Written by Anjana Aravind
Expert Columnist on Climate Change, Law & Order
Climate Researcher, Wind Pioneers, Bangalore
Disclaimer: Please note that the views expressed below represent the opinions of the article's author. The following does not necessarily represent the views of Law & Order.
For thousands of years, ever since tribal communities converted to agrarian ways of living, the supply and demand of natural resources have been controlled by men, be it water, food, land, raw materials for construction, tools, or equipment. Today, the world’s agribusinesses, pharmaceuticals, water, and power suppliers are all industries dominated by men, even in countries with the highest standards of gender equality.
While the past few decades have seen more attention surrounding feminism, within the public sphere, few mainstream conversations have been centered around the enormous power bias within global resource control.
While urban, middle-class feminism deals with issues of personal sexuality and body autonomy as means to dismantle patriarchal power, it must be remembered that these are all the consequences of a centuries-old system that placed men as the suppliers/controllers and women primarily as consumers. This means ultimately women are seen as ‘disposable,’ since women only served in caregiving and reproductive roles. As explained in an article on natural resource justice (Sweetman & Ezpeleta, 2017), “political participation and leadership, and business and industry, are all still seen as masculine domains. The same social norms that distance women from power, control, and decision-making about natural resource use, also prevent them from gaining decent work in extractive industries.”
This article takes a look at the reasons why this power imbalance could be exacerbating climate change, and how involving women in these roles is essential to mitigating further disastrous consequences.
Toxic Masculinity: An Enabler of Climate Change
According to previous studies, “women expressed greater levels of altruistic concern and cooperation for the sake of the ecosystem, while men expressed more competitiveness for resources” (Arnocky & Stroink, 2010). When we take into account the fact that empathetic men tend to be more eco-friendly than unempathetic women, we see that it is social conditioning that has promoted a lack of empathy and compassion among boys and men, and not the difference in chromosomes. In a patriarchal world, it is not considered “masculine” to care for or prevent inflicting harm on, the environment, or even weaker sections of the population. This is a huge obstacle on the road to mitigating climate change, particularly since empathy lies at the heart of climate-conscious behavior (Wallach, 2020). In a study published by Scientific American (Wilkie, 2017), it was revealed that men are more likely to avoid green products and behaviors in order to not feel “feminine”. When the male participants felt emasculated, they tried to reassert their masculinity by making non-eco-friendly choices.
The researchers concluded that the ‘green-feminine stereotype’ dissuades men from environmental activism and concluded that masculine affirmation and branding are essential in narrowing the gender gap within environmentalism.
What is not talked about in the study, however, is the fact that the invariable branding of eco-friendly products in a feminine manner stems from the dominance of males in the manufacturing, as well as marketing, sectors. Environmentally-friendly products are presented by most major brands as a choice, rather than as a default (just as men are seen as the ‘default’ and women as a ‘variant’ of humanity), implying that providing goods whose supply chains cause minimal damage to the environment is not seen as essential. This is because to show such a high degree of empathy or concern for nature and labor is not something that corporate men in the upper-management have been conditioned to do.
Thus, the term ‘eco-friendly’ becomes a marketing term that is used to capture a certain kind of customer (mostly female), putting the onus of conscious consumption on the buyer while the company manages to retain its masculine appeal by offering its regular, non-eco-friendly products on the same shelves.
These masculine attitudes also impact politics, not just the manufacturing industry. Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, Bolsonaro’s active role in burning even more of the Amazon, and their mutual opinion that climate change is a hoax (Tharoor, 2019), are prime examples of the lengths that some men are willing to go to in order to prove their masculinity and undermine environmental empathy because to care is to be feminine.
Bearing the Brunt
According to the U.N. estimates (Halton, 2018), 80% of those displaced by climate change so far were women, and since they make up a majority of the world’s disadvantaged and agro-dependent communities, women will also bear an oversized burden of the consequences of global warming. Evidence points to the fact that female leadership is key to helping both women and the climate. In a study by professors at Curtin University on the legislatures of 91 countries, they found that female representation in national parliaments resulted in countries adopting more stringent climate change policies (Mavisakalyan & Tarverdi, 2019).
In a part of the Brazilian Amazon where the country’s highest rates of deforestation take place, an all-female group of the Indigenous Guajajara people, who call themselves the ‘women warriors of the forest’ or ‘guerrillas de floresta’ in Portuguese, frequently patrol their territory and protect it from loggers, illegal commercial activity and land-clearing (Loures & Sax, 2020). For the Guajajara, patrolling their land is a familiar tradition to them, dating back several centuries, but today they are armed with satellite technology and sometimes coordinate with law enforcement as well. The effects of their actions have been hugely significant for that part of the Amazon; by saving the forest they are, in turn, saving the world. But their efforts are rarely rewarded, and they face not only internal battles within the community to be able to act as warriors but also the external and very existential threat of murder and gender-based violence over land conflicts. Only a small fraction of the cases affecting indigenous communities are ever brought to justice.
A largely significant share of the world’s biodiversity and carbon stores are housed in approximately 25% of the earth’s land which is wholly managed by indigenous communities. In particular, indigenous women’s knowledge and leadership are key to good resource management.
A review of existing scientific literature has proven that including women in natural resource management leads to better governance and improved conservation (Leisher et al., 2016).
