The role of women in the green economy

Sustainable development has been at the forefront of development agendas all over the world. And with current challenges such as climate change, one of the major strategies in place for this form of development to be achieved is through the concept of facilitating a green economy.

A green economy is one that improves human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities.


Absence of a green economy would translate to degradation of natural resources and ecosystems, loss of biodiversity and cases of increased poverty. And whereas this would affect everyone, women are more prone to bearing the biggest brunt.



Planting or nurturing a tree seedling is a good place to start in championing a green economy.  Net photos

Engineer Coletha Uwineza Ruhamya, Director General of Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA) enlightens this aspect in a simpler form.

In its simplest expression, a green economy can be thought of as one which is low carbon, resource efficient and socially inclusive. In the absence of appropriate social policies, the green economy may exacerbate existing gender inequities to the detriment of overall sustainability, she says.

Gender gaps are extracting high economic costs and contributing to social inequities and environmental degradation around the world. At present, we are confronted with economic, environmental and social crises on a global scale. Yet women are relegated to taking a back seat to the men who are driving these unsustainable trends, Ruhamya says.

She goes on to explain that a failed green economy may affect women in different ways; as workers, women can be excluded from the green economy due to gender segregated employment patterns and discrimination.

To achieve its goal of increasing forest cover by 2020, Rwanda has embarked on massive reforestation and tree-planting drive. Net photos

“Women are often more directly dependent on natural resources, with responsibility for the unpaid work of securing food, water, fuel and shelter for their household.”

Gender activist Annet Mukiga shares a similar opinion, noting that climate change affects women and men differently, and that it is women who carry a bigger responsibility.

She relates this to household work which is mainly done by women, “firewood gathering, water collection and feeding families; when these resources are threatened, women and children suffer more.”

What has gender got to do with this?

In a study, ‘Women’s participation in green growth – a potential fully realised?’ authors Markéta von Hagen and Johanna Willems highlight that environmental degradation is a consequence of unsustainable business and consumption patterns and that this constitutes an enormous global challenge.

Ecological challenges, natural disasters and unsustainable natural resource management disproportionately affect the poor in developing countries. Since women constitute the majority of the world’s poor and are comparatively more dependent on scarce natural resources, they suffer in particular from these effects and the repercussions of climate change. Hence, the effects of climate change are not gender neutral, the authors indicate.

They also point out that green growth will neither reduce these effects on women nor automatically increase gender equality. Hence, specific and gender-sensitive policies and interventions are necessary to ensure that women and men can equally benefit from a green(er) economy.

“Greening and gender equality and (equal) economic participation of women can benefit each other. The opportunities the green economy potentially holds for women’s participation in green growth relate to green production and manufacturing processes (eliminating (chemical) inputs and hazardous working conditions), green consumerism (creating new business opportunities and markets), micro, small and medium enterprises development and female entrepreneurship (including new professions, product development and use of green technology),” the study shows.

Ruhamya says women and nature are largely invisible in mainstream economics; one would search in vain in the core models of economics for any inkling of where the materials used in production came from, or where the waste goes or where people go when they are broken or used up. When considered at all, women and nature are treated as passive ‘resources.’

“Gender equality is rightly seen as crucial to green economy, with its own Sustainable Development Goal (Goal 5). Yet the interconnections between environment sustainability and women’s empowerment have often been overlooked in practice particularly in the environmental movement,” she says. 

With this, she highlights that it is very important for women to be part of the movement championing a green economy because; gender equality is a moral imperative, whether you’re in the government, business, non-government organisation or research institution — it’s simply the right thing to do, she adds.

“Women are key managers of natural resources and powerful agents of change. Not just victims, women have been and can be central actors in pathways to sustainability and green transformation.”

She also adds that though women are more vulnerable to environmental degradation and climate change, they also have different perspectives, concerns and ideas for change.

“Until these are taken on board, with women empowered to play a full part in decision-making at all levels, environmental sustainability will remain a distant goal.”

Mukiga shares her view saying that women tend to be more concerned about community issues, and in Rwanda or even elsewhere in the world, women are more active in social movements to address their issues — women value social capital more.

Aline Providence Nkundibiza, the chairperson of Rwanda Women in/and Mining Organisation, says women should be part of the movement championing a green economy because they are the ones who are affected more, and once they are part of that movement, they will be able to expose their problems, suggest solutions and even participate in the implementation.

“When women are part of this movement, it will contribute more to sustainable development. This will lead to inclusivity, hence, considering the role of women in environment protection and degradation,” Nkundibiza says.

“There is a slogan that says ‘naturalising feminine and feminising nature’ where women are compared to nature and nature to women which is a way of stigmatising them and exploiting them as nature. So being part of that movement will allow them bring back value of women as human beings and not seen as objects to be exploited as nature,” she adds. 

Authors of the study mentioned earlier indicate that approaches geared towards the improved participation of women in the green economy should build upon the opportunities inherent in the green economy, particularly in green private sector development, and minimise the risks involved for disadvantaged groups in general — women in particular. A multilevel and multi-stakeholder approach, cutting across sectors and national borders is needed.

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