PERTH, Australia — Universally, the need for environmental protection and disaster mitigation is growing increasingly urgent. According to the International Labour Organization, environmental change, degradation and disasters have affected women, in particular, due to gender disparities that persist around the globe. However, a solution may lie in “green jobs” — jobs that help reduce negative environmental impacts while promoting the development of environmentally, economically and socially sustainable enterprises and economies.
Zonibel Woods and Malika Shagazatova, colleagues at the Asian Development Bank (ADB), spoke with The Borgen Project about the potential of green jobs for women. Woods and Shagazatova have been working with the ADB on a project called “Strengthening Women’s Resilience to Climate Change and Disaster Risk in Asia and the Pacific,” which emphasizes equipping women with uniquely green skill sets. Applying their insights from the project, Woods and Shagazatova shed valuable light on the broader global relevance of green jobs for women.
Why Is It Important To Get Women Into Green Jobs?
Women’s heightened vulnerability to climate instability owes to the fact that women, especially in developing countries, typically have less access to education, income, technology, land and other resources. For instance, although women contribute at least half of the world’s food production, they own less than 15% of land globally. Similarly, as of 2020, the global literacy rate for adult women aged 15 and older was 83%, compared to 90% for adult men. Unsurprisingly, the World Economic Forum’s 2022 Global Gender Gap Report identified persistent gender-based disparities in education, skills-training and professions.
Accordingly, women are less equipped to adapt to the effects of environmental degradation and pivot into new employment industries. Yet, positioning women on the front lines of environmental protection efforts can profoundly empower them.
From entrepreneurial endeavors in recycling to female oyster harvesters protecting and restoring local ecosystems, women have already proved to be agents of change in the “green economy.” “There isn’t one set definition of a green economy,” Woods explained, but, broadly, green economic growth is growth that mutually benefits society, the economy and the environment. According to Woods, green jobs tend to center on “nature-based solutions” to environmental degradation and opportunities presented by the “restoration economy.”
Bringing Green Skills to Non-Green Industries
One way the green sector has been growing is through the application of green skills to pre-existing industries like agriculture and construction. For example, one aspect of the ADB program was training women in Fiji to construct disaster-resilient homes. ADB partnered with Habitat for Humanity Fiji to provide classroom and practical carpentry training that helped 29 Fijian women earn recognized Australian carpentry certifications. The training equipped them with green skills that will allow them to compete in the traditionally male-dominated construction industry. This is particularly relevant as rising sea levels and increasingly severe storms heighten demand for environmentally friendly disaster-proof buildings in Fiji.
Newly-Emerging Environmental Sectors
Although green jobs are still predominantly growing in traditional sectors like agriculture, forestry, construction and energy, new green sectors and subsectors are also emerging. These include industries related to conservation, such as national parks and marine reserves, ecosystem restoration and mitigating environmental change.
With the global community upping efforts to mitigate climate change and conserve the environment, green-industry investments are flowing into developing countries and helping to create jobs. However, more targeted efforts to equalize green economic growth are necessary. With such efforts, the World Economic Forum estimates that the transition to a “nature-positive” economy could create 395 million jobs globally by 2030.
Investing in emerging green sectors is particularly important for women. It creates opportunities to work in environments freed from the socio-cultural barriers and gender biases entrenched in many well-established sectors. “The development of the green economy offers various entry points to promote gender equality, including an unprecedented opportunity to educate and train a diverse set of female and male workers for this sector,” Shagazatova said. However, “It is critical that pre-existing gender inequalities are not transferred to the emerging green sectors.”
All-Female Park Rangers: A Success Story
One example of advancing gender equality through green jobs for women comes from Zimbabwe’s Phundundu Wildlife Park, a 115-square-mile nature reserve and one of the world’s first to be protected by an all-female park ranger team. Called the Akashinga, meaning “the Brave Ones” in Shona, the team consists of women from Zimbabwe’s most marginalized groups, including sexual abuse survivors, single mothers, orphans and widows. Introduced in 2017, the initiative provides anti-poaching and conservation training, a salary, and connections to groups that promote community empowerment. The concept has proved so successful that countries around the world, including Kenya, South Africa, China and Indonesia, have introduced similar initiatives.
The Bigger Picture
While green sectors are affording women valuable new opportunities, realizing the full potential of green jobs for women requires not just locally-focused initiatives but also broader policy reforms. Policy experts have therefore begun to emphasize that addressing the intersection between gender equality and environmental objectives is critical for accelerating progress in both areas and achieving the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals.
“The challenge is that the transition to green economies is happening quite fast and jobs are changing very rapidly without putting into place measures that will ensure that there is labor-related legislation or education capacity building,” Woods said. Moving forward, it is vital to “focus on ensuring that everyone will benefit from the jobs that are emerging in the green economy equally.”
– Amy McAlpine