5. Towards a joint gender and environment agenda

Leveraging the gender-environment nexus requires the design and implementation of policies along three vectors: (i) gender equality and women’s empowerment, (ii) environment-related domestic policies, and (iii) transboundary policies. Implementation could use a number of available OECD standards, and assessment and evaluation mechanisms. However, some adjustments and revisions to the existing tools may be necessary to leverage the nexus effectively. The key actions include:

  • Advancing gender equality policies with environmental goals in mind, taking into consideration that gender equality and women’s empowerment can help mitigate the negative impact of environmental degradation; empowering women in environment-related sectors including equal access to quality education, health and other social services and ending legal barriers to gender equality and discrimination against women; gender equality in employment policies and practices; gender parity in decision-making bodies in the public and private spheres;

  • Integrating a gender angle into environmental strategies and policies, by collecting gender-disaggregated evidence and applying a gender lens in the design of national environmental policies and specific plans on climate change, biodiversity, oceans, and circular economy; establishing environmental standards that take into consideration the differential impacts of environmental hazards and risks for men and women; adapting environmental taxes, subsidies and budgetary tools to consider gender segregation, addressing stereotypes and cultural differences; “genderising” such sectors as energy, transport and farming policies; providing access to finance and technology for green initiatives driven by women and for women’s empowerment;

  • Mainstreaming a gender angle into the environmental aspects of transboundary policies such as trade, foreign direct investments, responsible business conduct, and development co-operation.

This transformative action needs to take place also at the international level. Initiatives and partnerships are currently being set up, addressing among other issues the gender-environment nexus. However, a holistic approach is essential to ensure that crucial evidence collection and analysis takes place.

As this report shows, the relationship between gender equality and environmental sustainability is still an emerging area of research that lacks systematic collection of data and monitoring of initiatives. Despite the international commitments and drive, it is often overlooked by policy makers, businesses and sometimes women themselves. Yet, the existing evidence shows that - in both advanced and developing countries - women are generally more vulnerable to the effects of environmental degradation, are more conscious about environmental risks and more sensitive to a sustainable management of natural resources. Integrating gender equality and environmental considerations in policy decisions can therefore deliver greater well-being for all and accelerate the achievement of all SDGs. It is also clearly beneficial from an economic perspective, as it can boost female employment, promote research and innovation in new technologies and thereby raise productivity.

As highlighted in the report, the intersection between gender equality and environmental sustainability lies ultimately in the fact that discrimination and biases against women, biological and behavioural factors and their role in societies, make women disproportionally vulnerable to and affected by unequal access to assets, energy poverty, unsustainable production, inadequate access to water and sanitation, climate change, in-door air pollution, biodiversity loss, and other forms of environmental degradation. Women are also systematically on the front line of natural hazards and suffer most from crime and chronic stress related to inadequate infrastructure and urban development. At the same time, as users of energy and sustainable consumers, women tend to be more sensitive to ecological, environmental and health concerns.

These differential gender effects and needs are particularly evident in low-income countries, where discriminatory legislation and social norms severely curtail economic opportunities and further expose women to the ongoing degradation of the environment and climate hazards. In advanced countries, there are also various aspects of the gender-environment nexus that need to be tackled, from the impact of air pollution on pregnant women, exposure to chemicals in household products and access to adequate infrastructure, to the role of women in sustainable consumption and the promotion of economic opportunities for women in the green sector. On the other hand, because of their larger presence in manufacturing sectors, men are more exposed to occupational health hazards overall, including exposure to toxic substances.

The main conclusion from the analysis on the gender-environment nexus is the need for an integrated approach to gender equality and sustainability that, on the one hand, takes into account the specific needs, preferences and well-being of women and, on the other hand, ensures their involvement in decision-making. Both are mutually reinforcing: the more women are consulted regarding projects that have an environmental impact and the more positions of responsibility they take up, the more likely will policies and investment projects take into account both gender and environmental considerations. A key policy implication from this analysis is that women must be empowered in a fundamental way to achieve the 2030 Agenda.

