Women's Leadership in the Green Economy
Good Jobs, Green Jobs Event
Presented by: Nicole Zarafonetis
February 9, 2011

I would like to thank WEDO for inviting me to speak on this panel. The importance of women's leadership in the green economy cannot be overlooked or overstated. I would like to start my presentation with a bit of background information on what my organization, Gender Action, does, then discuss the impacts of climate change on women in developing countries and finally, examine the importance of women's leadership in the international arena of climate finance.

Gender Action is the only organization dedicated exclusively to promoting gender justice and women's rights and ensuring that women and men equally participate in and benefit from International Financial Institution investments in developing countries.

The International Financial Institutions, or IFIs, are public, taxpayer-funded financial institutions that have been established by more than one country, and are therefore subject to international law. Their owners, or shareholders, are generally national governments. The best known IFIs are the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the International Finance Corporation, which were established after World War II to assist in the reconstruction and rebuilding of Europe. Other IFIs you may have heard of include the African Development Bank (AfDB), the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the European Bank of Reconstruction (EBRD), the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the European Investment Bank (EIB).

The IFIs have the main goals of promoting sustainable economic growth, fostering financial stability and reducing poverty in the developing world. They do this through the provision of loans to developing countries. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, such as undemocratic governance, loan conditionalities, and ineffective gender policies, Gender Action believes that the IFIs exacerbate the situation for those in developing countries, particularly for women and girls.

Despite their strong rhetoric on gender equality, Gender Action's has found that the implementation of the gender policies within the IFIs have been weak. Our research has demonstrated that the IFIs consistently fail to take into account the gender needs and impacts of their investments. In fact, Gender Action has found that since 2002, IFIs have spent trillions of dollars in 'donor' investments that sometimes contribute to negative gender impacts among the poor 'beneficiaries'. In spite of their commitments to gender equality, IFI projects ranging from HIV/AIDS and reproductive health to extractive industries rarely consider the importance of gender.

Gender Action thus aims to raise awareness and advocacy on the IFIs and their neglect of gender concerns.

Recently, Gender Action has started to look at gender, climate change and IFI investments. Unfortunately, we have found that despite their public commitments to invest in renewable energies, IFIs continue to invest in oil, gas, dams and biofuel projects that exacerbate climate change. Through continuous investments in fossil fuels, IFIs have contributed to increases in green house gas emissions, loss of biodiversity and livelihoods. For instance, between 2007 and 2008, the World Bank Group increased its fossil fuel investments by 94%, spending over $3 billion on coal, gas and oil projects (Bank Information Center 2008).

This trend is illustrated further when in April 2010, the World Bank approved a nearly $4 billion loan to South Africa for a coal mine, a mine which will become one of the largest in the world. The World Bank has promised that this coal mine will reduce poverty, yet poor people are being displaced from their homes. Farmers, the majority of whom are women, are losing their land and sources of livelihood. Additionally, the coal plant will harm the environment and people's health. Gender Action is continuing to monitor investments such as these and expose the harmful gender impacts of such fossil fuel generating projects.

IFI 'dirty investments', like the South African coal mine, disproportionately impact poor women. The lack of recognition by the IFIs of the gender disparities in decision-making, access to information, property rights and unequal divisions of labor result in women bearing most of the burden of IFI-financed projects that affect the climate. Droughts, conflict, natural disasters, poor agriculture, disease and loss of livelihoods are all factors that arise from IFI projects leave women especially vulnerable. Let's take a brief look at each of these issues.

Conflict may arise due to tensions over natural resources, which may intensify due to droughts, floods and soil erosion. In some areas, strains on natural resources due to droughts increase the likelihood of civil war by 50%. During times of civil war, women are at an increased risk of domestic violence, sexual intimidation, rape and human trafficking. IFI investments for post-conflict reconstruction deepen such negative impacts through gender insensitive projects and policy reforms, further impoverishing women and men (WEDO 2007; Davis et al. 2005; Gender Action 2007b).

With regards to natural disasters, IFI reconstruction interventions consistently fail to include gender concerns. Women and girls are disproportionately affected by natural disasters, and are more likely to die from them than men (Neumayer and Pluemper 2007). For instance, in the 2004 tsunami, 70-80% of all deaths were women. Similarly, in the 2004 cyclone in Bangladesh, 90% of the 140,000 people who died were women (IUCN 2004a). The reasons for such high disparities are directly linked to social and economic factors. As men and boys are more likely to work in public spaces, they are more likely to hear the warning signals, receive preferential rescue treatment and often the first to be given food aid. Gender Action's 2008 study of reconstruction efforts in post-tusnami Indonesia revealed that "despite firm World Bank administered multi-donor trust fund commitments to address gender issues, no fund projects include gender equality goals in the project objectives, and most projects fail to integrate gender issues in their analyses of the project's social context and monitoring and evaluation" (Gender Action 2008a).

Concerning agriculture, IFI infrastructure and extractive industry projects often take hold of and contaminate lands. As women make up 70 to 80% of the world's farmers, they consequently lose their livelihoods in affected areas and are less likely than men to find employment in formal sectors. Moreover, women and girls may spend up to three hours or more collecting wood for fuel and water for their families and communities, thereby decreasing the amount of time allowed for formal employment or even schooling (IUCN 2004b). IFI projects often fail to take into account the gendered nature of these tasks, and with the effects of climate change, droughts, floods and desertification only exacerbate the situation.

