March 8 is International Women's Day (IWD). On this global day, we not only celebrate the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women all around the world, but we also remind ourselves of the importance of the ongoing struggle for women’s rights.
The first IWD took place in 1911 but it was not before 1975 that the United Nations recognized it. Since 1996 the UN gives the day an annual theme, which aims to draw attention to a specific issue related to gender equality. While this year’s theme is ‘DigitALL: Innovation andtechnology for gender equality’, last year’s IWD focused on the theme of ‘Genderequity today for a sustainable tomorrow’. These annual events celebrate women's contributions and efforts to build a more sustainable world for everyone. At the same time, they also highlight the environmental disadvantages that many girls and women all around the world have to deal with.
A report released at the Bonn Climate Change Conference 2022 has shown that women are oftentimes differently affected by climate change than men. For example, as a result of climate change, extreme weather leads to fewer harvests in some African countries. While many men migrate from rural to urban areas to find a new source of income, women are mostly left behind to care for the kids and land. They are not only robbed of the opportunity to earn their own money, but they often also lack the respective legal rights or social authority to be legally in charge of their land and household.
Another example of gender-based environmental injustice can be seen in some parents' motives of giving their daughters away for child marriages in countries like Kenya, Bangladesh and Ethiopia. While it may seem unintelligible to us that such young girls are forced into marrying a much older man, it is increasingly done to recover their families’ financial losses from climate-related disasters like droughts or intense floodings.
But not only in third-world countries correlation between gender and sustainability occurs. An interesting cognition is the so-called eco-gender gap found in many western countries. This gap was first written about in a 2018 Mintel report. It focused on the marketing strategy of eco-friendly products as they are mainly aimed at female consumers. Whether it be replacing nylon with a more environmentally friendly material enforced by hosiery manufacturers or marketing menstrual cups, many products rely on women to establish an eco-friendlier lifestyle. This might also affect the will of living more ethically. The study by Mintel has exposed that 71% of women try to do so while only 59 % of men feel the same.
You may wonder what the reasons behind the focus on female consumers in the marketing of eco-friendly products might be. The sad truth that the research of 2018 discovered is that women not only tend to buy more sustainable products, but they are also disproportionately responsible for running the household. Even though it might seem like stereotypical roles of men and women are nowadays not that predominant anymore in western countries, “many women still tend to take charge of the running of the household, with chores such as cleaning, laundry and even recycling falling under that banner” (Duckett 2018). Thus, it appears that women are more responsible for sustainability than men.
But the responsibilities in a household could not be the only reason behind men’s poor enthusiasm in sustainability matters. As researches from the 1990s to early 2000s indicate, women tend to be more "prosocial, altruistic, and empathetic". Those characteristics that society often declares as female are fostering the motivation of building a more sustainable future. Accordingly, men could have the impression “that caring for the environment somehow undermines their masculinity” (Hunt 2020).
However, time is changing. Looking at the number of boys and
men attending the youth climate movement one could state that the lack of male involvement
is rather a generational problem rather than gender realted (Hunt 2020). Nevertheless,
it is important to keep in mind how different women and men are involved with
and affected by sustainable matters such as being eco-friendly or the results
of global warming. Only by keep talking about these issues that something can be
changed. Words have power.
This is why International Women’s Day is so important. Each
year it draws our attention to areas in which women are still not treated equally
to men. Keep this in mind while you celebrate this year's IWD on March 8 and be confident that it is going to change for the better.
Image source: https://asiapacific.unwomen.org/en/stories/in-focus/2022/03/international-women-day-2022
Duckett, Jack. 2018, July 27. "The eco gender gap: 71% of women try to live more ethically, compared to 59% of men." Mintel. Retrieved February 21, 2023, from https://www.mintel.com/press-centre/the-eco-gender-gap-71-of-women-try-to-live-more-ethically-compared-to-59-of-men/.
Hunt, Elle. 2020, February 6. "The eco gender gap: why is saving the planet seen as women's work?" The Guardian. Retrieved February 21, 2023, from https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/feb/06/eco-gender-gap-why-saving-planet-seen-womens-work.
United Nations. 2022, June 1. "Dimensions and examples of the gender-differentiated impacts of climate change, the role of women as agents of change and opportunities for women. Synthesis report by the secretariat." Retrieved February 21, 2023, from https://unfccc.int/documents/494455.