This Women’s History Month marks one year since the COVID-19 pandemic upended the lives of people across the globe. The impacts that climate change, COVID-19, and the economy have on women and girls are interconnected, and to ignore these connections would be a disservice to some of the most vulnerable people in our society. Women and girls are already in a precarious place in society—globally, women often earn and are able to save significantly less than their male counterparts, lack access to adequate healthcare, and are frequently the victims of gender-based violence. Nearly 3 million women left the workforce over the course of the past year, many as a result of increased caregiving responsibilities at home due to the pandemic. Understanding that there exists a spectrum of gender identities beyond the binary, a recent report found that “most LGBT adults say that they or a household member lost a job or income due to the pandemic (56 percent), which compares to 44 percent of non-LGBT adults.” The problem is significantly worse for many women of color—in December 2020, Black, Asian, and Hispanic women accounted for all of women’s job losses, and 154,000 Black women dropped out of the labor force entirely. Among young Millennials and Generation Z, the economic impacts of the pandemic are also being felt to a higher degree—19.5 percent have “reported they or their spouse or partner experienced layoffs since the pandemic began.” Finally, when considering the impacts of climate change, women account for 80 percent of those displaced as a result of this issue.
As the Biden administration works to rebuild our economy, it is imperative that these recovery efforts center women and girls. The pandemic has worsened women’s overall social and economic security, which means women’s equity must be at the forefront of any legislation intended to address the COVID-19 pandemic. Recognizing this, on International Women’s Day, President Biden issued an executive order establishing the White House Gender Policy Council. This council will oversee the administration’s all-of-government approach to gender equity and equality—a significant step in the right direction.
Despite the fact that climate change impacts people of all genders, its effects are felt much differently by men and women. Due to the same vulnerabilities outlined above, women are less well equipped to handle the devastating effects of climate change. The linkages that exist between women’s overall outcomes and a changing climate cannot be ignored, especially when creating policies to address the climate crisis. For example: after natural disasters strike, women are less able to access critical healthcare, particularly reproductive care, and are at increased risk of experiencing gender-based violence and sexual assault. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, we have about 30 years to transition to a carbon-neutral society to avoid climate catastrophe, and as the climate crisis worsens, we need gender equity to be at the core of any policies designed to address this crisis to ensure that women and girls don’t bear the brunt of its negative impacts.
One way the administration and Congress can prioritize women while building a robust, inclusive, and climate-resilient economy is through a green recovery. Creating high-quality, well-paid, unionized jobs in the clean energy sector, particularly in frontline communities, would go a long way towards addressing the economic, gender equality, and climate crises facing today’s generations. Tribal, low-income, and communities of color have long borne the brunt of the climate crisis, facing toxic pollution, unsustainable development, and systemic disinvestment. Prioritizing these communities in a green jobs recovery would not only help to reduce the harms of past racism and racist policies, but can also create a jobs boon that will put these communities, and the women that are a part of them, on the path to a more just, sustainable future.
A just transition to a 100% clean energy future that rebuilds our economy and uplifts the status of women and girls is not only possible, but necessary. COVID-19 has laid bare and exacerbated the systemic inequalities that women faced even before the pandemic, and demonstrated that solving one crisis can be the path to solving others simultaneously. Now is the time for a bold, green economic recovery strategy that centers women, especially as they have faced significant losses over the past year.