Laura Hall discusses the need for greater gender representation at the heart of "green recovery" policies.
2020 will be forever defined by COVID-19. Impacting millions, the pandemic has exposed the serious structural failings underpinning our economic and social infrastructure. These failings have also accelerated the climate emergency, the effects of which have been exacerbated by the dangers of COVID-19.
As we were plunged into unprecedented crisis, it became clear that the majority of the world’s male leaders were severely out of their depth. Instead of clear guidance, reassurance and empathy, we experienced mixed messages, over-used war rhetoric and a lack of understanding of the communities politicians were elected to represent.
Particularly in the UK and US, two of the worst-affected countries by the virus, populist, ‘blokey’ and media-obsessed leaders Boris Johnson and Donald Trump were ill-equipped to deal with the scale of the challenges facing them down. Contrastingly, New Zealand’s Jacinda Ahern’s focused and human approach to tackling the crisis immediately provided results, corresponding to an analysis of COVID-19 responses by Open Democracy which found that countries with women in leadership positions have suffered six times fewer confirmed COVID-19 deaths than governments with male leadership. At the height of the crisis it became increasingly apparent that urgent action was needed to tackle economic and social injustices, which are inseparable from the climate emergency and the COVID-19 pandemic. This exemplifies the problem with the existing political status quo – we are not seeing enough fast enough from current leaders to address and mitigate vital issues.
Backing from the public, businesses, multiple environmental organisations and cross-party political pressure for a Green Recovery has led to the Conservatives embracing the term with cloying platitudes. However, rather than lip service and spending promises on flood defences and conservation projects that never see the light of day, we need an intersectional Green Recovery led by women.
Women have been disproportionately impacted by both the climate crisis and COVID-19. This is especially true for women of colour. BAME women currently make up over half of UK pregnancy hospitalisations with COVID-19, whilst the rising temperatures resulting from climate change have negatively impacted the health of BAME women in the US. ‘Building back better’ isn’t about putting shovels in the ground and hoping for the best. Rebuilding involves doing things differently; ensuring everyone’s voices, including those of women, are heard in decision-making processes about the direction and progressive policies that are required to bring about an effective Green Recovery. A Green Recovery must be intersectional with equality and justice at its centre – there is no climate justice without it.
It is the time for voices that have previously been marginalised or silenced to not only be heard, but for these voices to drive forward the response to the climate crisis and the creation of a more resilient post-COVID-19 society. Now is the time for a stronger commitment to decarbonisation, improved communication and education around the climate crisis, further leadership regarding the protection and restoration of natural ecosystems and rather than discussing, actually implementing and integrating policies such as the Environment Bill and 25-year Environment Plan across the economy.
Progress starts with promotion. Give women the platforms and visibility to shape policies such as those specified above, from the White House Coronavirus Task Force to the Cabinet. To use a recent example of a Twitter thread, where The Women’s Organisation removed men from political photos, women were left alone or in twos and threes. This simply isn’t good enough.
Whilst inspiring women, from Labour Chancellor Anneliese Dodds to environmentalists with a global profile such as Sunita Narain and Judy Ling Wong are raising attention to the need for further green investment and access to nature, their voices must be echoed and amplified by more women in positions of authority. Seats for more women at the table, particularly women of colour, is more essential than ever if we want a system that acts in the interests of previously under-represented groups, rather than the golf, gun and garden centre lobbies that shout the loudest.
Laura Cunliffe-Hall is Communications Officer for the Young Fabians Environment Network. Laura works for a communications consultancy, specialising in stakeholder engagement and public affairs. Laura is an advocate for climate justice, social mobility and educational outreach. She writes in a personal capacity.
She tweets @LauraHall1995
(1) https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/may/16/bame-majority-pregnant-women-hospitalised-covid-19-troubling-midwives (2) https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/heat-and-racism-threaten-birth-outcomes-for-women-of-color/