the developed world, female employees represent 20 percent of total employment in the energy sector, of which six percent are technical staff, four percent have decisionmaking powers, and less than one percent comprise top management. With policymakers selling middle-class “green-collar” jobs hand in hand with cutting emissions, it may be time to consider where the secondary educated female workforce fits beyond traditionally lower-paid administrative roles.
Labor organizations, nongovernmental organizations, and the United Nations are pushing for gender-sensitive policies to tap into women’s burgeoning environmental awareness and raise their earning potential in the workforce, especially in the developing world. Ecotourism, which currently accounts for about seven percent of all international travel and is expected to increase at an annual rate of ten to 30 percent, is an example of a growing business in which women internationally are poised to benefit.
At home, a newly formed Women’s Economic Security Campaign published a policy brief highlighting green jobs in American industries that have low female participation such as electrical contracting and heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system installation. President Obama’s $800-billion stimulus plan allocates $142 billion to environmental, transport, and renewable energy projects. On Tuesday at the Brookings Institution, the president proposed “a boost in investment in the nation’s infrastructure” beyond the Recovery Act to work on roads, bridges, water systems, Superfund sites, and clean energy projects. During a time of economic recession at home, social issues are politically sensitive and often difficult to rectify without educational improvements and changing cultural norms.
The United Nations/Sustainlabour report demands green stimulus money with “strings attached.” Based on the 1992 US Women in Apprenticeship and Nontraditional Occupations Act, governments can provide financial and technical assistance to employers and unions for female training, apprenticeships, placement programs, and competitive grants. Flexible work schedules, equal pay, mentoring, support networks, and adequate benefits also are likely to retain females in nontraditional jobs, according to the study.
As economic woes dominate the headlines, green jobs have been sold to the public as a “two-for-one” deal even as respected economists, including Robert Stavins of Resources for the Future and Harvard University, debate the validity of arguments about green jobs. If domestic and international taxpayers are footing the bill for such broad stimulus strategies, advocates for sustainable and equitable policies will lobby for interventions to overcome gender gaps. Ultimately, decisionmakers will need continued support from women to inspire public favor for contentious emissions-reduction policies.
Aysha Ghadiali is a Research Associate at Resources for the Future.