Spoiler alert: Women have been leaders in the climate movement since scientists first realized that carbon dioxide could influence Earth’s temperature — which, by the way, was first theorized by a woman.
Rewind more than 150 years ago to 1856, and a research paper by American scientist Eunice Newton Foote first made the connection between carbon dioxide and planetary heating. Fast-forward to the 1960s, and sexism made it hard for General Motors climate scientist Ruth Reck to do her job. Passed up for promotions and told she was a distraction to men, Reck says she still managed to produce research showing that aerosols from cars and factories caused atmospheric heating at the Earth’s poles.
Now, jump ahead to 2020. Women have forged a hard-won path as climate leaders. Young women like Sweden’s Greta Thunberg, Uganda’s Vanessa Nakate and Canada’s Emma Lim lead the global climate strike movement. Indigenous women like Kanahus Manuel and Melina Laboucan-Massimo are resisting colonization and defending Indigenous land and energy sovereignty. Cat Abreu of Climate Action Network, Christy Ferguson of Greenpeace Canada and Megan Leslie of WWF helm heavyweight organizations fighting for federal action on climate change. Meanwhile, journalists and writers like Amy Westervelt, Mary Annaïse Heglar and Emily Atkin are exposing the connections between Big Oil, climate denial, racism and misogyny.
For every mansplaining “Climate Boi,” there's at least one woman — probably more — just getting things done. Often, she’s doing more than her share of trying to protect her community and the environment without the profile or accolades garnered by her male counterparts.
Where we aren’t seeing women, however, is in the Canadian government's green recovery plans.
The gendered lines of the economic recession triggered by COVID-19 first snapped into focus in the spring when data crunching revealed that women made up 70 per cent of March job losses in the 25 to 54 age bracket. Racialized, low-income and immigrant women remain among the worst impacted by this economic “she-cession.”
Yet, defenders of the fossil fuel industry are throwing shade at the idea of a “she-cession,” even as women climate leaders are pointing out the difficulties arising out of a lack of child care. As two women working in one of the world’s biggest climate campaigning organizations, working moms’ struggle to juggle the fate of the planet and raising children is all too familiar.
But despite the federal government’s promises to enact a green recovery and Action Plan for Women in the Economy, we’ve seen no guarantees that these plans will be integrated. Feminist groups like Oxfam have already expressed frustration that their lack of access to federal decision-makers has meant that recovery programs aren’t as gender-responsive as they might have been.
For example, since the pandemic struck, the federal government has made several green funding announcements but has also subsidized the fossil fuel sector, including with self-described “clean technology investments.” Will women benefit from these considering that they make up only about a quarter of the energy (including clean energy) workforce?
A green transition has to include, support and listen to women — from a national child-care program that allows women to fully participate in building a green and just economy to jobs that address the she-cession.
By consciously making space for women in the green recovery from COVID-19, we’ll find new pathways for fixing the economic and ecological imbalances with which our society is reckoning, write @jessatGP and Lydie Padilla.
We absolutely need to replace oil and gas with more sustainable forms of energy. We need to build affordable green housing and retrofit buildings to be more energy efficient. We need to electrify public transit. But these kinds of “shovel-ready” decarbonization projects heavy on construction also tend to be male-dominated. Women should be intentionally included in green job creation and retraining programs, as well as be supported to join and remain in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). These are critical disciplines essential to clean energy innovation but where women (especially racialized women) face difficulties and remain underrepresented.
At the same time, a green “recov-her-y” challenges us to think less narrowly about what defines a “green job.” If we really want to heal what’s ailing us, we need to imagine beyond bricks, mortar and labs. As we’ve come to realize, child care, elder care, social work and education are “the glue that builds humane, resilient communities,” as the 2015 Leap Manifesto put it. They’re low-carbon sectors in which women are already leading, but remain underpaid and undervalued.
Women’s contributions to the economy are too often left untallied — scrawled in the margins, bracketed, footnoted, appended — left to us readers to add up. That, of course, goes double for Indigenous and racialized women. By consciously making space for women in the green recovery from COVID-19, we’ll find new pathways for fixing the economic and ecological imbalances with which our society is reckoning. After all, women are already showing our leaders the way forward.
Lydie Padilla leads Greenpeace Canada’s green and just recovery campaign and is a full-time mom. Jesse Firempong is a climate justice communicator on the campaign with a background in gender justice.