The report has highlighted two main challenges to accelerating action to leverage the gender-environment nexus. First, the lack of systematic evidence gathering on gender-differentiated environmental impacts and actions. Second, the absence of a truly integrated, general policy framework addressing economic, social and environmental goals that could be transposed to address the nexus and guide policy choices.

When making economic policies, designing cities, housing, infrastructure, making trade agreements, or using natural resources, the differential impact on women should be reported and collected. The evidence gathered in this paper is based largely on case studies across sectors and countries. In general, there is no systematic data collection that would allow governments and private companies to define their strategies and projects in a more gender-conscious way. Similarly, there is very limited information on transboundary gender and environmental effects.

Agenda 2030 itself is relatively comprehensive in addressing basic gender equality and women’s and girls’ empowerment goals, which are critical to strengthen their positive contribution to environmental goals. However, it falls short in embedding a gender equality perspective in the nine “environmental” SDGs, with six having few gender-specific targets and indicators (SDG 2, 6, 7, 9, 11, 12 and 13) and two (SDG 14 and 15) having none at all (see Table 5.1and Annex A).

Efforts are under way to improve gender-disaggregated environmental data at the global level, coordinated by the UN Statistical Commission, and with contributions by different United Nations agencies in particular UN Women and the UN Environmental Programme, and by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in relation to SDG 15. Various UN reports have also recently addressed the data gap and identified a way forward, including UN Environment Programme (UNEP, 2019[1]), UN Women (UN Women, 2018[2]), and UN Women (UN Women, 2018[3]). The OECD has also recently started addressing the data gap on the gender-environment nexus as part of the Gender Mainstreaming Platform and the work of the OECD Environmental Policy Committee. While all these efforts are welcome and necessary, there is still a long way to go.

While the SDG framework clearly sets out a broad set of targets and indicators regarding gender equality and environmental sustainability goals, it only addresses some aspects of the nexus related to gender discrimination, education and air pollution. It is largely silent on other gender-differentiated environmental impacts, women’s role in environmental protection and sustainable consumption, and access to sustainable infrastructure.

The OECD has developed two Gender Recommendations. The 2013 Recommendation of the Council on Gender Equality in Education, Employment, and Entrepreneurship sets out a number of policy measures and actions to address gender inequalities in education, employment and entrepreneurship (OECD, 2017[4]). Beyond initiatives to provide equal access to education (including measures to make STEM inclusive and attractive for both boys and girls), and put an end to discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace, it sets out actions to better enable female labour force participation, such as promoting family-friendly policies and working conditions, and fostering greater male uptake of unpaid work. It also calls on governments and business to work toward a better gender balance in positions of public and private sector leadership, and promote entrepreneurship among women.

The 2013 Recommendation provides clear guidance on the different aspects of gender equality from a labour market, education policy and entrepreneurship policy angle. All these elements are important ingredients to leverage the gender-environment nexus, in particular in relation to the role of women as economic actors in the transition to a low-carbon and sustainable economy, as leaders, employees and entrepreneurs.

The 2015 Recommendation of the Council on Gender Equality in Public Life identifies the need to “mainstream gender equality in the design, development, implementation and evaluation of relevant public policies and budgets” (OECD, 2016[5]). This requires the development and implementation of a whole-of government strategy for effective gender equality and mainstreaming, the integration of evidence-based assessments of gender impacts and considerations into various dimensions of public governance, measures to achieve gender-balanced representation in decision-making at all levels of government. In addition, the evidence base for measuring progress towards gender equality – across all policy dimensions – needs to be systematically strengthened.

The 2015 Recommendation, therefore, clearly sets out the general goal of gender mainstreaming, systematic evidence gathering and impact assessment. Yet, it does not provide specific guidance by policy area, nor does it develop an integrated framework for policy analysis.

