In honour of International Women's Day, we are pleased to bring you a blog from Charlie Young: a dedicated conservationist, wildlife presenter and adventurer. In this piece, Charlie explores the intersection between women and the environment. If you'd like to hear more from Charlie, follow her on Instagram and Twitter.
The intersection between women and the environment
Gender equality is not only a fundamental human right, but a necessary foundation for building a healthier, happier and more sustainable world.
Over the last decades a lot of progress has been made. More girls go to school, more women have access to healthcare and family planning and more women are serving in positions of power than ever before. But even at the current rate of change, gender parity will not be not be achieved for another 99.5 years (World Economic Forum, 2020) by which point a quarter of Earth’s natural habitats could be gone (Beyer and Manica, 2020).
But what does achieving gender equality have to do with the environment? The answer is, everything.
Disparities in the way women are treated are rooted in social, cultural and legal norms which have led to large gender gaps in both high-income and low-income countries. These gaps create barriers to effective sustainable development and livelihoods by limiting or restricting women’s access to resources and decision-making opportunities. In many cases this also leaves women at a financial disadvantage.
As well as lacking a seat at the table, women are also disproportionately impacted by environmental threats and our destructive addiction to fossil fuels. Research shows women are more likely to be affected by climate change and UN figures indicate that 80% of those displaced by climate change are women. In low-income countries, the traditional role women play as the primary caregivers and providers of fuel also makes them more vulnerable to threats such as flooding and drought. These disparities undermine the success of conservation across the globe as women are limited in their capacity and ability to galvanize change both for themselves and the planet.
This reality is especially sad given women show a greater concern for issues such as climate change and stronger attitudes towards protecting the environment than men (Desrochers et al., 2019). Women also engage more in pro-environmental behaviours, are more likely to support environmental protection and less likely to support environmental utilization (Desrochers et al., 2019). Exclusion and underrepresentation of women in decision making is robbing the world of an important voice and one that could help catalyse the change our world so desperately needs.
Women really are the secret weapon to helping make conservation a success. Effectively protecting our planet can only be achieved by understanding these gender gaps and addressing the specific barriers women face. Without it, we risk exacerbating gender inequality to the continued detriment of conservation goals and human rights. And quite simply, we don’t have time to fail.
- World Economic Forum 2020: http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_GGGR_2020.pdf
- Robert M. Beyer, Andrea Manica (2020) Historical and projected future range sizes of the world’s mammals, birds, and amphibians. Nature Communications, 11 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41467-020-19455-9
- Jessica E. Desrochers, Graham Albert, Benjamin Kelly, Steven Arnocky (2019) Does personality mediate the relationship between sex and environmentalism? Personality and Individual Differences, 147 (2019) 204-213