Posted by Sam Kelly

Why gender equality is key to climate action … and why it helps to take a sectoral view

Climate change affects women and men differently: women are typically at a greater disadvantage, both in terms of the adverse impacts of natural disasters, and their ability to access better-paid work associated with the green transition. This is due to pre-existing social and economic inequalities that the impacts of climate change often exacerbate. For example:

  • Women are more likely to experience job losses, food insecurity, and displacement resulting from climate shocks due to their concentration in vulnerable sectors and jobs, and lack access to land and resources.
  • Societal norms and structural inequalities hinder women’s access to the economic opportunities arising from climate response efforts.
  • Women continue to be underrepresented in leadership roles in the public and private sectors, which means that policy and decision-making on climate change is being led disproportionately by men.

When it comes to the world of work, a sectoral perspective is helpful for exploring the practical ways in which women are disproportionately disadvantaged by climate change, and the actions needed to ensure that women and men benefit equally from economic opportunities associated with the green transition.

Renewable energy

The conventional power and energy sector is the single greatest contributor to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and thus the expansion of renewable energy sources is critical to slowing global warming and climate change.

Women are typically under-represented in the energy sector, which has been historically male dominated. Although women’s participation in renewable energy is higher by comparison, women remain less than one third of the global workforce, and are notably underrepresented in leadership roles. This can be attributed to unequal access to education and training, a lack of effective measures on the part of companies to attract and retain female talent, and persistent stereotypes about work in the sector and its relative ‘suitability’ for women and men.

Yet the renewable energy sector offers significant employment opportunities – an estimated 40 million jobs by 2030, and another 75 million in other sectors linked to the energy transition. However, these jobs are typically in higher-skilled occupations, where there are longstanding gender inequalities. Thus encouraging more women to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) is critical to ensure access to new jobs in the growing sector.

Opportunities extend beyond direct employment. For example, small-scale renewable energy applications can increase access to energy for rural and isolated communities where conventional power infrastructure is underdeveloped. Improved power supply services in these areas are likely to benefit women disproportionately, by enabling greater use of labour-saving appliances (freeing up more time for income-generating activities) and improving the productivity and profitability of agricultural and home-based microenterprises that are disproportionately run by women.


The agricultural sector accounts for one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions, and is also among the sectors most adversely affected by climate change. Droughts, floods, and extreme weather events inhibit agricultural productivity, reduce food security, increase health and safety risks, and threaten livelihoods across the agri-food system.

While both women and men working in agribusiness will be hard-hit by climate change, women are seen as more vulnerable. Agriculture remains the most important source of employment for women in low- and middle-income countries, but women are often concentrated in lower-skilled informal jobs that are most susceptible to climate shocks. Rural women are more likely to lack access to resources that would enhance their capacity for climate adaptation (land, credit, extension services, machinery, digital technologies), whilst continuing to shoulder the burden of most unpaid domestic and care work that is made more difficult by climate change (for example, by increasing water scarcity).

Closing gender gaps in skills, finance, and access to resources is critical to enable women’s participation in climate-smart production processes and to access higher-skilled jobs in the evolving value chain. This is especially important given patterns of gender segregation in many agribusiness value chains to ensure that ‘greening’ does not widen existing inequalities.

Plastics recycling

Plastic contributes to GHG emissions throughout its lifecycle, and plastic waste is responsible for significant environmental harm. In many developing economies, public waste collection and sorting services are limited or absent and plastic waste collection is dominated by informal waste pickers, many of whom are women, who endure low pay and poor working conditions.

Waste recycling systems often display pronounced gender segregation, reflecting wider gender-based stereotypes, with women concentrated in lower-paying collection and sorting roles while men dominate higher-value, technical or leadership roles in more industrialized segments that are seen as traditionally male occupations.

Development of waste collection, sorting, and recycling systems and infrastructure can help formalize vulnerable waste picking occupations as well as creating new employment opportunities in recycling plants and related circular economy industries (e.g., manufacturing using waste products). Yet the process of formalization can also be a threat to waste pickers’ already-precarious livelihoods. Successful and inclusive formalization of recycling value chains requires a participatory approach that looks to integrate, not exclude, informal waste pickers, and enhances the effectiveness of plastic waste recycling and improves conditions for workers throughout the value chain.

Final thoughts

Climate action is more effective and sustainable where it takes into account and targets gender inequality. Finding more ways to unpack the intersections of climate and gender – which are by no means uniform across contexts or different groups of women – is crucial to ensure that climate action is designed to enhance women’s economic empowerment rather than reinforce inequalities.