An interview with Linnéa Engström: Gender & Climate

Dear Linnéa, we are in the run-up to International Women’s Day that will take place on March 8. You are a passionate environmentalist and an advocate for women’s rights and gender equality. Why is the fight against climate change also a fight against gender inequality?

In a global context women are more vulnerable to the effects of climate change than men - primarily as they constitute the majority of the world’s poor (66%) and are more dependent on natural resources that are threatened by climate change for their livelihood.

Women and men living in rural areas within developing countries are especially vulnerable when they are highly dependent on local natural resources for their livelihood. Those charged with the responsibility to secure water, food and fuel for cooking and heating face the greatest challenges. When coupled with unequal access to resources and to decision-making processes, limited mobility places women in rural areas in a position where they are disproportionately affected by climate change. Therefore, it is imperative to identify gender-sensitive strategies to respond to the environmental and humanitarian crises caused by climate change.

In short, women often face social, economic and political barriers that limit their coping capacity. This is why gender equality is key in the fight against climate change.

Do women and men impact the climate in different ways?

If we look at the EU, the carbon footprint of men is approximately 25% larger than the one of women. This has been concluded by European scientists, based on statistical data on consumption and daily activities of men and women in ten EU member states. As an example, a typical French woman causes emissions of 32.3 kilograms of carbon dioxide (CO2) per day, on average, while a man causes 39.3 kilograms of CO2 emissions. According to a Swedish study conducted in Germany, Greece, Norway and Sweden, men consume more meat (40 grams more per day compared to women) and processed beverages, use automobiles more frequently and drive longer distances, resulting in greater CO2 emissions.

Why do men have larger climate footprints?

The traditional distribution of money and power leads to the fact that men have greater emissions of climate-changing gases. Research shows that polluting habits attributed to the male population are the result of the social roles men usually play in society – the norms and values, which define traditional masculinity and femininity. These images are very strongly embedded in our minds - a man needs a car "to present himself as cool and wealthy" or that "a real man eats meat." Women tend to pay more attention to body image and health in their eating habits and opt for more yoghurt or fruit and vegetables. But of course that doesn't mean that women are better or that men alone are to blame for climate change.
Another factor that we can’t ignore is income. Women have lower incomes compared to men and there is a correlation between low incomes and low energy consumption. If energy prices are high and you can’t afford to buy more energy-efficient appliances or insulate your house, you rely on changing consumption patterns.

So, this means that women are not "better environmentalists" but rather that it’s about traditional gender roles and incomes?

We need to break with traditional norms - with a traditional way of living and consuming - and that’s why we as Greens are doing something really challenging and provocative when we ask men to change their behaviour. We ask them to apply a more "feminine" way of living, to get rid of their car, use public transport and eat more vegetarian. Many progressive men have changed their behaviour, for them it´s not a problem. However if we look at certain groups, like right wing extremist, traditional masculinity is very important for their identity. That's why it’s so provocative for these types of men with a Green ideology - it's actually challenging their gendered identity.

Why do we need a gender-sensitive approach, especially in climate policy?

Integrating gender into climate policy is efficient policy making and a necessary tool to achieve climate justice in a global context. By introducing gender aspects in climate measures, policy makers will have to consider how different social factors such as education, income and age determine our access to resources and the possibilities to act in a climate friendly way. The result of a gender sensitive approach is that the diversity of social groups and their livelihood are more likely to be taken into account when formulating climate policies. That’s why a gender analysis is the starting point in making climate policy socially fair, and that is why a fight against climate change is a fight against gender inequality.
MEP and Substitute Member of the Committee on Women's Rights and Gender Equality
Miljöpartiet De Gröna (Swedish Green Party)