Women and the just transition: Steps to promote gender justice

Anna Triponel

May 3, 2024
Our key takeaway: Traditional transition strategies often overlook the diversity of our workforces by primarily focusing on male-dominated sectors. A new ITUC report underscores the need to design just transition strategies that consider all workers, particularly women and those in informal economies. A gender-transformative perspective on the just transition acknowledges the disproportionate impact of climate change on women as well as the opportunities the transition presents for women - as well as other vulnerable and informal workers - to access quality jobs, social protections, and decision-making roles. For companies, this is a crucial reminder of the importance of integrating gender-transformative approaches into their sustainability practices and transition strategies, ensuring that opportunities emerging from the transition are accessible and equitable across all genders and groups.

The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) published Women and Just Transition: Steps Trade Unions Can Take to Promote Gender Justice (April 2024):

  • Gender bias in just transition efforts. The report states that trade unions have been defining what a just transition out of fossil fuel-dependent economies means for workers since the 1990s. Efforts so far have tended to be gender-neutral, which, as the ITUC flags, may inadvertently lead to having a gender bias. Women are disproportionately impacted by climate change due to their dependence on jobs that are more vulnerable to climate impacts (e.g., small-scale food production or water collection) and the higher rates of informality and unpaid work. Meanwhile, women are often underrepresented in decision-making related to transitioning out of fossil fuels, as “in the traditional energy sector (oil and gas), [women] represent only 16% of workers, with even fewer in managerial positions.” The transition, however, “provides a golden opportunity for greater gender diversity” in accessing employment opportunities and social services. A significant concern is that many new 'green jobs' will arise in sectors that are already male-dominated, potentially perpetuating gender inequalities, since - for example - women represent only 32% of full-time employees in the renewable energy sector.
  • The proposal: a gender-transformative approach to the just transition. A gender-transformative perspective on the just transition recognises the disproportionate impact of climate change on women and the opportunities that the transition presents for marginalised groups such as informal workers. This vision involves taking a comprehensive approach to the transition that extends beyond traditional "green jobs" to include other sectors like healthcare, agriculture, and education, where women are predominantly employed. It emphasises the importance of formalising informal work, gender-responsive public services, overcoming sectoral and occupational disparities, achieving equal pay for equal work, and addressing wage and skill gaps. Additionally, a gender-transformative perspective is necessary to ensure that "from the outset, ... as the renewable energy sector grows, it does not repeat the gender biases evident in traditional energy production.” New opportunities, such as solar product distribution, small-scale renewable projects, and energy efficiency services, "may offer accessible entry points for women," providing unions and other actors the chance to bolster possibilities for women in these and other low-carbon jobs. They can also be an entry point to decent work and social protection coverage for “the 2 billion workers globally who are employed in the informal economy.”
  • Taking action for a gender-transformative transition. So far, the ITUC concludes, unions vary in their implementation of a gender-transformative perspective within their just transition work, with some only doing capacity-building work while others fully integrating their advocacy for climate action and gender justice. The report suggests several strategies for unions—as well as other actors including companies and policymakers—to promote a gender-equitable transition. These include (1) raising awareness of the impacts of climate change on women and the importance of a gender-equitable just transition, (2) strengthening capacity to address the links between gender equity and the transition, (3) ensuring diverse representation in discussions to create opportunities for engaging with and listening to women and gender-diverse individuals affected by climate and the transition, (4) developing gender-equitable transition policies and programs, (5) embedding gender equity into existing institutional structures and just transition fora, (6) supporting the upskilling and career advancement of women workers, and (7) using analytical frameworks and monitoring tools to gather evidence on the gendered impacts of the just transition.

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