As women worldwide are responsible for the majority of care work within households, illnesses caused by natural disasters, water contamination or famine, result in the increased burden on women to care for the sick as well as the increased risk of exposure to disease (particularly malaria and HIV/AIDS). Despite the evident burden on women and girls, Gender Action's findings have revealed that IFIs in recent years have decreased their spending to improve health, particularly Reproductive Health and combating HIV/AIDS (Gender Action 2007a; IUCN 2007).

As is evident from the above examples, one can see that the situation resulting from IFI projects and their lack of gender sensitivity is stark. Investment trends, like the South African coal mine, contradict the World Bank's image of a 'climate bank', where funds, such as the Climate Investment Funds (CIFs) and Forest Carbon Partnership Facility have been created to curb the effects of climate change through mitigation and adaptation strategies. Such funds, as demonstrated in several Gender Action publications, will not only increase the debt of developing countries, but continue to weaken efforts to achieve gender and climate justice.

For instance, the climate funds administered by the World Bank directly compete with international treaties and climate organizations, such as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Kyoto and Bali climate agreements, which potentially undermine the relatively democratic agreements of the UN and possibly diverge funds needed from the UN climate program. Moreover, these funds use the same gender-insensitive frameworks and governance as other World Bank projects, and therefore fail to consider or account for poor women and girls in project design and outcomes. Overall, these funds fall short on World Bank's commitments to gender equality, deepening the climate crisis and further impoverishing women in the developing world (Gender Action 2009).

So, what needs to be done?

First, it is crucial that the IFIs recognize that climate change impacts are gendered and that women and men have different responsibilities in their communities, and therefore have different mitigation and adaptation needs. For instance, women, as the majority of the world's farmers, have specific knowledge, and therefore know about biodiversity, crop diversification, alternative cultivation methods, water collection, food preparation and forest harvesting---all which are crucial for mitigating and adapting to climate change. Local women must participate at every decision-making level and IFI consultations and negotiations must fully include women and affected communities. IFI investments should improve women's access to and control over natural resources, land and climate change planning and governance processes. Moreover, IFIs must recognize and acknowledge women's climate knowledge when it comes to planning, implementing and monitoring climate change projects. Gender sensitive indicators and sex-disaggregated data must also be developed and used during all levels of project planning, implementation and monitoring (Gender Action 2008b; Gender Action 2009).

Second, all climate change financing should be administered under the UNFCCC, not the World Bank or IFIs that exacerbate both climate change and gender injustice. Funds like the CIFs, which particularly harm the environment and undermine gender equality, should be shut down and their funds redirected to the UNFCCC other UN mechanisms (Gender Action 2009).

Finally, Gender Action and other civil society groups must hold the IFIs accountable on their promises to promote gender equality and safeguard the environment. Civil society should monitor and advocate for the implementation of international treaties and conventions that mandate gender-sensitive to climate change interventions, such as the International Indigenous Women's Declaration, Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and IFI's own safeguard policies (Gender Action 2008b).

As we have seen, women are the most vulnerable to climate change. It is imperative, therefore, that women be positioned as climate change leaders. Forced to bear the brunt of climate change impacts, their adaptation skills and knowledge place them in a unique position to lead the discussion on climate change. Women can be change Agents. Just because women face unique vulnerabilities to climate change does not mean they should be perceived as victims. Women's survival skills, specialized agricultural knowledge, and resource management capabilities make them powerful climate change leaders. Not only should women be included in IFI managed climate activities at local, regional and international levels, but it is their right to participate (Gender Action 2008b).


  • Aguilar, L. 2007, 'Presentation at WEDO-CWWL Roundtable, September 21: How a Changing Climate Impacts Women'.
  • Bank Information Center 2008, 'World Bank Group Extractive Industries and Fossil-Fuel Financing FY05-FY08'.
  • Davis, I. et. al. 2005, 'Tsunami, Gender, and Recovery'.
  • Gender Action 2006, 'Boom Time Blues: Big Oil's Gender Impacts in Azerbaijan, Georgia and Sakhalin'.
  • Gender Action 2007a, 'Mapping Multilateral Development Banks' Reproductive Health and HIV/AIDS Spending'.
  • Gender Action 2007b, 'The Gender Dimensions of Post-Conflict Reconstruction: The World bank Track Record'.
  • Gender Action 2008a, 'Empty Promises: Gender Scorecard of World-Bank Managed Post-Tsunami Reconstruction in Indonesia'.
  • Gender Action 2008b, 'Gender Action Link: Gender, IFIs and Climate Change'.
  • Gender Action 2009, 'Doubling the Damage: World Bank Climate Investment Funds Undermine Climate and Gender Justice'.
  • IUCN 2004a, 'Climate Change and Disaster Mitigation: Gender Makes the Difference'.
  • IUCN 2004b, 'Energy: Gender Makes the Difference'.
  • IUCN 2007, 'Gender and Climate Change: Women as Agents of Change'.
  • Neumayer, E. and Pluemper T. 2007, 'The Gendered Nature of Natural Disasters: The Impact of Catastrophic Events on the Gender Gap in Life Expectancy, 1981-2002'.
  • Oxfam 2005, 'The Tsunami's Impact on Women'.
  • WEDO 2007, 'Changing the Climate: Why Women's Perspectives Matter'.
  • Whirled Bank Group 2008, 'Agriculture and the World Bank'.

© 2011 Gender Action, All Rights Reserved

Mission statement
Who We Are


Board & Council
Sign-On Letters
Contact us
Donate to Gender Action
Join GA on Facebook! Follow GA on Twitter! Join GA's Mailing List