Green jobs and the problem of gender disparity

Increasing women’s representation in green jobs will lead to benefits such as boosting a low-carbon and environmentally sustainable economy

March 06, 2024 12:08 am | Updated 07:39 am IST

‘Early hands-on learning, mentorship, scholarships, financial assistance, and awareness generation are crucial to empower women in green jobs-related fields’

‘Early hands-on learning, mentorship, scholarships, financial assistance, and awareness generation are crucial to empower women in green jobs-related fields’ | Photo Credit: Getty Images

The transition to low-carbon development has the potential to add about 35 million green jobs in India by 2047. The International Labour Organization defines green jobs as “decent jobs that contribute to preservation or restoration of the environment”. Many of these span across sectors, such as manufacturing, construction, renewable energy, energy efficiency and automobiles, which traditionally saw a lower representation of women.

Globally, men are likely to transition to green jobs faster than women. Even as India increased its renewable energy capacity by 250% between 2015 to 2021, women comprised merely 11% of workers in the solar rooftop sector. The Annual Survey of Industries 2019-20 shows that women workers are mostly concentrated in industries such as apparel, textile, leather, food, and tobacco. In contrast, a Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) 2019 report shows that men comprise 85% of the work force in sectors such as infrastructure, transport, construction, and manufacturing.

A study in 2023 by the Skill Council for Green Jobs indicated that 85% of the training for green skills was imparted to men while over 90% of women believed that social norms limited their participation in training for green jobs. These restrictive social norms include factors such as the belief that women are unsuitable for certain technical roles, safety concerns, lower representation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) subjects, and familial constraints.

As India embraces a green transition, empowering women and advancing gender equity in climate actions will be one of the keys to unlock the co-benefits of a low-carbon and environmentally sustainable economy. Increasing women’s representation in green jobs has several benefits.

In the short run, it can address the gender biases in the Indian labour market and improve women’s labour force participation rates. In the long run, this can contribute to improving women’s agency and their empowerment by creating economic, technical, and social opportunities.

Address the gaps in data

There is limited data to understand the landscape of women’s work for green jobs in India. Mapping emerging areas for green growth and collecting sex-disaggregated data on green jobs could be the starting point to improve women’s participation. There is need to build evidence on the present and future impact of low-carbon transitions on women workers and entrepreneurs while considering the hidden and invisible roles played by women across different sectors and geographies. This could be done by conducting gender analysis, collecting gender statistics on green jobs through periodic labour force surveys and mobilising additional resources to emphasise and encourage women’s role in the green transition.

Globally, women are being left behind in the worldwide race to achieve climate targets and sustainability goals. This is particularly evident in the transition to a low-carbon economy, where new opportunities are created alongside job displacement and transformation. Recently in a critical stride towards justice and inclusivity in transition planning, COP 28’s high-level dialogue launched ‘Gender-Responsive Just Transitions and Climate Action Partnership’ with a focus on improved data, targeted finance, and skill development.

Given the unequal landscape of women’s work and participation in green jobs, we need to ensure that women can access emerging opportunities from low-carbon transitions. There is a strong need to review the status quo, map the current roles of women, address structural barriers that hinder women’s employment choices, and also create a conducive ecosystem to foster their participation in green jobs.

In India, despite 42.7% of the total number of STEM graduates being women, they represent only 30.8% in engineering, manufacturing and construction programmes which are the key sectors for green transition. To bridge this gap early hands-on learning, mentorship, scholarships, financial assistance, and awareness generation are crucial to empower women in green jobs-related fields.

Supporting women entrepreneurs

Gender-focused financial policies and products catering to the requirements of women entrepreneurs can spur their ability to enter the green transition market. Collateral-free lending, financial literacy training and building supportive networks are crucial steps to unlock their potential. Suitable tools must be developed to assess creditworthiness, disburse loans, and reduce operational costs for women-owned businesses.

Finally, bringing in more women into leadership positions to incorporate gender-specific needs in low-carbon development strategies can promote women’s integration in green jobs.

A gender-just transition demands a multi-pronged strategy that focuses on employment, social protection, reduces the burden of care work, and enables skill development. Partnerships across government, private sector and other stakeholders are necessary to leverage the benefits of innovation, technology and finance for women entrepreneurs and workers.

Businesses must recognise the centrality of gender justice and ensure equity throughout the process of green transition by mitigating barriers that exist due to stereotyping or gender bias and fostering equitable job opportunities for a just transition that benefits everyone. This is the time to build the capacity and support women in meeting the demands of the new world of work and co-design a future pathway that is socially equitable and inclusive for all.

Ananya Chakraborty, Bhawna Ahuja and Arivudai Nambi Appadurai are with the World Resources Institute, India. The views expressed are personal

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