Executive Summary

Gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls are universal goals in their own right, as explicitly set out in Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5 in the United Nations’ Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development (2030 Agenda), the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), and the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. The OECD has issued two recommendations on gender: the 2013 Recommendation of the Council on Gender Equality in Education, Employment, and Entrepreneurship, and the 2015 Recommendation of the Council on Gender Equality in Public Life. Yet a 2017 progress report on these recommendations shows that gender disparities and biases against women and girls persist in all fields, and calls for effective actions to remove obstacles to ensure equal and equitable opportunities. Addressing gender inequalities is a social, and economic, imperative.

This report uses the SDG framework to explore links between gender equality and environmental sustainability in the nine environment-related SDGs (2, 6, 7, 9, 11, 12, 13, 14 and 15). It provides evidence and rationale for the need to embed gender equality in economic, social, and environmental goals, by identifying trade-offs and complementarities among different policies in the context of Agenda 2030.

Recognising the multiple dimensions of and interactions between gender equality and the environment, this report applies an integrated policy framework taking into account both inclusive growth and environmental considerations. The framework draws on recent OECD guidance including the Policy Framework for Inclusive Growth, the Green Growth Strategy, the Recommendation on Policy Coherence for Sustainable Development, the two gender Recommendations, and related work on gender equality, governance and gender mainstreaming, including the OECD Toolkit on Implementing and Mainstreaming Gender Equality.

Chapters 1 to 3 outline the need to apply the environment-gender nexus to policy making and highlight potential benefits of merging both agendas. These chapters note the limitations of the current SDG framework in this area – e.g. out of the 231 unique SDG indicators, only 20 provide a gender dimension of environmental factors – and considerable lack of data on the gender-environment nexus despite numerous international and national initiatives even beyond the SDG framework. More systematic evidence gathering on gender-differentiated environmental impacts and initiatives emerges as a priority, especially on the differential impacts of environmental factors on men’s and women’s health, economic opportunities that could emerge for women in greener economies, and women’s role in accelerating the shift towards sustainable consumption patterns.

Chapter 4 acknowledges the roles of women, youth and various vulnerable groups (e.g. indigenous peoples and people from small island developing states) in pursuing environmental and climate justice, while calling attention to their environment-related needs at local, national and international levels.

Chapter 5 presents a set of policy measures that could support more systematic evidence gathering on gender-differentiated environmental impacts. Leveraging the gender-environment nexus requires (i) gender equality and women’s empowerment through policies that ensure equal access to quality education and health, as well as gender parity in decision making bodies; (ii) environment-related domestic policies that apply gender a lens in the design of national environmental policies and specific plans on climate change, biodiversity, oceans, and circular economy, including the establishment of environmental standards that account for differential impacts of environmental hazards and risks for men and women (iii) mainstreaming gender in transboundary policies, including trade, foreign direct investments, responsible business conduct, and development co-operation. Implementation could use a number of available OECD standards, and assessment and evaluation mechanisms.

Chapters 6 to 14 examine the nine environment-related SDGs (2, 6, 7, 9, 11, 12, 13, 14 and 15) through a gender-environment lens, supported by comparative data (in the few cases where it is available), case studies, surveys and other evidence. These chapters illustrate that women around the world are disproportionately affected by climate change, deforestation, land degradation, desertification, growing water scarcity and inadequate sanitation. This is especially the case in developing countries and in some rural communities, where women may have more limited access to land, natural commons, and other assets than men; may face barriers to decent work and finance, compounded with a skills gap and lack of information; and are more likely to shoulder an over-proportionate share of unpaid work, including household and family chores. Some of these challenges are also present – though on a different scale – in developed countries, especially where women face greater opportunity costs from inadequate and unsafe transport and infrastructure, adverse environmental health outcomes from air pollution, climate change and toxic chemicals entering food chains. The report upholds that a gender-responsive approach to land use, water, energy and transport management policies would allow societies to support and enhance the role of women in promoting more sustainable and inclusive economic development, and increase well-being. Each chapter proposes possible actions that governments and other stakeholders could take into consideration when designing and applying environmental policies.

Across all chapters, the report recognises women as agents of change in the transition to a low-carbon economy, and identifies their role as part of the labour force, as consumers, and as decision makers. Integrating gender equality is essential for the successful implementation of a circular economy, management of natural resources, and digital innovation, among other key areas. Barriers preventing the full participation of women in this transition – such as the gender gap in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects – are also identified. More broadly, prevailing social and cultural norms, and their extension to societal and economic structures, limit women’s access to economic opportunities in environmentally sustainable activities and in environmental leadership positions in both the public and private sectors. The just transition should include a gender perspective that actively promotes women’s empowerment, to guarantee equal opportunities for both men and women in the workforce.


This document, as well as any data and map included herein, are without prejudice to the status of or sovereignty over any territory, to the delimitation of international frontiers and boundaries and to the name of any territory, city or area.

The statistical data for Israel are supplied by and under the responsibility of the relevant Israeli authorities. The use of such data by the OECD is without prejudice to the status of the Golan Heights, East Jerusalem and Israeli settlements in the West Bank under the terms of international law.

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