The OECD Framework for Policy Action on Inclusive Growth (IG) is designed to help countries achieve economic growth on a sustainable basis that raises living standards while also respecting environmental boundaries and providing equal opportunities to all by distributing the benefits from economic growth. The Framework is supported by a dashboard of indicators and consolidates key OECD policy recommendations into three areas of action: (i) investment in people and places left behind (for example, through optimal resource management for sustainable growth), (ii) supporting business dynamism and inclusive labour markets (through access to good quality jobs, especially for women and under-represented groups), and (iii) building efficient and responsive government (including the integration of distributional aspects upfront in policy design). It helps countries to consider ex-ante equity issues in policy design (OECD, 2018[6]).

The OECD is currently working on deepening the linkages between the Green Growth Strategy and the Inclusive Growth Framework. The first deliverable is a report that analyses the environment-inequality nexus and outlines policy actions for a just, green transition that fairly redistributes the cost of action and inaction in well-coordinated policy packages It considers the differential impact by gender of air pollution and climate change on vulnerable groups, workers, and regions, across 4 of the 11 well-being dimensions i.e. income and wealth, health, work and job quality, and safety (OECD, 2021[7]).

Neither women nor men are a uniform group, hence a basic condition for better policies is obtaining more granularity on women’s and men’s needs and preferences and better understanding their local conditions, including how environmental changes affect them. There is also a need to map policies to different indicators of women’s and men’s well-being, including health, personal safety and ability to deliver childcare and elderly care. Finally, the interaction between goals and policies should be addressed, so that governments can take actions that ensure policy coherence, address trade-offs and complementarities.

Given all these considerations, a new policy instrument could be developed specifically addressing the gender-environment nexus, or integrating other policy domains where gender mainstreaming is necessary, such as trade, investment and development co-operation.

Following the analysis of gender-environment interlinkages in each of the nine “environmental” SDGs, Table 5.1 shows the various targets that the SDG framework currently “tags” as gender-specific, as well as those for which gender-disaggregation would be relevant.

It is also important to go beyond gender-disaggregated data, and account for the interaction with other related sources inequalities and discrimination that women face, based on ethnicity, faith, socio-economic status and age, among others.

In many countries, mainly non-OECD, capacity development is essential in guaranteeing that statistical authorities will be able to construct and monitor gender-disaggregated indicators and collect data. Capacity development is also necessary to facilitate better statistical co-ordination between countries, spreading methodological good practices for quality statistics, and promoting comparability and benchmarking.

PARIS 211, based at the OECD, works closely with low and middle-income countries to strengthen the capacity of their national statistical systems. In a 2017-2018 survey addressed to 195 states, of which 47% replied, the environmental sector was the one identified as requiring immediate capacity development efforts for statistical data collection (see Figure 5.1) (PARIS 21, 2018[8]). Over the past 10 years, environment-related statistics have been getting less support, compared to economic and demographic statistics, despite the latter being already more developed (PARIS 21, 2018[8]).The aforementioned survey also identified gender-disaggregated data collection as requiring capacity development, even though not at the top of priorities (PARIS 21, 2018[8]).

Both PARIS 21 and the OECD have identified capacity development for the national statistical authorities as one of the points needing further attention (PARIS 21, 2018[8]); (OECD, 2019[9]). As gender-disaggregated data is scarce, more capacity development for new instruments, methodologies, and standards to facilitate gender-responsive data collection is needed. To support truly gender-sensitive policy-making, such data collection would need to take place in both the monitoring and evaluation phases, as well as at the diagnostic and design phases of environmental and climate-related policies.

A new PARIS 21 project, supported under the framework of UN Women’s flagship programme “Making every woman and girl count”, is currently under way, aiming at mainstreaming gender in the national statistical system in Cambodia, Dominican Republic, Egypt, El Salvador, Jordan, Kyrgyzstan, Lesotho, Maldives, and Senegal. The main objective of this project is to ensure that national statistical systems are equipped to produce, disseminate and use high quality and timely gender statistics to inform policy-making and support gender equality. The first step of this process is to assess the current state of gender statistics in the country and integrate gender equality into the National Strategies for Development of Statistics (5-10 year strategic plans, prioritising data collection for the national statistical system) (UN Women, 2019[10]).

