Why I marched for the environment on International Women’s Day

Last Sunday marked the 25th anniversary of the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (BPfA), a ground-breaking resolution that set out objectives in 12 key areas for the advancement of women’s rights.

Last Sunday also marked International Women’s Day, when millions of people around the world took to the streets to harness the political power of diverse women to create transformative social change. I was one of them.

I joined this year’s march in Brussels, braving the rain with over 6000 other demonstrators because I cannot accept that despite efforts, we are far from being (gender) equal.  No country in the world has achieved gender equality or is on track to achieve it by 2030 – and we know that inequality is bad for everyone (including men).

I marched because environmental and gender issues are inseparable. Climate change disproportionally affects women because they are often poorer, receive less education, and are not involved in political and household decision-making processes that affect their lives.

I marched because I am sick of the fact that 70% of climate negotiators are male although women are disproportionally impacted by climate change.

I marched because gender issues must be integrated into environmental policymaking, decision making, programmes and projects if we want to be serious about transforming our societies so they work for people and planet.

Gendered environmental decisions – and decision-makers

Gender differences can be seen in resource use, consumption and nutrition. Studies of gender consumption patterns show that men eat more meat than women and drive longer distances, potentially leading to higher total energy use by men.

A study examining gender inequalities within the energy sector in the EU, identified gender gaps in energy access, energy poverty, energy labour market and decision-making processes. This all limits women’s involvement in the energy transition.

A growing body of research suggests, that women are more likely to express concern for the environment and support policies that are beneficial to the environment. For example, evidence showed that countries with more female parliamentarians are more likely to set aside protected areas for nature and ratify international environmental treaties.

Women have little influence to buy economic products with limited purchasing power, if only a small number of women hold management positions in both the public and private sectors and if 75% of green jobs will be related to sectors that are characterised as “non-traditional” for women.

A not-so gender-equal Europe

Earlier this month, the European Commission launched the EU Gender Equality Strategy, as a framework to deliver von der Leyen’s commitment to achieve a Union of Equality. The objective of this 5-year strategy is to improve gender equality across EU member states, to achieve significant progress “towards a gender-equal Europe”. The word environment is not even mentioned once. The Commission’s new climate law to address the climate emergency makes no link to gender equality at all.

An – almost – gender equal Commission and a representation of women in the European Parliament that is above the world and EU average for national parliaments is a great start. But I wonder how we can achieve a so-called Union of Equality with zero emissions by 2050, when politicians don’t seem to have understood why gender equality matters for the environment?

If there is scientific evidence for gender differences in energy consumption why is gender not being reflected in the National Climate and Energy Plans? Why is there no reflection of gender in the European Green Deal? The Climate Law? And why is there no mention of the environment in the EU Gender Equality Strategy?

While we should not expect that progress towards gender equality will magically solve all environmental problems, mounting evidence shows that advancements in gender equality could have positive impacts on environmental well-being. And this applies to the Global South as well as for the Global North. 25 years on from the Beijing Declaration – it seems we still have a long road to march.

How to integrate gender into our environmental policies

  • Ensure gender equality in all decision-making bodies to ensure environmental, political, social and economic participation in decision-making
  • Follow-up on existing environmental and gender commitments by governments to ensure effective implementation
  • Integrate gender into existing and new frameworks and guidelines such as the European Green Deal, the Climate Law, the National Energy and Climate Plans etc.
  • Integrate gender into monitoring and reporting systems, prioritising the collection and analysis of gender-disaggregated data, and gender budgeting.