Kathleen Rogers: Women’s equality and the climate change challenge

On Aug. 26, we commemorate Women’s Equality Day and reflect on the true meaning of equality. The day is important, not just to evaluate where women are in terms of representation and equal pay for equal work, but also to consider the ramifications of what would happen should half of the world’s population be left out of decision-making – particularly in the dialogue that will shape our collective future, the dialogue on climate change, the green economy and sustainability.

Our leaders and the world’s heads of state have failed to solve the climate crisis or to shift into a green economy – all while everyone knows that the path we tread will exhaust the world’s food, water and energy. Public opinion strongly favors action; nonetheless, progress is stalled.

It’s no coincidence that female participation is dismal in the U.N.’s climate negotiations, in the halls of our government and in corporate board meetings. Meanwhile, climate change is disproportionately affecting women. Heat and extreme weather already impede the work that falls on women worldwide, e.g. collecting water and growing crops. Not only are women responsible for as much as 80 percent of farming in the developing world, they’re much more vulnerable to natural disasters than men.

But women need not be victims of the climate crisis. A new generation of women entrepreneurs, leaders and artists, have demonstrated the potential for being the solution to the climate crisis – yes, imagine that. But they must be mobilized and given an opportunity to influence government and business.

An influx of female leadership might solve the climate crisis. Studies have shown that successful female entrepreneurs take different risks than their male counterparts. Female entrepreneurs risk their own personal capital – their time, their finances. Male risk-taking, on the other hand, seems to involve the wealth of others. Just look at the recent financial crisis and the mostly male Wall Street bankers who invented bizarre investment products in testosterone-fueled high-rises.

Politically powerful women in the U.S. and abroad want to find solutions to the climate-change dilemma. They want to champion women’s roles in establishing a green economy. From Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, who created a new office for women at the State Department, to Amina Benkhadra, Morocco’s Minister of Energy, Mines, Water and Environment, to Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the U.N. framework on Climate Change, women are beginning to play key roles in the climate and renewable-energy discussion. They’re making their voices heard.

Investing in the strength of women seems to be a no-brainer, especially in these difficult times. We must invest in this level-headed and hard-working half of the population while raising our collective female voices, because women exemplify fresh perspectives, long-term considerations and sane risk-taking.

Our leadership must include more female entrepreneurs who consider long-term costs while honoring debts to lenders and to future generations. Did you know that women are less likely to file for bankruptcy, or that the most successful micro lending projects in the developing world are those that loan exclusively to women?

In 1992, as the global community gathered at the first U.N. Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, it agreed to a set of principles on sustainable development. One of these principles was that: “Women have a vital role in environmental management. … Their full participation is therefore essential.” Almost 20 years later, we have yet to see that full participation. Why the slow-going? Before the Rio Earth Summit of 2012, we’d like to change that.

What we need to do is to convene female leaders to re-examine the climate crisis through a different lens. These leaders would then mobilize women all over the world to promote innovative solutions, all while promoting participation of women in green technology. This effort would include women political and business leaders, as well as top minds from the creative world.

Our leaders’ approach to climate change has brought no progress. We need fresh ideas, and we need new leadership; we need a different perspective. As we shift into a new green economic model, we need women to be front and center as entrepreneurs and technical workers. And, with targeted training, education and mentorship, we can make the girls of today leaders of the new green economy of tomorrow. When it comes to the world’s future, we can’t afford to take risks with the wealth of others nor the wealth and wellbeing of future generations.
 
 

Kathleen Rogers is the president of Earth Day Network.


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