In order to bring about lasting and impactful change that tackles the environmental concerns affecting women, there is a need for a whole-of-government approach that brings together these goals at the core of the 2030 Agenda. The adoption of joint gender-sustainability mainstreaming mechanisms and tools, including infrastructure and fiscal policies, is crucial to ensure that administrations build the culture and the capacity to identify differentiated gender needs within their population in relation to the management of natural resources and environmental risks, and to respond to them with gender sensitive policies, services and budgets.

Various institutional and political mechanisms need to be in place, including political commitment and leadership, policy and institutional co-ordination (led either by, or with the explicit support of, Centres of Government), local and regional involvement, stakeholder participation as well as monitoring and reporting. The OECD Recommendation on Policy Coherence for Sustainable Development provides additional guidance on the necessary governance and institutional mechanisms to achieve an integrated approach to tackling and leveraging the gender-environment nexus, in line with Agenda 2030.

Bringing together gender and sustainability goals requires a holistic and coherent policy framework that takes into account the trade-offs and complementarities at the local, national and international levels (global spillovers). Gender equality policies must recognise the role that women play in maintaining ecosystems and in promoting responsible consumption and production patterns. Similarly, sustainability policies must be gender-responsive and mainstream gender equality goals.

The picture below (Figure 5.2) provides a summary of the policy vectors that can help align the gender and sustainability agenda and design policies in an integrated manner. Policy makers should act on all three pillars simultaneously and through cross-cutting policies: (i) tackle all barriers to gender equality and women’s empowerment, (ii) adjust national environment-related domestic policies to align them with environmental goals, taking into account a gender perspective, and (iii) systematically include gender equality and environmental considerations into transboundary policies, that directly affect the operation of local firms abroad (trade and foreign investment) as well as development co-operation.

An integrated policy framework should consider these three pillars systematically, addressing both domestic and transboundary impacts and applying an intergenerational timeframe, in accordance with the Recommendation on Policy Coherence for Sustainable Development.

Transboundary policies are of particular importance in tackling gender inequality and sustainability. In particular, gender and sustainability should be mainstreamed into trade, investment, migration and development co-operation policies.

Stronger monitoring of the activities of companies in developing (and to some extent developed) countries is essential to ensure that corporations promote labour practices that are respectful of women’s rights and the environment. Ensuring decent work and social security to migrant workers in developed countries should be accompanied by efforts to improve companies’ awareness about environmental footprints. A gender and sustainability lens should also be applied to imports, requiring importers to carry out due diligence on their supply chains. The effective implementation of existing international standards, such the OECD Guidelines on Responsible Business Conduct, requires a stronger sanctioning mechanism than is currently in place.

Analysis of the gender-environment nexus also requires a time dimension, as the causal relationships between gender equality, women’s well-being and the environment might only manifest over long time periods. In particular, intergenerational effects are also inherent to both gender and sustainability goals. Gender inequalities tend to be ‘sticky’ and perpetuate themselves across generations, e.g. in environments where women’s empowerment is restrained such as low income households priority tends to be given to boys over girls, be it in education, health or inheritance. This is of particular concern as generational social mobility has been decreasing in OECD countries over recent decades (OECD, 2017[11]). Environmental damage is also by nature an intergenerational process that can take many years to reveal its true cost.

Leveraging the gender-environment nexus requires the design and implementation of policies in the three vectors mentioned above: gender equality and women’s empowerment, environment-related domestic policies, and transboundary policies.

When implementing an agenda for gender equality and sustainability based on these policy vectors, governments can rely on a number of OECD standards as well as assessment and evaluation mechanisms. The following (Sections 5.5.1, 5.5.2and 5.5.3) is a non-exhaustive list of such standards/tools currently available and which can be used in the deployment of a gender and sustainability strategy. In some cases, some adjustments and revisions to the existing toolkit will be necessary to leverage the nexus effectively.

