The highlight of this week has been International Women’s Day, which celebrates the achievements of women and aims for a more gender inclusive world. It’s a timely moment to reflect – not just on why climate innovation is important to women, but why women are so important to climate innovation.
One of the oft-cited arguments in the gender and climate change debate is that women, particularly in developing countries, experience a greater burden due to the impacts of a changing climate. As our Inspire story this week shows, the task of finding and fetching water often falls to women and girls, preventing them from gaining an education. This situation is compounded in times of drought, leading to a systemic disadvantage. In this case, innovation is easing the burden, freeing up more time to spend on education.
Representation and rights
The other aspect of the gender and climate debate is that there is still a significant gap in the representation of women in governance and decision-making. How can the rights and needs of all groups of people be fulfilled if they are not truly represented?
Because of a lack of representation and rights in many societies, women and young girls do not enjoy the same access to healthcare as men, leading to greater vulnerability. This disadvantage can extend to education and employment, with women suffering a skills gap and missing out on the benefits of economic development.
Representation issues also lead to gaps in innovation. In the UK, the proportion of UK women in entrepreneurial activity is around half the level of men. One of the greatest barriers to female entrepreneurship is having limited access to relevant role models. Women are also less likely to seek external sources of finance than men. More widely in Europe, women are underrepresented in terms of creating innovative enterprises – only 31 percent of entrepreneurs in the EU are women, according to the European Commission.
This represents an untapped potential for Europe, which needs to use the full potential of all groups to remain competitive, fair and to find solutions to economic and societal challenges that work for everyone.
The best innovation, with far-reaching benefits for all of society, happens as a result of inter-disciplinarity – when there are a mix of perspectives, needs, challenges, ideas and approaches. Simply put, we need women in business and innovation to represent the experience of women in society.
EU innovation prize for women
Despite the challenges, there is much to be inspired by. Yesterday, the European Commission celebrated the achievements of four women in innovation with the 2017 Horizon 2020-funded EU Prize for Women Innovators. Michela Magas, founder of Stromatolite, which is building a new generation of incubation and creative technology toolkits for innovation, took first prize, while Petra Wadström , founder of Solvatten, which produces a portable water purifier and water heater that are powered by solar energy took second.
These women have been instrumental in the formation of research and innovation-led companies, now with a turnover of at least €100,000.
Accelerating the low-carbon economy
Finally, our Viewpoint this week asks which female innovators are accelerating the zero-carbon economy and why? Those who responded, themselves catalysts in inclusive innovation, have together highlighted that at every level — from the galvanising global movement of 1 Million Women to the social enterprise or repair cafe at the city and community levels — women are vital to making climate innovation inclusive and successful.