On the Hottest Day in the UK So Far, A Discussion on a Feminist Green New Deal
Date Posted: Wednesday 3rd June 2020
Last week, the UK Women’s Budget Group hosted an event for the Commission on a Gender Equal Economy on a Feminist Green New Deal. Chaired by Sara Reis from the WBG and Halima Begum from the Women’s Environmental Network, authors Sherilyn MacGregor and Maeve Cohen were interviewed about their new policy paper on what a feminist green new deal would look like. Their insightful work can be read here. With over 250 attendees from around the world, the webinar left me inspired with a feeling of motivation and urgency to do my part to create a more just society—and based on the discussion in the chat, I’m not alone.
While the set of ideas broadly known as a ‘Green New Deal’ have been gaining traction over recent years, MacGregor and Cohen argue in their paper that these alone are not enough to properly address both inequality and the climate crisis. Lowering carbon emissions, democratising the economy and rebalancing power between private and public are crucial measures, but they fail to address underlying racist, patriarchal structures. An example of this raised in their discussion, many ‘green policies’, such as a ban on single-use plastic or shifting towards unprocessed foods, will make women’s lives more difficult because women still take up the majority of unpaid care work. This is not necessarily to say that they shouldn’t happen, but that any differential impacts are prevented or mitigated within the policy itself. For example, a ban on single-use plastics would need to provide an alternative to nappies that does not increase the time burden of domestic labour in order to prevent a disproportionate impact on mothers. Climate change is an intersectional issue with the effects faced by an individual depending on race, gender, location and many other potential axes of disadvantage. If this reality is not accounted for in a response to the climate crisis, then in all likelihood, ‘green’ policies will add additional strain onto already vulnerable groups.
One of the most straightforward examples of an initiative that could be put forth by a Feminist Green New Deal is investment in care. A catchphrase repeated throughout the event, ‘care jobs are green jobs’ reframes what work matters in a green economy. The green tech industry (that more women need to be included in) is not the only one that requires investment. The consistent austerity measures put forth against the care industry over the past decade have left the sector dangerously underfunded. With the majority of care workers consisting of women, and women being the primary demographic in need of social care, this has a disparate gendered impact. The gendered division of labour that leads to material, social and political inequality can be addressed through the investment in and the promotion of a strong care industry. This requires fundamentally rethinking what work is valued in society—a change in social priority that will be absolutely necessary to make a difference. This change may already be happening as a result of Covid-19, which has highlighted how undervalued (and underpaid) essential workers are, and how important they are in keeping our society running.
The Covid-19 crisis that the world is currently facing has spotlighted the damaging effects of inequality and climate change. While there has been celebration around global carbon emissions decreasing during lockdown, this is only temporary unless this opportunity for change is taken advantage of. The pandemic has exposed the lack of resilience of the economy, leaving social and economic infrastructure in need of serious repair. As the government begins to draft and propose ways of building back, we must ensure that they build back better. For the past year, the WBG’s Commission on a Gender Equal Economy has been collecting evidence developing recommendations for policies that restructure the current system to facilitate gender equality. Due to launch in September, this work could not be more timely. We deserve a society that prioritises people and the planet over wealth hoarding and industry. As concluded by Maeve Cohen, ‘We are on the cusp of change. The old order is failing. We can take this opportunity to heal.’ And that is up to us.