Creating policies to advance gender equality and women’s empowerment are the first and probably most important actions to leverage the gender-environment nexus for environmental sustainability and tackling climate change. All aspects of gender equality and women’s empowerment can contribute to reducing the negative impact of environmental degradation on women and advancing their role in protecting the planet. Some of the most relevant aspects of gender equality legislation, policies and practices for environmental sustainability include the following:

  • Equal access to quality education, health and other social services and ending discrimination against women in environmental research and innovation;

  • Investing in girls’ and women’s education and training with a specific focus on sustainable development and STEM subjects, including vocational training and life-long-learning;

  • Equality in land tenure, inheritance rights, and access to commons such as forests, rivers and marine resources, not only from a legal standpoint but also via effective implementation and enforcement measures;

  • Gender equality in employment policies and practices, with a specific focus on environment-sensitive sectors (mining, transport, water, energy, chemicals, and other heavy manufacturing industries) and ending discriminatory employment practices;

  • Gender parity in decision-making bodies, in both the public and private sector. A greater presence and the meaningful engagement of women, in all their diversity, is needed in environmental decision-making at all levels, including environmental planning, financing, budgeting, and policy-making, from international environmental negotiations to local environmental decision-making;

  • Within the private sector, there is a need for greater female representation in company boards and executive positions, in particular in environment-sensitive sectors that are traditionally male-dominated;

  • Representation of women’s voices in public consultations regarding environment-sensitive projects, in particular, major urban and transport projects, energy, water and other infrastructure development;

  • Equal access to environmental justice for women while further supporting women’s environmentalist movements and amplifying them through community engagement.

Using a gender lens in the design of environmental policies is not only necessary to address the specific environment-related challenges and impacts faced by women, but it also makes these policies more effective. In turn, if gender is not mainstreamed into environment policies, there is a risk of aggravating existing gender inequalities.

National sustainable development strategies, environmental action plans and other economic planning documents need to integrate the gender-environment nexus by including a gender equality dimension to environmental goals and actions. This should include the application of gender impact assessments (GIAs) to different environmental policies under consideration.

A gender lens also needs to be applied to broad-ranging environmental issues, such as climate change, as well as specific environmental policies and tools.

Effective climate change action requires for better gender-responsive national action plans. In turn, this requires bringing a gender lens into sustainability policies targeting the main sectors accounting for GHG emissions: energy, transport and farming (see below). Both the impact of climate change on women and their role in addressing climate change need to be considered.

The twenty-third session of the Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), COP 23, in 2017 fully recognised the link between gender and climate change. Parties adopted the Gender Action Plan to support the implementation of gender-related decisions and mandates under the UNFCCC process (UNFCCC, 2019[12]). The aim of the Gender Action Plan is to accelerate the implementation of the existing more than 60 decisions with gender-related mandates adopted by Parties between 2007 and 2017. Moreover, Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions (BSR) have developed a Gender Action Plan (GAP) in order to implement the BRS‐GAP’s vision aims to ensure that the principles of gender equality are firmly embedded in the activities undertaken by the BRS Secretariat (BRS, 2019[13]). Additionally, conventions like CBD, Ramsar and World Heritage have initiated similar projects.

A second area of environmental policy that requires greater consideration of gender equality and women’s issues is the protection of biodiversity and ecosystems. Policies regarding the management of forests, natural reserves, parks and wildlife should incorporate a gender equality dimension to ensure that the specific role of women in the sustainable management of and their dependence on consumption from these resources is well accounted for. This includes understanding the specific status of women in forest-dependent communities, among whom are indigenous groups. In many developing countries, a root problem to address is the gender gap in access to forest resources, due to customary laws and social norms that discriminate against women. Growing over-exploitation of forests for commercial purposes, which in some cases involves land grabbing, illegal logging and wildlife trade has made this problem worse.

Governments should also continue efforts to incorporate a gender equality perspective into National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans (NBSAPs), the key mechanism through which signatories to CBD implement their goals. NBSAPs provide a major opportunity to integrate women’s empowerment and gender equality considerations into biodiversity management across the agriculture, forestry and fisheries sectors.

