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Women are disproportionately harmed by the fossil fuel industry. This has to change

Today is International Women’s Day, and just like every year in recent times, fossil fuel companies will exploit this day to advertise their career options for women, call out the gender gap in science and engineering, and sponsor cultural events celebrating women and gender minorities.

As progressive as this might sound, it is nothing but public relations smoke and mirrors.

Behind the glowing claims lurks a sobering reality: women and gender minorities are disproportionately harmed by the fossil fuel industry’s corporate violence and destruction.

We already know the fossil fuel industry is responsible for the climate crisis and its catastrophic impacts and for the pollution of our air, water and land that makes people sick. 

But their business models are reportedly driving inequality and furthering sexual and physical violence against women and gender minorities.

But what evidence is there? 

There is a surge in violence against women and gender minorities

For starters, the fossil fuel industry’s resource extraction projects reportedly go hand-in-hand with a surge in sexual and physical violence against women and gender minorities. 

Temporary settlements for workers on oil and gas fields and other fossil fuel infrastructure, also known as “man camps”, allegedly lead to increased cases of rape, sexual assault and harassment, human trafficking and other violent crimes against women and gender minorities. 

Indigenous women and gender minorities are particularly at risk, and Indigenous women are leading movements for justice and safety.

Workers unload pipes in Worthing, SD, for the Dakota Access oil pipeline that stretches from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota to Illinois, May 2015Nati Harnik/Copyright 2017 The AP. All rights reserved.

One example of many can be gleaned from the brutal consequences of the Bakken “oil boom” in North Dakota, in the US, which led to the arrival of thousands of transient male workers to the area, and has been associated since with a surge in rates of violent crime and aggravated assault. 

At least 125 Indigenous women were reported missing during this time, but the true number is likely to be even higher.

Energy sector is riddled with economic gender inequality

Also, inside the inherently patriarchal energy sector, extractive industries like coal, oil and gas traditionally have the lowest percentage of female employees and even fewer women who reach managerial positions

Wages for female employees in the energy sector are almost 20% lower than for male employees in some European countries. 

In 2021, the fossil fuel industry had the largest gender pay gap compared to other science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) industries in Australia

The fossil fuel industry is driving the climate crisis and thus widening existing gender inequalities and discrimination.

A woman’s image is reflected in the window at the Australian Stock Exchange in Sydney, 9 March 2020AP Photo/Rick Rycroft

And in Canada, for example, the extractive industry is allegedly among the largest single drivers of income inequality, contributing to an astonishing 6.7% of the national wage gap.

Economic gender inequality can be expected to grow as a result of the current energy crisis, reversing years of progress, as women are impacted disproportionately by rising energy costs due to their lower average income. 

While many women and gender minorities — and the people that depend on their income — struggle to make ends meet, the fossil fuel industry is making record-breaking profits.

Crises hit women and gender minorities harder than others

Women bring vital skills, resources and experience to humanitarian response

And when crises happen, they are often the first responders, taking risks and playing critical roles in the survival of families and communities. 

But women and gender minorities are also hit harder by the fossil-fuelled climate crisis; on average, they have lower incomes and less access to information. 

In times of disaster, women and gender minorities are more likely to be injured and less likely to survive.

A girl sits in a car after arrival from Tokmak at a centre for displaced people in Zaporizhzhia, 2 May 2022AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka

Those who do survive have limited access to disaster relief and assistance and face an increased risk of sexual and physical violence, especially if they are displaced by climate change and living in overcrowded transitional housing, where they lack privacy and security. 

In short, the fossil fuel industry is driving the climate crisis and thus widening existing gender inequalities and discrimination.

A global energy shift could be key to solving the issues

The fossil fuel industry is rooted in colonial, capitalist and patriarchal systems that rely on the oppression of people and exploitation of finite natural resources, particularly in the Global South. 

Even if the energy sector was more diverse and inclusive in their management roster with equitable pay, unless their practices and structures fundamentally change, that would be the epitome of genderwashing. 

Activists dressed as corporate lobbyists hold bags of coal and put up blackened hands as they demonstrate outside an EU summit in Brussels, May 2014Virginia Mayo/AP

A global shift to renewables presents an opportunity to rectify this.

New fossil fuel infrastructure projects should be banned, and fossil fuels must be phased out once and for all. 

A feminist fossil-free future is the only way to achieve climate justice and prevent a climate catastrophe. Everyone’s lives depend on it.

Lisa Göldner is Greenpeace’s Lead Campaigner for the Fossil Free Revolution campaign. She is a climate justice activist based in Berlin.

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