September 24, 2021
By Aline Coutinho & Harshini Ramesh
The fourth week of September has marked Gender Equality Week since 2018 when Bill C-309 was passed and received the Royal Assent. It is an important opportunity to celebrate progress towards achieving gender equality, acknowledge the socio economic contributions of women, girls, and gender diverse groups, and recommit to addressing and removing persisting gender inequities in Canada.
In this blog post, we look to shed light on important gender equity issues as we transition to a cleaner, greener economy. There are persisting barriers to the full inclusion and economic participation of girls, women, and gender diverse individuals that must be addressed if we are to meet Canada’s net-zero targets in a manner that is equitable and inclusive. The following are three preconditions that are fundamental to advance an inclusive transition to a clean economy. This list is by no means exhaustive. Instead, the discussion of these preconditions is an invitation for a broader and meaningful discussion of what it means to advance an inclusive, cleaner economy, and how we can get there.
Precondition 1: Ensuring gender-equal access to the benefits associated with a low-carbon transition
Clean tech is an example of a sector that is primed for growth as both the demand for, and investments in, low-carbon technologies are expected to increase through 2030. The anticipated growth of the clean tech sector, as well as decarbonization of other sectors (such as the energy sector), present threats and opportunities in terms of employment and access to goods and services. Policies and investments set in place to facilitate a low-carbon transition must consider how to advance a fair distribution of the benefits and burdens associated with this transition – what scholars term distributive justice.
We know, for instance, that there are persisting gender inequalities within the environmental and clean energy technology (ECT) sector. These include the lingering gender wage gap, the higher rate of attrition for women in STEM occupations than men, the significantly higher barriers that women immigrants face in fully participating in the labour market, and the economic vulnerability of Indigenous women owing to their overrepresentation in precarious work. These blatant gender inequalities also exist in employment in renewable energy and energy conservation in Canada.
Another issue that demands attention is access to goods and services associated with a low-carbon transition. Several Canadian households and communities experience energy poverty, which is the inadequate access to energy services that some social groups, households or communities face due to lack of financial resources, energy prices, or level of energy efficiency. There is evidence to suggest that racialized, recent immigrants, and Indigenous households experience a higher rate of energy poverty. Although there is a dearth of research on how energy poverty impacts women, girls, and gender diverse individuals in Canada, research conducted in the European Union suggests that energy poverty and limited access to energy are challenges disproportionately faced by women. Because women in Canada are more likely to live in a low-income household than men, it is plausible that they are also more vulnerable to experiencing energy poverty. In a low-carbon transition, it is necessary to ensure that access to clean energy is equally distributed across all genders.
Addressing, mitigating, and removing gender inequalities in employment opportunities and access to services and programs involves understanding the sources and dynamics of these inequalities. This week, we call for collecting and improving access to gender-disaggregated data that can bring visibility to the experiences and challenges women, girls, and gender-diverse individuals face in accessing the benefits associated with a low-carbon transition. With more visibility of diverse experiences, it is possible to design better, targeted policies that advance distributive justice.
Precondition 2: Ensuring gender-equal participation in the design and implementation of environmental policies and in decision-making
Ensuring that all genders get a fair share of the opportunities opened up by the transition to a low-carbon economy is not enough. A second precondition to advancing a gender-equal low-carbon transition is ensuring procedural justice. This is about considering who has their voices heard and accounted for in policy-making and implementation, and who participates in decision-making processes.
Women are under-represented and excluded from all levels of climate decision-making. In a previous blog post, we noted how the Paris Agreement represents a new era of climate action. Women and gender-focused groups had a larger participation at the conference proceedings than in previous international treaties such as the Kyoto Protocol. Since the Paris Agreement, fairness and equity considerations became prominent in international climate change law and adaptation policy. However, women remain underrepresented in decision-making and policy circles, with girls and young women likely to face more obstacles to participation. Canadian youth, for example, report facing discrimination, perceiving a lack of trust of their expertise, and experiencing a lack of support in matters related to climate action, discouraging them from future participation.
Women and girls with other intersecting identity factors (such as race and ethnicity), and gender diverse individuals are particularly underrepresented in environmental policy and decision-making. The situation is glaring when it comes to Indigenous women, girls, and Two-Spirit peoples, who, despite possessing expert knowledge on the impacts of climate change and priorities at the local level, still face systemic barriers for meaningful inclusion in environmental and climate policy design and implementation. For instance, women, Two-Spirit and queer Indigenous people have been “excluded from participating in internal governance” and have faced an erosion of their governance roles within their communities, which has negatively impacted the health and safety of land, air and water - something referred to as environmental violence - given that decisions are made without their input.
Creating avenues for leadership and dismantling structures that limit the participation of girls, women, and gender diverse individuals in governance is crucial for a low-carbon economy. The representation of diverse needs and experiences can mitigate harms and lead to policies that are targeted, and designed to correct historic harms.
Precondition 3: Ensuring access to education and reskilling opportunities while recognizing that the problem is systemic and does not lie within women, girls, and gender diverse individuals
Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields are projected to grow many green jobs, especially in low-carbon manufacturing, green construction, sustainable infrastructure, and renewable energy. But many STEM fields foster a masculine culture that may lower the sense of belonging to women, girls, and gender diverse individuals. Women, for instance, are less likely than men to hold a degree in STEM.
It is important to expand educational and skills training opportunities for girls, women, and gender diverse individuals to participate and thrive in a low-carbon economy. Education, for example, is a key lever for integration. Preparing a diverse workforce with skills crucial for a low carbon transition allows girls, women, and gender diverse individuals to be resilient and adaptive to a changing climate, in addition to empowering their participation in traditionally male-dominated green sectors. Creating re-skilling and education opportunities that improve women’s participation and retention in STEM will be crucial to ensuring the next generation of workers will represent gender parity.
As important as ensuring access to education and reskilling initiative may be, to advance gender equality, it is also necessary to recognize the historical, cultural, and institutional forces that marginalize equity-seeking groups from accessing labour market opportunities. A third precondition to advancing a gender-equal, low-carbon transition is to address the sources of gender inequalities. For example, factors like gender norms and expectations, socioeconomic status, and institutional and organizational power dynamics impact access to labour market opportunities and goods and services.
It is Gender Equality Week. While we celebrate the progress we made and the accomplishments we’ve achieved, let’s also recognize that there is still much work to be done. Ensuring gender-equal access to benefits, inclusive participation in policy and decision-making, and opening up opportunities for career advancement of women, girls, and gender-diverse individuals in the low-carbon transition while tackling the structural sources of inequalities, are some of the preconditions for a truly inclusive, cleaner economy. As the week comes to a close, we call on everyone to continue reflecting and working towards equality - addressing these preconditions will be a lengthy process, one that does not finish by the end of this week.