By Lakshmi Woodings, Head of CSR, Apex Group

Gender equality and climate change may appear to be separate issues, but the two are closely intertwined. Around the world, women are often on the front line of climate change and their empowerment is essential to finding sustainable solutions.

Leaders and academics have long emphasised the interconnectedness of the environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues facing us today. The link between gender equality and climate change was raised by many delegates at the United Nations (UN) COP26 climate change conference in November, but the issue is set to be brought even more sharply into focus in 2022.

International Women’s Day, on 8 March, has taken ‘Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow’ as its theme. Meanwhile, the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women, also due to meet in March, has set its priority theme as ‘The empowerment of women and girls in the context of climate change’.

Empowering women must be part of any solution to the challenge of sustainability. The effects of climate change put women at increased risk of hunger, food insecurity and violence. They also threaten women’s income, health and their entire way of life.

For example, women tend to be the first caregiver for their family, especially in developing countries, and entire households rely on them to provide food, water and fuel – resources that are expected to become scarcer as temperatures rise.

Women’s ability to financially provide for themselves and their family will also be affected by climate change. Women make up 70% of the 1.3 billion people living in poverty. 70% of women worldwide work in the agricultural sector, which is at risk of devastation from increasingly unreliable weather and the increased intensity and regularity of extreme weather events.

The chances of women escaping this situation appear bleak. As the effects of climate change intensify, the opportunities for women to gain the resources, skills and education may fall out of reach. It was expected that in 2021 alone, climate-related events would prevent at least 4 million girls in lower-income countries from completing their education. If current trends continue, that number will reach 12.5 million by 2025.

However, tackling climate change to resolve these issues is impossible if women are not empowered to be included in the discussions and, more importantly, the decisions. As key contributors to communities, as carers and activists, as well as in local food systems and in the home, women are in a unique position to drive longer-term climate resilience.

Yet, women continue to be marginalised. Women make up only 19% of IMF and World Bank boards and only 25.5% of national parliamentarians.

The gender pay gap also continues to be an issue. For example, in the UK the pay gap meant that from 18 November 2021, women would effectively be working for free, relative to men, until the end of the year. Worldwide, women share 35% of the global income, an increase of only 5% since 1990.

The responsibility and opportunity to tackle gender inequality and climate change lie in the hands of both governments and the private sector.

The UK government announced £165 million funding to tackle climate change and the empowerment of women at COP26. The funding will go towards local communities and grassroots women’s groups in Asia Pacific to challenge gender inequalities, and to help adapt to the impacts of climate change. Money will also go to Bangladesh to protect biodiversity, strengthen renewables, and support women’s leadership and access to finance and education. However, this is only a small step in the face of a very big challenge.

Private companies have their part to play and can tackle issues both externally and internally. Internally, private companies can work on the changes of the gender split in board rooms, correcting the gender pay gap, working to end discrimination, and creating a work culture that empowers women.

Externally, companies can invest in projects that directly support the development of women as well as form partnerships with charities and communities to give girls and women the education, skills and opportunities they need to succeed.

The more we talk about these issues, the greater the awareness there will be. Greater awareness means there is more we can do, together, to solve problems. Even the smallest actions can build momentum until they have a real, positive impact for women and girls around the world.

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