THE transition to the green economy will be a major trend shaping socio-economic outcomes worldwide over the next 50 years. The transition to a green economy will create many new jobs around the world, including in Zimbabwe.
But will women share in these new jobs, and will the economic transformation help them move into higher-paid, more stable jobs that require more education and skills?
The short answer is “yes” — provided countries adopt strong policies and programmes to make it happen.
The green economy transition is attracting attention in policy circles but its potential gender impact has been less discussed. Questions, such as, what share of green jobs will be accessible to women and what types of jobs they will be are worth asking now. The answers will forecast whether the green transition will be fair and equitable or biased against women and girls.
The focus on green jobs for women represents an intersection of the concerns of gender advocates, who want to influence post-Covid-19 recovery (in the short-term) and transition to the green economy (in the medium to long-term) and green economy experts and policymakers who seek a better understanding of the gender dimensions of the green economy and how to develop fair and gender-responsive green economy policies in the region.
A range of sectors, such as energy, construction and agriculture, are creating green jobs in Zimbabwe. However, women are underrepresented in key sectors of the green economy that offers the best green jobs.
Those sectors, most likely to create higher-end green jobs, include energy (especially wind and solar), transportation, construction and some niche areas of services (eg green advisory).
Women are overrepresented in agriculture, waste management and certain areas of renewable energy (biomass), which are likely to create mostly lower-end jobs. The mix will depend to a certain degree on the country’s policies.
A positive development, however, is that even in sectors where women are not well represented, they are finding niches, often as small women-led businesses in indirect jobs in green construction, renovation or energy efficiency.
Women face several barriers that may limit their full access to green jobs in the coming years. Some of these barriers are sector-specific, such as social norms that deem construction jobs inappropriate for women.
Others permeate all sectors. These include barriers to women’s and women-led businesses’ access to land, finance and technology; gender segregation in the education system and labour market; laws that limit women’s access to certain tasks and jobs; and structural inequalities reflecting social norms dictating that women should shoulder the great majority of unpaid care work, effectively depriving them of opportunities for other jobs.
The transition to the green economy offers unique opportunities to reduce gender inequalities in Zimbabwe, including by:
Changing perceptions about what is acceptable for male and female jobs, and eroding strong patterns of horizontal gender segregation in the labour market. Many of the jobs in the green economy will be in new occupations, not yet socially assigned to men or women. Thus, there are opportunities for women to claim new jobs as engineers, architects, energy-efficiency advisers, drivers of green buses or green innovators across many different fields. The many women-led small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) installing solar panels across the region illustrate how to pierce the ‘glass walls’ and enter male-dominated sectors such as construction. With the support of strong public policies, these early successes can model new roles for women and have a multiplier effect on coming generations.
Assigning an economic value to women’s unpaid work on behalf of the environment. Women in Zimbabwe play a critical role as managers of natural resources, contributing to the environmental sustainability and resilience of their communities. This work is often unpaid and done voluntarily. New green economic instruments such as carbon credits and payments for environmental services schemes in tourism, forestry and other sectors can change this by assigning economic value to women’s unpaid work. Additionally, the transition to green economic activity can be coupled with upgrading and formalising women’s current activities in the informal economy in waste management and agriculture through women-led collective action and networks. Initiatives in these areas can be scaled up to become game-changers for women in Zimbabwe.
Reducing horizontal segregation in the labour market, to allow women access to all green jobs on equal terms with men, will require a combination of education policies, strong female role models and support mechanisms for women in male-dominated sectors.
Undo gender segregation in education and promote women’s participation in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. If women are to reap the benefits of the green transition in Zimbabwe, there needs to be strong leadership and investment to improve their access to education in technical and STEM subjects and careers at all levels of the education system, from primary to tertiary, including vocational education and training.
Reskill and upskill — Retooling the labour force for the future of work is, according to the African Development Bank, a priority for Africa in the strategy for recovery from economic shocks associated with Covid-19. Their report recommends that governments scale-up efforts to retrain and reskill the labour force as quickly and as broadly as possible to facilitate workers’ transition from low-productivity, obsolete sectors and jobs to new and emerging ones. This is particularly important in the context of women’s access to green jobs in the region. Reskilling and upskilling strategies will be needed to ensure that women can access new green job opportunities in sectors where women are already well positioned, but the greening of jobs will require new skills — for example, in agriculture and services. Training offers should reflect the current and future needs of the labour market, economy and environment.
Develop women’s networks in male-dominated sectors. Such networks can be key to enhancing women’s participation in those sectors, including through the nurturing of female role models. Establishing professional women’s networks and business associations in key sectors of the green economy with higher barriers to entry by women (eg, construction, energy and transportation) is a mechanism to support existing female professionals and encourage others to join. They can be instrumental in advocating for corporate policies adapted to women’s needs, facilitate investments in women-owned businesses and start-ups in these sectors, and be a source for mentoring and coaching of women.
Support the transition towards the formal economy, which can facilitate women’s movement into better-paying green jobs with better working conditions. This will be particularly critical in sectors such as agriculture, forestry or waste, and to lesser extent tourism.
Remove legal barriers and address gender discrimination in legislation. This is a relatively straightforward action that can be taken in the short term.
Key areas for reform include:
Amending legislation to ensure women and men equal rights to ownership of immovable property (land) as well as to equalise the inheritance rights of sons and daughters;
Introducing legislation (and enforcement mechanisms) in the area of sexual harassment in the workplace, particularly in male-dominated areas of the green economy (energy, construction, transport, etc.);
Amending legal provisions that do not allow women to open a bank account or move freely in the same way as men, required for doing business and for holding jobs on an equal basis with men;
Removing legal restrictions on women’s access to specific jobs and tasks, and
Additional policy and legal provisions to incentivise the development of corporate policies for women employees can also play a critical role in certain sectors.
In conclusion, improving women’s access to green jobs must begin with country-level conversations in the context of national processes of green economy transition. This requires country-level analysis to find specific solutions that fit each country’s green economic transition strategy, specific to post-Covid-19 fiscal realities and gender dynamics in national labour markets.
- Zvendiya is a research and innovation analyst at Ipec and writes in his personal capacity. — email@example.com. These weekly New perspectives articles, published in the Zimbabwe Independent, are coordinated by Lovemore Kadenge, an independent consultant, past president of the Zimbabwe Economics Society and past president of the Chartered Governance & Accountancy Institute in Zimbabwe. — firstname.lastname@example.org and mobile: +263 772 382 852.