“Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls“ – this is the fifth of the United Nation's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to be achieved on the path to a better and more sustainable future. With regard to phenomena such as the difference in the average gross earnings of women and men – known as gender pay gap – only small steps in the direction of equal treatment of the genders can be observed. Why is that so? And how can we contribute to achieving gender equality?
Mar 8, 2023
How the feminist perspective on sustainability helps us to find new solutions
In this interview, Janine Steeger, journalist, speaker, and moderator, and Ines Imdahl, psychologist and founder and owner of the research agency rheingold salon, talk about the connection between sustainability and feminism and share insights from their book "Why women will save the world and men are essential in doing so" (German title: “Warum Frauen die Welt retten werden und Männer dabei unerlässlich sind“), published in 2022. Based on a representative study that was specifically conducted for the book, the two authors demonstrate which characteristics can be used to address the major challenges of our time.
In this story, you will learn:
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Janine, as "Green Janine" you have been dedicated to the topic of sustainability for several years now. You also founded the women's network Futurewoman to support women working in the field of sustainability in gaining more visibility and grow their networks. How do the topics of sustainability and feminism influence each other?
Janine: Our society is characterized above all by the predominance of the male principle. But it turns out that these patriarchal structures have led to the exploitation of our planet, because it was all about growing faster and earning more money – higher, further, faster. In doing so, we have subjugated nature to a large extent and exploited it. Ultimately, a large part of the climate crisis is due to the fact that we have so far considered patriarchal structures to be the gold standard. We urgently need to rethink these structures.
In addition, women around the world are more affected by the consequences of the climate crisis for different reasons. In patriarchal systems, for example, they are often the last to get food during famines. Traditionally, they are responsible for fetching water and, in light of droughts, have to travel increasingly longer distances to fetch water. Moreover, climate change is also associated with a higher health risk for women, as they are more likely to suffer from heat symptoms than men. Heat waves also lead to increased complications during pregnancy. Moreover, gender equality is anchored in the fifth goal in the UN's sustainability agenda. In this respect, sustainable development and feminism are clearly linked.
A large part of the climate crisis is due to the fact that we have so far considered patriarchal structures to be the gold standard. We urgently need to rethink these structures.
Janine Steeger, journalist, speaker, and moderator
In your book "Why women will save the world and men are essential in doing so" you write about the female and the male principle. The female principle is characterized by complexity and sensitivity, for example. What exactly do you mean by that?
Janine: The terms male and female do not refer directly to the biological sex. All of these abilities and strengths that we discuss in our book can be applied equally by men and women.
Ines: Exactly. In the introduction of our book, we write that we are aware that more than just two genders exist. And while men can have qualities that are considered more female, women equally have qualities that are traditionally considered to be more male. We all have certain ideas in our minds when we think of feminine and masculine. So, it's about those characteristics that are often perceived as feminine or masculine in our culture and are often assigned to one gender.
Ines, as founder of rheingold salon, which focuses on market research and strategy consulting, you designed a study for your book. How was the study structured and what were the results?
Ines: Our study is based on in-depth psychological interviews as well as on a representative survey in which 230 executives in Germany participated. For the study, we turned supposed weaknesses of women into strengths, using typical clichés about the feminine, which we discussed with the executives: "The feminine is always related to complexity and is so much more exhausting" was, for example, turned into "female thinking takes place in complex contexts and with a particularly high degree of foresight". Many executives had numerous examples to share in which the supposed weakness was interpreted as a strength. The result of our representative study is that 89 percent of German executives believe that female strengths will solve the challenges of our time. If we differentiate by gender, 95 percent of women and 84 percent of men see it that way.
The result of our representative study is that 89 percent of German executives believe that female strengths will solve the challenges of our time.
Ines Imdahl, psychologist and founder and owner of the research agency rheingold salon
What advantages arise from the social recognition of the female principle and gender equality?
Janine: Through equality, everyone would experience advantages – including men, in that they would be allowed to take a softer approach. Then, perhaps, fewer men would feel pressured by the linear path of "higher, further, faster" and would be able to say: "That’s not for me.”
Ines: Correct, by following the more cyclical performance model found in nature, the pressure to perform would decrease. We see such cyclical models, for example, in athletes. They have extreme phases of training and phases of relaxation. And the same goes for all of us. We have days when we feel fully energized and days when that is less so. If men could be open about this publicly more often, it would certainly be a relief. In addition, female strengths can contribute to minimizing risks, by also taking care of unpleasant issues and addressing them with foresight. The third point is aimed at well-being. The female approach is characterized by caring. It makes sure that you strengthen yourself. This is a great added value – especially when it comes to mental health.
In Germany, we've been talking about the topic of equality for decades – is that still relevant with regard to other countries?
Ines: I think it is extremely important. According to the Democracy Index, a total of only 22 countries in the world live a full democracy, or 6.4 percent of the world's population. And that has only gotten worse in recent years. This makes us realize that we, here in Germany, should raise our voices for those countries that do not live democratically. Only people who can freely express their opinions can also make a difference in the rest of the world. That's why it's so important that we continue to say, "We need equality, we need it here, and we need it worldwide."
Gender inequality means we only use 50 percent of our power. As a result, we are losing speed in the fight against climate change.
Janine Steeger, journalist, speaker, and moderator
What does the current gender inequality mean for the fight against climate change?
Janine: For me, it means that we end up not using 50 percent of our power. By so far focusing only on male strengths instead of complementing them with female ones, we are losing speed in the fight against climate change. Therefore, it is high time we use all the skills we have at our disposal and contribute to living in equality, perhaps acting as a role model for others.