Governments also need to design policy solutions to better conserve the oceans with a gender-lens, addressing the specific concerns of degrading oceans for women, including the impact of coastal storms, the depletion of fish stocks and the increase of marine litter. Women also need to be better empowered to contribute to preserve marine ecosystems and sustainably use marine resources and protect coastal areas (in particular mangrove swamps and coral reefs). Their role in developing small-scale, sustainable fishing and their contribution to the livelihood of local communities should also be considered.

A fourth area of environmental policy, which would benefit from stronger integration of gender equality is promoting a circular economy. Despite the large evidence reported on gender differences regarding attitudes among consumers to ecolabels and purchase patterns (e.g. fashion, cosmetics), circular economy strategies rarely include a gender angle. For instance, the EU Circular Economy Action Plan does not report any differentiated gender actions (EC, 2020[14]).

Promoting green energy in the context of energy frameworks, women need to be considered as agents of change and not just stakeholders thus expanding the role women play in the energy transition (Prebble et al., 2017[15]). Energy frameworks from developed countries tend to put forward a gender-responsive approach through designing opportunities for women in energy technology and innovation while developing countries tend to reflect more diverse opportunities to advance a gender-responsive approach, including by addressing time poverty, energy poverty in rural and urban areas and women’s health and well-being (Prebble et al., 2017[15]).

While over time environmental standards have been raised in most countries, there is still insufficient attention being paid to the differential impact of environmental hazards by gender. One of the few areas where there is a consistent gender-based approach is the testing of chemicals. The OECD Guidelines for the Testing of Chemicals specifically require the evaluation of sex-specific effects for many of the tests covered, particularly those of chemicals that disrupt the endocrine system (OECD, n.d.[16]).

Air pollution and water contamination are other environmental hazards that require a gender lens, both because of the specific exposure of women in some contexts (in particular in-door air pollution in developing countries), and the specific biological effects on women. Policymakers should also specifically consider the dangers of high pollution exposure for pregnant women and infants and take the necessary preventive measures.

Environmental taxes and subsidies and other environmental policy instruments can also have a differential effect by gender that needs to be considered as part of policy evaluation. In general, women tend to be more present in green sectors than in polluting industries. Women also tend to be more present in small-scale, artisanal fishing and agriculture, while men dominate large-scale farming and industrial fishing (FAO, 2015[17]) Hence, environmentally centred policy efforts together with a well-structured approach to gender equality can have a positive net effect on female employment in addition to protecting the planet.

Understanding the differentiated impact of public policies, programmes and budgets on the economy, society and the environment is crucial for advancing equitable and inclusive outcomes across all policy sectors. One way to integrate the gender-environment nexus into budgeting is via a “well-being-budgeting” or “SDG-budgeting” approach.

Among all the different sectors concerned by the gender-sustainability agenda, infrastructure (in particular energy and transport) and farming stand out for their potential to accelerate the transition towards achieving the SDGs (OECD, 2017[11]); (OECD/FAO, 2019[18]).

Moving towards a low-carbon infrastructure development model, while tackling gender gaps in infrastructure access and employment, requires mainstreaming gender and environmental considerations throughout the governance cycle and financing, including strategic planning, consultations process, co-ordination across levels and entities of government, adequate use of data and operational quality (Box 5.1).

More effective gender mainstreaming is key for sustainable economic and social outcomes of these projects via improved access to and use of infrastructure, which in turn enhances their economic opportunities and labour market participation of women, including in decision-making positions. Applying a gender lens is also necessary to mitigate negative spillovers on women and other vulnerable groups from project construction and operation, and provides for greater environmental protection, leading to increased well-being for all.

A key policy tool for all infrastructure projects are impact assessments. Such assessments must be comprehensive and be carried out by institutions independent of the project contractors. They must include environmental and inclusiveness considerations in an integrated manner.

