Green Jobs: Women and the Birth of Earth-Care
By Mary Liepold, Peace X Peace Editor in Chief
This earth, the home we all share, is in serious trouble. Temperatures are rising, water supplies are dwindling, air quality is declining, and an increasing demand for energy is being met primarily by the old extractive technologies that foul our air and water and crank up the heat, muffling earth’s atmosphere in greenhouse gases.
It’s a vicious cycle, and women have even more reasons than men to reverse its direction.
Planet Care Is a Job for Women
We fear for our children’s health today and the quality of their lives tomorrow. In most developing countries, women produce between 60% and 80% of the food. Yet when rations are short, we’re likely to eat last, whether by choice or because local tradition demands it.
Worldwide, we own less than 2% of all private land. It may seem, because women have fewer rights than men in most societies, we have less opportunity to change things for the better. But slowly, and as surely as the sun rises, women are gaining power around the world.
It is likely to be green power―good for the earth―for a number of reasons. First, women are usually more open to new ways of doing things precisely because we have less of a stake in the status quo, the hardened power structures and the habits of short-term thinking that created the fix we’re in. As the bearers of life and the bridges between generations, we are accustomed both to thinking long-term and to finding creative, often cooperative ways to make do even when times are tough.
“Here in Malawi a large proportion of people involved in environmental issues are women, says teacher-trainer and Peace X Peace member Sellina Kanyerere-Mkweteza. “I guess they are tired of walking long distances to fetch firewood, and they are empowered to make business from the wildlife while taking good care of it.”
Governments everywhere are committing to change, and the challenges to our survival are creating new opportunities for planet-saving work. “Green Jobs and Women Workers,” a September 2009 international study funded by the government of Spain, emphasizes the need for global cooperation to secure decent wages and working conditions in the jobs created to halt or reverse global warming. Otherwise, the authors warn, the green goldmine could yield “solar sweatshops and slave labour on bio-plantations.”
What Makes a Job Green?
Green jobs are typically defined as those that conserve energy, expand renewable energy sources, and conserve or improve the environment. These include retrofitting buildings for energy efficiency; expanding public transit and freight rail; building cutting-edge electrical grids; and developing wind, solar and biofuel energy. Except for a few jobs in research and development and a great many in the back office, these are not areas that have traditionally employed women, even in the so-called first world. In the US, where women now hold close to 50% of all jobs (and have fared better than men in the current hard times) we still claim only 12% of engineering jobs and 3% of the hands-on jobs in construction. That’s a step up from the 1950s, after the returning vets sent Rosie the Riveter back to the kitchen, but it’s nowhere near what it could and will be.
Women’s achievements in many fields that were once closed to us, as well as in competitive sports, show that men have no monopoly on strength or skill. (As I write this in my home office, I’m waiting for a woman plumber to come and unclog my kitchen drain.) Large numbers of women will join men in producing wind turbines, solar panels, and electric auto batteries. But even in the world’s most developed countries, we will need proactive government and industry policies to ensure that women are hired in sufficient numbers in nontraditional fields. We will also need policies that make it easier for women to balance work with family responsibilities and protect them from sexual harassment and worse mistreatment on the job.
If we define green jobs more broadly, though, we see more immediate opportunities for women. The level of culture change that can move us to a brave new green world will require workers in areas where women are already established in some countries and could be in all.
One of the most exciting ideas being proposed is paying rural dwellers to repair and protect the natural environment as they have always done. Like the work women perform to nurture families, these activities are usually left out of economic calculations. Paying for them could generate large numbers of jobs. In South Africa, a public Working for Water program is already providing salaries for 25,000 hard-working people who had been considered unemployed. The majority of them are women.
The reports cited above mention land reclamation and restoration; food production; forestry, as well as management of parks and natural resources, fisheries, and wildlife; waste management; administering new energy resources; and compliance monitoring and enforcement. With their focus on green technology, though, they neglect to mention education and nonprofit advocacy to build public support or political work to secure equitable eco-policy and the funds for implementation. Solutions on the necessary scale will remain beyond our reach without these basic culture-changing activities.
