I am always amazed when I walk into meetings with the prime minister and groups campaigning on climate change to find that I suddenly appear to be an endangered species. As a woman involved in climate change campaigning on a national and international level, I am often left stunned to think that over half the world’s population is being represented in meetings across the world by a tiny number of female voices.
From Britain’s environment ministers, past and present, to prominent campaigners such as Jonathan Porritt or George Monbiot, global converts such as Al Gore, and the panoply of climate change negotiators from Kyoto to Copenhagen, men are dominating this debate.
What is it about the issue of climate change that means women do not get involved? Undoubtedly, in the realm of decision-making, it is a failure of politics to catch up with 21st-century equality. In terms of campaigning, environmental journalism and grassroots activism, I suspect the reasons may be more complex, and stem from women themselves feeling shut out from a lot of very male-dominated debates.
I am privileged to represent more than 205,000 women across England and Wales, many of whom have spent the last few years raising awareness about the threat of climate change in their communities. Building on this, the National Federation of Women’s Institutes recently launched a national campaign to get the government to recognise the unique role that women can play. Our members are sending postcards to urge Ed Miliband, the climate change secretary, to do more than pay lip service and to recognise the role of women in agreements at the December climate conference in Copenhagen.
Women remain particularly influential consumers of domestic products and utilities, and could choose greener energy suppliers and appliances. Britain’s women control over £400m more expenditure every week than men do. The consequences of even a tiny proportion of that total being spent with the environment in mind would be huge, and would create demand for more sustainable goods. Think of that the next time you’re standing in the cleaning product aisle in the supermarket.
Women are also still the primary educators of the next generation and so have huge power to change the way children think about their coexistence with the planet. In developing countries, women are the guardians of natural resources – collecting food, water and fuel for their families. They also make up over 70% of the world’s poorest citizens, and because of this they will be hit the hardest when the impacts of climate change are felt, as their position in society in many countries makes them less well equipped to deal with emergencies.
Projects and examples from all around the world have demonstrated that women can be powerful agents of change when they are provided with the right tools, helping to make a better life for themselves, their families and their communities. Individual women can make a difference to the future of our planet. Our members have demonstrated this by building eco-homes, reducing their car use, switching to green suppliers or reducing the energy they use in their homes.
If we want our children and grandchildren to have a world worth enjoying, now is the time for women to stand up and be counted. Forget being indifferent to climate change – make some noise, be an environmental consumer, find out more about the issues, get interested, get involved. Rise up and make your voices known. The status quo is not good enough: women have a powerful and important place in tackling climate change, and know more than anyone the direct impact on families and communities across the world.