Infrastructure also tends to be a male-dominated industry, in part because of the still heavy manual input involved. An added advantage of women’s involvement in the governance of infrastructure is their greater sensitivity to environmental risks.

Farming policies also need to integrate the gender-environment nexus. Tackling gender discrimination and women’s empowerment needs to go beyond private land titles and agricultural production and address the need for women to access shared resources from forests, mountains, rivers, and other commons. This is especially important for indigenous communities given their dependence on shared, ancestral lands.

Policymakers should also consider the specific role of women in traditional and self-sufficient farming and small fisheries and ensure that they consider the gender dimension of the impact of farming and fisheries policies on small landowners. This is highly relevant considering the crucial role women play in the fishing sector, where according to FAO, women account for 50% of fisheries workforces (14-15% in harvesting and up to 90% in post-harvest value chain roles) (FAO, 2015[19]).

There is also a need to better integrate gender equality considerations into National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans (NBSAPs). In particular, there is a need to ensure gender balanced decision-making and access to technology and finance for women-led projects.

Policies to facilitate access to finance and technology require a specific focus on the gender-environment nexus. Because of explicit or implicit discrimination and biases, women may be at disadvantage from accessing adequate finance for green innovation and start-ups. Beyond legislative reform to correct discrimination, positive action to overcome social norms, practices and cultural barriers may include the development of special programmes targeting women green entrepreneurs and small forms run by women.

While there is a growing recognition of the importance of including a gender lens in trade policies, there has been little progress in applying a gender perspective in trade agreements. It is important for such agreements and trade policies in general to prioritise the different needs and rights of disadvantaged groups, in particular (poor) women.

Trade agreements and trade policies should also consider specific aspects of the gender-environment nexus. For instance, trade facilitation initiatives can be particularly beneficial for SMEs, where women’s economic activity tends to be concentrated. Access to trade can particularly benefit small-scale women producers and female cooperatives in the agricultural sector.

In 2017, World Trade Organisation (WTO) members agreed to a Joint Declaration on Trade and Women’s Economic Empowerment, which aims to increase women’s participation in trade (WTO, 2017[20]). A number of recent bilateral and regional trade agreements also include chapters on trade and gender, as well as chapters on trade and environment. There is a need, not only to expand such chapters in trade agreements, but also to ensure an effective implementation of the gender and environmental dimensions.

Businesses investing abroad should be required to integrate the gender-environment nexus into their investment decisions. The OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises [OECD/LEGAL/0144] provides a framework for integrating human rights, environmental and social considerations in business strategies and operations. This framework, together with the accompanying Due Diligence Guidance on Responsible Business Conduct [OECD/LEGAL/0443], should be applied to foreign investment decisions and operations and ensure that it incorporates gender equality and environmental goals in an integrated manner.

The OECD has also developed a Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) Qualities framework that addresses both gender equality and environmental objectives. However, the framework tackles these issues separately, and does not refer to the nexus.

In particular, when assessing potential and actual environmental impacts of their operations, companies should evaluate specific gender-based effects. Furthermore, companies should ensure adequate representation of women’s groups when carrying out stakeholder consultations on foreign investments.

While development co-operation efforts are increasingly SDG-aligned, there is still much work to do, as highlighted in the recent G20 Contribution to the 2030 Agenda report (OECD, 2019[21]). Sectors such as agriculture, forestry, biodiversity and ecosystems, health and water, which are a priority for adaptation-related action, would deserve receiving a larger share development financing. They are also sectors with differentiated gender impacts and where women can play a central role in advancing more sustainable solutions. Hence, an integrated gender-environment approach to development co-operation is key.

Critically, a better integration of gender equality considerations is needed in mitigation-oriented climate finance, in particular for economic infrastructure, including transport and energy. In particular, more support is needed to improve opportunities for women in developing countries to participate in the green economy. The Green Climate Fund has adopted a dedicated Gender Policy, updated in 2019, which both promotes gender equality in a project’s management, and ensures gender-sensitive financing through gender- and environment- assessments at the preparation and implementation stages of the project (GCF, 2019[22]).