School teachers at every level and in every subject have precious opportunities to mold the next generation of earth-keepers and environmental stewards. Sellina is molding the molders in Malawi, and she’s optimistic about the future.
“New jobs have been created in the areas of advocacy, monitoring, and evaluation of various programmes. Animal sanctuaries have been opened, and people are employed to take care of animals and plants. Now and then, the Malawi Television shows women involved in small projects like bee keeping, growing mushrooms, poultry production, keeping fish, and growing native trees. . . . The President himself plants a tree every year, because natural resource and water management is one of the six key areas of the Malawi Growth and Development Strategy.”
We’ve Only Just Begun
All the members I talked with in developing this story were optimistic, but Melody Green in Australia and Yi Wang in China both described their countries as still developing the awareness it will take to create green jobs in sufficient numbers.
“This is definitely still a fledgling industry in Australia,” Melody says. “Most jobs are offered by government departments, local councils, university grants, local and state government funded projects, and conservation type groups. Jobs therefore are short-term contracts (1-2 years or less), casual or part time. A lot of businesses are watching their carbon footprint internally but have action groups within their organisations―in other words a part time add-on to people’s jobs where volunteers are willing. If you do a search on http://www.seek.com.au/, you will notice that a very strange selection of jobs comes up under ‘green jobs’ and conservation gets just a slightly better response. You know we have an industry when Seek lists it separately, and that is not the case at present. So where do you find women? In the communications and organisational space, not necessarily out in the field. …”
Former Peace X Peace intern Yi Wang reports from her home town, Hangzhou, China. “I believe that the Copenhagen Climate Conference surely brought the topic to China and addressed the environment as the biggest threat to human beings. I think that in mainland China we are experiencing the early stage of this Green Revolution. People are still trying to understand the term “low-carbon,” the definition of “green technology.” As far as I can see, right now in China the term “green” is more associated with “Green Marketing” or “Green Consumption” in the business industry. I am afraid it has not evolved into our daily life yet.
BUT people in China are paying more and more attention to the Green issue. . . . For example, a job of Senior Project Officer posted by World Wildlife Fund, the global conservation organization, was viewed by 393 applicants as soon as it went up. . . . Apparently, this green industry is creating more job opportunities in China, and I am sure women will take a big part of this movement.”
Yi commends the local Hangzhou government for its new program to promote recycling, with bright color-coded trash receptacles. “It’s a good start isn’t it?”
In fact, governments can have an impact beyond their own borders. Media pioneer Isan Turkieh is featured in Patricia Smith Melton’s book Sixty Years, Sixty Voices: Israeli and Palestinian Women.
“There are many achievements in Palestine on the green peace and developing and creating projects to improve our environment. Through my work in the Palestine TV, I have a little knowledge of this development. A lot of projects in Palestine are implemented by the Japanese government―in Jericho, for example, such as burying waste products to use later for the plants, using sun as a resource to generate electricity, treating wastewater, and trying to plant trees in the deserted areas. . . . Establishing infrastructure for Palestinian villages will help our environmental development [but given our relationship with Israel], this will not happen without the help of the international community.”
Peace Is a Green-Collar Job
Here in the US, President Obama has made green-collar jobs a major part of his approach to the economic crisis. On Dec. 6, 2008, he said, “We will create millions of jobs by making the single-largest new investment in our national infrastructure since the creation of the federal highway system in the 1950s.”
But with two wars abroad and 10% unemployment, we, too, are still at the earliest stages, the birth, of a green revolution. Governments, international organizations like the World Trade Organization, corporations, and nonprofits all have essential roles. Still, the necessary large-scale financial commitments will not be made and model programs will not be taken to scale until each of us makes a commitment to reduce her own carbon footprint and exercise her personal power to promote peace with―and on―planet earth. That’s green job number one.
Originally posted on the Peace X Peace website as part of the PeaceTimes Edition 103 Peace is Green.