By Stephanie Eynon, Head of Standards Makers Engagement & Inclusion at BSI.
Women represent more than half of the world’s population and societal gender roles mean that is it mostly women running families and households and thus making the day-to-day choices about household level environmental practices. And yet, “Gender” is the focus for only one day at this year’s COP climate gathering in Egypt and that focus has to be shared with water. The point is not trivial. Women must be considered. If they are not, new climate ambitions agreed this week risk failing to meet their full potential. Not for lack of good intentions, but from poor design that fails to fully consider the context for future implementation.
Consider recycling. Though individual actions are a drop in the ocean compared to the larger systemic changes required, we still need individuals to do what they can and most of us can relate to this daily task. And it is a microcosm of the macro-level circular economy. Many women around the world face the triple burden of work, care, and maintaining a household. Their (usually unpaid) labour is assumed, doing the day-to-day work of maintaining a household and making decisions about what to prioritize. Can we really expect consistently high levels of recycling across all households if the process is complicated and time-consuming, if it’s yet another burden? Or what about where waste from the circular economy winds up? If it largely winds up in low and middle income countries where primarily women and children are processing the waste and unknowingly being exposed to all manner of health and environmental hazards, is that really the best outcome for the planet, not to mention for people?
Climate action is already a catalyst for the redesign of old industries and the creation of new ones: electrification of infrastructure and transport, reimagined urban planning, water conservation, regenerative agriculture, to name just a few. We need to ensure that we don’t repeat the same mistakes of the past, which resulted in unintended consequences for people that increased inequalities, and meant that solutions didn’t achieve their fullest potential and couldn’t be sustained over time.
We cannot solve the climate crisis unless we design solutions that are built around standards that are inclusive and consider how people – all people – work and live. Gender isn’t a topic that should be hived off in its own day and forgotten until the next COP. It must be integrated into every part of the conversation if we hope to implement solutions that will make the biggest difference and be more widely and consistently adopted.