Empowerment of women: a key ingredient for sustainable development


AUTHOR  Sarah Leugers, Chief Growth Officer, Gold Standard

“We all know there is a cure for poverty… called the empowerment of women.”

PHOTO Abbie Trayler-Smith / Panos Pictures

I heard the great (if controversial) pundit Christopher Hitchens make this claim in a debate. He continued that if you give women control over their own lives, perhaps a small amount of credit, “The whole floor, culturally, socially, medically, economically will rise. It works every time.”

At the time, the two points seemed to my untrained ear unrelated: economic development and gender equality. But the evidence is clear.

  • Women make up almost half of the agricultural workforce across the continent of Africa but do not have the same access to resources as male counterparts. According to World Bank, if women worldwide had equal access to productive resources (seeds, fertiliser, extension services, to name a few), 100-150 million fewer people would go hungry every day. See worldbank.org
  • The IMF posits that greater control over household resources by women can enhance countries’ growth prospects by changing spending in ways that benefit children. Evidence from Brazil, China, India, South Africa, and the UK shows that when women control more household income, children benefit as a result of more spending on food and education. See IMF.org 
  • UN Women estimates that gender gaps cost the economy some 15 percent of GDP. On the other hand, companies with three or more women in senior management functions score higher in all dimensions of organisational performance. See unwoman.org

So, in our work, it seems obvious a question should follow: If we’re serious about climate justice and we want to use carbon finance to catalyse sustainable development, why is gender equality not at the core of carbon markets?

This question was the focus of the research report, Integrating a Gender Lens in Voluntary Carbon Markets,  recently published with support from the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO).

Some key report headlines:

  1. Targeting women in climate projects can improve climate outcomes for all, leading to a more efficient use of climate finance.
  2. There is a growing demand amongst buyers for more expensive higher-integrity carbon credits that meet robust social and environmental standards. In fact, 90% of VCM brokers who responded think there is an interest from buyers to support projects that benefit women.
  3. And yet, “Whilst ‘the market demand for high quality’ has recently exploded, widespread recognition amongst buyers of why gender and women’s empowerment matter to a carbon credit purchase has not.”


I find one of the report’s recommendations the most fundamental to move the needle: the need for a buyer focused communications push, ideally led by leading corporates. As one interviewee expressed, ‘it’s time to create a real buzz.’

This was my key message to the researchers during their interviews. The same point was raised during a recent meeting of the Business Alliance to Scale Climate Solutions among a group of sophisticated corporate buyers of voluntary carbon credits--that buyers can help and should tell this story.

How timely this report, given the recent public consultation from the Integrity Council for the Voluntary Carbon Market (IC-VCM) on the draft Core Carbon Principles and Assessment Framework, which aim to “to provide a credible, rigorous, and readily accessible means of identifying high-quality carbon credits that create real, additional and verifiable climate impact with high environmental and social integrity.”

It’s not because the technical solutions are lacking either. Gold Standard launched a Gender Equality Framework in 2018, which means that every project under Gold Standard for the Global Goals must follow requirements that certifies them as “gender sensitive.” Project Developers can go further and implement their projects according to the Gender Responsive Guidelines, allowing them to make certified claims about positive impact toward gender equality. Read about the first project here>>

Other standards and associations are advocating positive gender impact too. WOCAN’s W+ standard has been in practice as an add-on to voluntary carbon projects for 22 years. She Changes Climate is a global campaign working to increase female representation across all climate decision making.

Gold Standard and others have created the tools, but this is a market after all. It’s buyer demand that will drive adoption.

We do indeed need to create a real buzz around the power of gender equality to drive lasting impact for climate and straight across the Sustainable Development Goals. Consider this the opening salvo.


Media Category: Opinion
Event Dates: Wednesday, January 18, 2023