Our environment: what women want and the power of the middleman

Chillax Max.

Last week, a poll describing Europeans’ feelings about climate change revealed differences between men and women’s attitudes. While men appeared more confident about our ability to adapt to a changing world, women were more worried about our current impact on the planet. Women were more likely to describe climate change as a serious problem (average score of 7.5 compared to 7.2 amongst men) , and to have undertaken an action to tackle it (14% of men said they had not taken any action compared to 11% of women).

But why this divide?

Perhaps because women, front-line producers and front-line consumers, are being hit with the reality of climate change every day. Meanwhile, their male counterparts are often the middle men of powerful corporations and governments, sweating it out in their suits and ties, but buffeted from the effects.

Vast generalisation I know, but let me expand. Polls after all are built upon generalisation, and I’m having a stab at explaining.

First- to the women as front-line producers. It is well documented that women are now bearing the brunt of agricultural hard graft world over. Mark Tran has written about this trend in Africa repeatedly and a recent report by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs (Girls Grow: A Vital Force in Rural Economics) suggests that females may be the key to agricultural development and food security. Across Europe, more women are becoming self-employed as farm managers, or else heavily dependent upon seasonal wage-work. Examples towards this move, as men migrate to the ever-growing megacities can be found from all over the globe. The result: women are now nose to the soil and more aware of the change.

Women are also frequently touted as front-line consumers. While duff jokes about wives “maxing out” their husbands’ credit cards are pretty far-flung (I wish!), there can be no doubt it is more often a woman than a man in the check-out queue at Sainsbury’s with a family-size trolley of shopping.  The physiology of child birth and our present-day childcare set-up means that it’s the women who are spending more frequently on the essentials. That’s why it’s the women Cameron’s wooing as the female vote feels the recession.

But while women are busy doing growing this and buying that, it seems that it’s the men who are in the positions of power in both the corporate and political worlds. As of February this year,  within Britain’s 100 largest publicly traded companies, only 12.5% of the directors were women. Shockingly, almost half of the companies in the  FTSE 250 index have no women on their boards at all. Yet it is these same companies which are so powerful in our economy, which channel the power of the world’s consumers and producers. It is in these boardrooms that the private interests drive monumental decisions which affect us all – and women aren’t even at the table (unless they’re serving the tea).

The situation is not much better in politics; the arena (supposedly) of public interests. Thorsten (2005) found that globally, women make up only 15.7% of the members of parliament, while in Europe, only six countries empowered women adequately. On the other hand, it is pleasing to note that of the few cabinet roles held by women in Britain, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is one of them. Although even in that case, the unfortunate occupier was somewhat tainted by her husband’s agribusiness interests…

Now its not I think men are doing a bad job – its just that I think women could help them do it better. I’m in no way a man basher, but it is clear that we need change, and that women may be the front-thinkers in recognising this.

The question is, how do we get out of the fields, away from the checkout queues and into the clammy corridors of power? All while retaining our links to the natural world, and our valuable perspective. Answers on a postcard please.

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