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Why a Green New Deal Must be Feminist

Ebyan Abdirahman explains how the climate crisis and inequality are linked and why the solutions must be too

Ebyan Abdirahman

Prior to COVID-19 the plans of a Green New Deal (GND) included a set of policy plans, which at its most ambitious, envisioned a completely decarbonised economy. Whilst this is still at the forefront of the GND plans, moving forward there has been a strong focus to ‘build back better’, but what would that really entail for a truly equal recovery?

With the climate crisis being one of the biggest global threats to humanity, the GND will be a chance for us to regenerate the Earth and avoid a global disaster. It proposes a different way of moving forward through a list of policy ideas including, decarbonising electric supplies, carbon taxes, re-regulating finance and the most ‘radical’ a demand of net-zero emissions by 2030.

At its heart the GND is a movement that encapsulates thinking on how we tackle the climate crisis whilst making our society fairer. So why do we still need an explicit gendered focus on the GND?

Achieving zero net emissions will not solve the social justice issues we face today but could potentially exacerbate existing inequalities faced by those most marginalised in society. We have to ask ourselves, who will benefit from the GND? If we look at the current narratives leading the GND conversations, they are mainly led by improved infrastructure, creation of new green jobs and democratising the economy.

The climate crisis coexists with a number of burgeoning crises – economic inequality, racial inequality, gender inequality, the surge of white supremacy across Europe, alongside the global health crisis that is Covid-19. With the covid-19 crisis already disproportionately impacting women, we need a GND that will include and centre women in all plans.

It would be remiss not to point out that, even with zero net emissions, the planet is going to get hotter, and storms will continue to get fiercer. However, with a holistic approach to the GND, our social and health infrastructures will be better suited at dealing with such unavoidable natural disasters.

Firstly, it is time to expand the narrow definition of what constitutes a ‘green job’. Green jobs are widely understood to be jobs that move away from extractive activities and towards regenerative ones – ultimately preserving a healthy environment. If the GND is to be holistically sustainable, the care industry needs to be part of that definition. Paid care jobs are existing low carbon jobs and can be made more so with smart planning. Women’s Budget Group research shows that investment in the care sector could create 2.7 times as many jobs as investment in construction and produce 30% less greenhouse gas than a construction-led GND.

Better investment in the care industry with the same protections and same living wages as male-dominated workforces (reservation, conservation & public transit sectors), will be the actions needed to integrate caring professions into the green economy. This needs to go hand in hand with policies that foster the sharing of unpaid care work between men and women. Including large scale investment in all forms of social infrastructure, universal childcare, paid parental leave and care leave. Implementing shorter working hours such as a 30-hour paid work week will also have strong potential to distribute unpaid care work more equitably as well as a healthy work-life balance.

Investment in low-carbon sectors such as the care industry will help increase their social value, encouraging boys and men to enter the already green caring sectors as a profession. Alongside this, if we look at specifically targeting STEM apprenticeships to young women starting their careers and to women who want to retrain after career breaks, we can avoid reproducing occupational segregation. By supporting women into green technologies, we can have a GND that is long-lasting and adapts to the to the changing world.

A Feminist Green New Deal is a chance to highlight how overlapping crises are completely interlinked. Mainstreaming intersectional analysis will mean recognising the junction where women, BAME people, im/migrants, LGBTQI people, youth, elders, disabled people and others meet.

Although climate change has an impact on everyone, it is women and minority communities who will experience its most acute effects. Yet, if they are not involved in the decision-making processes, the solutions will not be socially or economically transformational and will only exacerbate existing inequalities. If the appropriate steps are not taken, we risk having a GND that only serves the privileged population and miss the opportunity to narrow gender inequality.

The UK Women’s Budget Group and Women’s Environmental Network (WEN) are collaborating together to create a vision of a Feminist Green New Deal. This will include a series of policy roundtables, grassroots workshops and webinars all with the goal of influencing policy makers to consider the importance of a gendered perspective when it comes to the climate crisis. You can read the draft road map here and click to watch the recent webinar on Why the Green New Deal Must be Feminist hosted by WEN.

Ebyan Abdirahman

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