Neither gender equality nor environmental sustainability will be achieved “automatically”. Clear progress can only be achieved by a transformative vision and determined policy action, leadership, commitment, resources and engagement of all stakeholders. Tools for monitoring also need to be further developed, including more disaggregated data on the determinants and the impacts of women’s contribution to SDGs, including with specific evidence on policies that enable women to be full actors of sustainable development.

UN agencies such as UN Women and UNEP, and the UNFCCC have launched a number of partnerships, which address more specifically the gender-sustainability nexus than older initiatives such as the UN Global Compact or the Global Reporting Initiative (UN Global Compact, 2003[23]). However, none of these initiatives provide the necessary integrated, holistic approach to the nexus, nor do they ensure effective evidence gathering, which is the basis for decision-making.

Together with a number of partners, the OECD has set up the “Gender Policy Platform: Accelerating Gender Mainstreaming through the SDGs” to bring together stakeholders from the public and private sector and civil society to deliver on gender equality, inclusiveness and sustainability agendas in an integrated manner. Initially building on existing work on gender and SDGs as part of the gender initiative and the OECD Action Plan on the SDGs, the Platform is engaging stakeholders in a dialogue to advance evidence gathering and policy analysis, and identify actions and measures that can be taken at global, regional, national and community levels to:

  • Fully integrate gender equality, inclusiveness and sustainability dimensions into policy-making in a holistic and coherent manner, while taking into account transboundary and intergenerational effects;

  • Enhance the role of women in promoting sustainable development via women’s full participation in political, social and economic life, while also ensuring the achievement of inclusiveness and sustainability goals;

  • Engage the private sector in advancing gender equality and sustainability objectives.

The Platform aims to expand its research on the gender-sustainability nexus and develop further the methodology proposed in this report. As one of its outputs, the study “Measuring Distance to SDG Targets” (OECD, 2019[9])has been already extended to outline the statistical agenda ahead for greater granularity in the measurement of the SDGs as well as to provide an overview of key strengths and challenges faced in meeting the SDG targets for women.

The Platform is also building up its awareness-raising activities and engage in partnerships with other international organisations, business and civil society to support a better understanding, evidence gathering and effective reporting on the gender-sustainability nexus.


[13] BRS (2019), Gender Action Plan of the Secretariat of the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions (BRS-GAP), http://www.basel.int/Portals/4/Basel%20Convention/docs/meetings/cop/cop9/bali-declaration/BaliDeclaration.pdf;.

[14] EC (2020), A new Circular Economy Action Plan for a Cleaner and More Competitive Europe, https://ec.europa.eu/environment/circular-economy.

[17] FAO (2015), A Review of Women’s access to Fish in Small Scale Fisheries, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Rome, https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=2ahUKEwidtaXL44zwAhWrxIUKHTRTAG0QFjAAegQIBRAD&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.fao.org%2Ffamily-farming%2Fdetail%2Fen%2Fc%2F385279%2F&usg=AOvVaw0JqLezmjdY-ltoCTzPAkbA.

[19] FAO (2015), The role of women in the seafood industry, http://www.globefish.org.

[22] GCF (2019), Gender Policy, Green Climate Fund, https://www.greenclimate.fund/sites/default/files/document/gcf-gender-policy.pdf (accessed on 7 April 2021).

[7] OECD (2021), “The inequalities-environment nexus: Towards a people-centred green transition”, OECD Green Growth Papers, No. 2021/01, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/ca9d8479-en.

[9] OECD (2019), Measuring Distance to the SDG Targets 2019, OECD, https://doi.org/10.1787/a8caf3fa-en.

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[11] OECD (2017), Getting Infrastructure Right, OECD, https://doi.org/10.1787/9789264272453-en.

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← 1. The Partnership in Statistics for Development in the 21st Century (PARIS 21) was established in 1999 to support developing countries in better using and producing statistics. The PARIS 21 Secretariat is hosted within the OECD’s Statistics and Data Directorate. For more information: https://paris21.org/about-paris21

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