According to McKinsey, if all countries were to allow women to play an identical role in labor markets as that of men, it would have the potential to add almost USD 28 trillion to global annual GDP by 2025 (Manyika et al., 2015), which is a 26% increase and substantially more than enough to cover the ‘climate finance gap,’  which is the (theoretical) amount of money needed to combat climate change.
Even when the research points to the benefits of women’s participation in public and industrial spheres, their mettle is often doubted. According to past, as well as updated, research from the Harvard Business Review, women consistently outscored men in 17 of the 19 leadership capabilities that differentiate excellent leaders from poor ones (Zenger & Folkman, 2019). The study also mentions that women were perceived by their managers to be slightly more effective than their male counterparts at every hierarchical level and almost every functional area of the organization.
Apart from the economic security and growth saw during Angela Merkel’s long-standing term in Germany or Jacinda Ardern’s exceptional handling of the COVID-19 in New Zealand, Sheikh Hasina is an example that’s much closer to home. She has not only ensured stability along India’s eastern border but has brought Bangladesh’s economy from that of a backward nation to its present ‘middle-income’ status (Chaudhury, 2019) while overtaking India’s per capita GDP and acting in exemplary contrast to her male counterpart here in India, where tenets of the constitution are falling apart.
According to the Rutgers’ Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP), the 2020 elections would have resulted in a more significant landslide victory for Biden-Harris, who at least projected a more liberal, socialist, and environmentalist front than the Republicans, had only women voted (2020 Presidential Gender Gap Poll Tracker, 2020). Women have always tended to lean more towards socialist ideologies than males, and within a capitalist framework, they are also guaranteed to face more inequality due to a skewed division of resources that favors men, which we can see in practice in the world today.
As long as this resource division favors men, and as long as traditional notions of masculinity present the environment and women as resources to be ‘controlled,’ the fight against climate change will be one fought in vain.
Women need to actively take up leadership roles within public and private sectors that directly control natural resources, be it oil, renewables, water, or agriculture, in order to raise not only women’s but the environment’s bargaining power against patriarchal capitalism.
 The climate finance gap refers to the funds required to achieve the global transition to a low-carbon future as outlined by the Paris Climate Agreement. Estimates range between $1.6 trillion to $3.8 trillion annually between 2016 and 2050.
1. 2020 Presidential Gender Gap Poll Tracker. (2020, July 27). CAWP. https://cawp.rutgers.edu/presidential-poll-tracking-2020#NPGR
2. Arnocky, S., & Stroink, M. (2010). GENDER DIFFERENCES IN ENVIRONMENTALISM: THE MEDIATING ROLE OF EMOTIONAL EMPATHY. Current Research in Social Psychology. https://crisp.org.uiowa.edu/sites/crisp.org.uiowa.edu/files/2020-04/16.9.pdf
3. Chaudhury, D. R. (2019, January 20). How Sheikh Hasina changed Bangladesh from a basket case to a middle-income country. The Economic Times. https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/international/business/how-sheikh-hasina-changed-bangladesh-from-a-basket-case-to-a-middle-income-country/articleshow/67603020.cms?from=mdr
4. Halton, M. (2018, March 8). Climate change “impacts women more than men.” BBC News. https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-43294221
5. Leisher, C., Temsah, G., Booker, F., Day, M., Samberg, L., Prosnitz, D., Agarwal, B., Matthews, E., Roe, D., Russell, D., Sunderland, T., & Wilkie, D. (2016). Does the gender composition of forest and fishery management groups affect resource governance and conservation outcomes? A systematic map. Environmental Evidence, 5(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13750-016-0057-8
6. Loures, R., & Sax, S. (2020, August 21). Amazon ‘women warriors’ show gender equality, forest conservation go hand in hand. Mongabay Environmental News. https://news.mongabay.com/2020/08/amazon-women-warriors-show-gender-equality-forest-conservation-go-hand-in-hand/
7. Manyika, J. W. J., Dobbs, R., Madgavkar, A., Ellingrud, K., Labaye, E., Devillard, S., Kutcher, E., & Krishnan, M. (2015). How advancing women’s equality can add $12 trillion to global growth. McKinsey & Company. https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/employment-and-growth/how-advancing-womens-equality-can-add-12-trillion-to-global-growth/
8. Mavisakalyan, A., & Tarverdi, Y. (2019). Gender and climate change: Do female parliamentarians make difference? European Journal of Political Economy, 56, 151–164. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ejpoleco.2018.08.001
9. Sweetman, C., & Ezpeleta, M. (2017). Introduction: Natural Resource Justice. Gender & Development, 25(3), 353–366. https://doi.org/10.1080/13552074.2017.1395138
10. Tharoor, I. (2019, August 23). Analysis | Bolsonaro, Trump and the nationalists ignoring climate disaster. Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2019/08/23/bolsonaro-trump-nationalists-ignoring-climate-disaster/
11. Wallach, A. (2020, March 2). Why we need to be more emotional to save the world. Www.Bbc.com. https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20200228-how-our-emotions-could-help-save-the-world
12. Wilkie, A. R. B., James E. B. (2017, December 26). Men Resist Green Behavior as Unmanly. Scientific American. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/men-resist-green-behavior-as-unmanly/
13. Zenger, J., & Folkman, J. (2019, September 23). Research: Women Score Higher Than Men in Most Leadership Skills. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2019/06/research-women-score-higher-than-men-in-most-leadership-skills