Why environmental breakdown is a gendered issue

by Axelle Van Wynsberghe

A Green New Deal for Europe may be the best proposal to tackle the gendered dimensions of the climate crisis.

The climate crisis and other forms of environmental breakdown is a global issue, but it does not burden humanity equally. Women are more likely to bear the heaviest burdens of the crisis, as make up an estimated “70 percent of those living below the poverty line.”
The effects of environmental breakdown, such as floods and sea level rises, ocean acidification, forest fires and deforestation, water scarcity, climate migration and energy poverty have a gendered dimension. As the United Nations (UN) states, “climate change is a women’s issue”, with women often facing greater risks and burdens in the face of climate disasters. A study conducted by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) also found that as environmental pressures increase, so does gender-based violence.
A holistic transformation of the economy is needed in order to address the climate emergency. The Green New Deal for Europe (GNDE) is a campaign and social movement calling for a transnational, intersectional and intergenerational approach to the climate crisis. It proposes that the twin European crises of austerity and climate change can be tackled by re-envisioning the European project, investing in public infrastructure and programmes, and valuing social and environmental work.
The UN has called for the need to empower the “participation of women at all levels of decision-making related to climate change.” The Green New Deal for Europe does just that—by focusing on civic participation and on issues that disproportionately impact women. Its initiatives include creating millions of decent jobs with good wages, building sustainable housing, and providing a care income to reward caring for each other and our environment.

People’s Assemblies
Less than 30% of representatives in national and global climate negotiating bodies are women –  the Green New Deal for Europe plans to change that. Self Organizing People’s Assemblies are the core organizing principle under the Green New Deal, allowing for direct and deliberative democracy at the local and international level. This will address the European Union’s democratic deficit by fostering a culture of civic participation. Assemblies such as these have been shown to ensure that gender equality is a priority for political agendas; and that issues such as the sharing of care work, the representation of women in leadership positions, and the wage gap are addressed. Furthermore, feminists have played an important role in advocating for marginalized communities on the issue of climate justice. People’s Assemblies would ensure that the needs of women and LGBTQI people are prioritized.
The Care Income
Green New Deal’s Care Income recognizes undervalued or invisible labour overwhelmingly performed by women, especially mothers. The Care Income would be available to anyone engaged in full or part-time care work, such as stay-at-home parents, those caring for the elderly or disabled, or people engaging in care-work for their communities.
It would additionally incentivize people to engage with care-work and thereby provide security for disabled people by facilitating the access to the resources they need in order to live independently.
The Universal Basic Dividend (UBD) would additionally ensure that all Europeans benefit economically from technological advancement through the taxation of companies benefiting from innovations in robotics and artificial intelligence.
Decent Jobs for All
Maintaining and enhancing people’s living standards is a fundamental part of the Green New Deal. It would establish a four-day working week with lower overall working hours, as well as fair wages and local job creation. Local and municipal investment will create local job opportunities, which will reduce the amount of displacement needed for people to get to and from their jobs, and address the housing and transportation issues that affect large metropoles like London or Paris. Retraining programs and income guarantees will therefore also be deployed for workers transitioning from the fossil fuel industries.
Public funding would allow for the kind of environmentally sustainable projects and methods of production that have so far been suppressed by the influence of the private sector and their focus on increasing profit margins. The Green New Deal’s economic realignment bolsters activities that protect and restore the environment, as well as contribute to local communities.
Earning a dignified living is an important aspect of the Green New Deal for Europe, which also proposes to remunerate work that has social value—such as habitat restoration or community services. Public access will additionally be given to services such as community centers and libraries, parks and childcare centers.
Green New Deal initiatives such as the care income, decent jobs for all, and sustainable public housing would allow women to have their own financial recourse and personal resources, including those who decide to be stay-at-home moms or care for their disabled or ill relatives. This could address the economic dimension of gender inequality and thereby issues of domestic and sexual abuse.
Economic Democracy and Pension Protection
It is possible to build prosperity in the face of climate crisis. The Green New Deal for Europe calls for an alternative to the deterioration of public infrastructure and labour rights in Europe. The financing of the Green New Deal is part of its holistic approach towards reshaping the future of Europe. This transformation will be financed through the Green Public Works (GPW), an historic public investment program powered by the European Investment Bank.
One of the sites in which gender inequality is made visible is that of pensions. The Women Against State Pension Inequality (WASPI) campaign in the UK advocates for the women born in the 1950s whose careers and pensions have been negatively impacted by the maladministration of the State Pension Age.
Pensions are additionally coming under threat throughout Europe due to austerity measures, such as in France where Macron’s pension reform is being implemented despite protests from the Gilets Jaunes. All jobs created under the Green Public Works ensures worker representation at the boards of companies, and in all capital savings, pensions or worker funds.
Sustainable Public Housing
Homelessness impacts women more than other demographics; domestic violence can often push them into shelters or the streets, where they can be vulnerable to threats of violence, sexual harassment, and abuse. In general, they also face more challenges such as coping with menstruation, lack of access to reproductive or maternal health services, and increases in the burden of childcare. The Green New Deal will harness public investment to build sustainable public housing which would address housing security. It would additionally lower the cost of living, reduce fuel poverty, ensure accessibility and radically cut emissions. 
Households remain the spaces in which the unequal distribution of care work is most clearly manifest. A transition towards a low-carbon housing must therefore also accelerate work-sharing at the household level, ensuring that the burden of unpaid work is split evenly among residents. Co-housing models—in which residents share public spaces and appliances, across communities—could at once reduce energy demand, and contribute to the alleviation of housework which still disproportionately falls on women.
International, Intergenerational and Intersectional Justice
The Green New Deal for Europe ensures that no community is excluded from Europe’s green transition—regardless of geography, race, gender, gender identity, age, dis/ability, nationality, immigration status, sexuality, religion or education. Identifying and examining barriers to inclusion is one of the aims of the Environmental Justice Commission, which will monitor the progress of the green transition, investigate questionable practices, and advise EU authorities on how to redress Europe’s role in environmental injustice around the world.
International accountability will be crucial in order to redress the extraction, exploitation, and inequality in Europe and around the world. Not only have these countries suffered at the hands of the extractive practices of colonialism, but they also constitute today’s ‘frontline communities’ in terms of climate change.
Due to this, some are referring to climate change as a form of ecological colonialism. The Green New Deal commits to restitutive policies that acknowledge Europe’s history of pollution and resource extraction across the Global South. It will monitor and address environmental migration.
In response to Greta Thunberg’s recent statement about the European Green Deal (“you are giving up”); the Green New Deal for Europe advocates for a path forward in which the European project restores the agency of peoples in negotiating their common futures, and addresses the issue of climate change as an intersection of a variety of socioeconomic issues such as the gender wage gap, invisible care work, and job insecurity. 
Our Support
The DiEM25 movement has many influential women on its Advisory Panel, such as Jane Sanders, Saskia Sassen and Naomi Klein. The Green New Deal for Europe is building a wide coalition of support throughout Europe. On the Coalition Council, Ann Pettifor (PRIME Economics), Meera Ghani (Ecolise), Stefania Barca (CES, University of Coimbra), Adrienne Buller (CommonWealth), Selma James and Nina Lopez (Global Women’s Strike) and Grace Blakeley (Tribune) — have all contributed to the Green New Deal for Europe report. Notably, the Global Women’s Strike has been a vocal supporter of the Green New Deal and its Care Income.
You can read the full Green New Deal for Europe report here.
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