Kathriona Devereux: A symbol of hope for women, climate action, and black lives

The next American president and administration needs to slam on the brakes to halt fossil fuel production, leaving oil, coal and gas in the ground, and start flattening and bending the curve on carbon emissions downwards, so says Kathriona Devereux in her weekly column
Kathriona Devereux: A symbol of hope for women, climate action, and black lives

DREAM TEAM? Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden looks on as his running mate Kamala Harris delivers a speech.

WE’RE all running on hope at the moment.

Hope that the number of Covid-19 cases drops. Hope that the schools will reopen. Hope that the pubs will reopen.

It’s hard to keep fanning the flames of hope when faced with so much hopeless news in the world — deep recession, high unemployment, accelerating Covid-19 cases globally, increasing carbon emissions, and Manhattan-sized chunks of the Canadian ice shelf breaking off into the Arctic Sea.

So it was nice to get a fresh jolt of hope last week when Joe Biden announced Kamala Harris as his vice-presidential running mate. It is the only positive news I have heard from the United States in months, possibly years.

I hope Harris has strong shoulders and a steely core because she carries the weight of expectation of women around the world, of people of colour around the world, and of climate change activists around the world.

The next American president and administration needs to slam on the brakes to halt fossil fuel production, leaving oil, coal and gas in the ground, and start flattening and bending the curve on carbon emissions downwards.

The Biden-Harris campaign is committed to climate change action. Their website outlines the immediate actions that they will take if they get to the White House, including recommitting the United States to the Paris Agreement on climate change.

Their campaign websites states they will lead an international “effort to get every major country to ramp up the ambition of their domestic climate targets” and they believe that “our environment and our economy are completely and totally connected”.

Harris has a strong track record in terms of tackling climate change issues, being one of 17 U.S attorney generals to take legal action against fossil fuel companies for their legacy pollution.

She believes that hitting polluting companies in their ‘pocketbook’ and suing them for breaches of environmental law is how to make them change their ways.

Harris has also partnered with star politician Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on the Climate Equity Act, legislation that ensures climate justice for all marginalised communities.

Harris is a symbol of hope because she is a woman of colour who is committed to climate change action and she symbolises that gender equality, climate action and social justice all go hand in hand.

The United Nations has called gender inequality the Unfinished Business of Our Time and a critical component of achieving the UN’s 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs).

Gender equality is number 5 of 17 goals to transform our world. One of the targets is to “Ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life”

The idea being that if women are at the decision-making table, their perspective will generate solutions that benefit 100% of the population. Gender equality is the goal and also the solution to solving lots of the world’s intractable problems.

Things are changing, slowly. Christine Lagarde is the first woman president of the European Central Bank and Ursula von der Leyen is the first woman president of the European Commission.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern generates global headlines for her empathetic and pragmatic leadership, and Angela Merkel has been a stalwart female political figure for decades.

They are rare examples in political and financial leadership globally and they operate in a sea of men.

Last year, a photo on Twitter showed Christine Lagarde sitting at a table with her new Governing Council. She was surrounded by 23 white, middle aged men.

More recently, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly posed for a photo at the Coombe hospital in Dublin to discuss maternity services and there was one woman present in the photo.

In Ireland’s financial services industry, just 13% of those at chief executive level are women, according to data published by the 30% Club. Just under 19% of Ireland’s tech sector are female. Finance, technology and data science are core to building the future and women are not at the table.

The Biden-Harris campaign promises to create a White House Council on Gender Equality and seek to redress the imbalance in America where, for every dollar a man makes, the average woman makes 82 cents with black women earning 62 cents, Native women earning 57 cents and Latinas earning 54 cents.

That pay gap adds up to $400,000 over a 40-year career and $1 million for women of colour.

The pay gap in Ireland is nearer to 14%. Not so bad as the U.S but still pretty galling.

In the Programme for Government, there were a range of commitments to promote gender equality, including encouraging women to participate in local and national politics, legislation to require publication of the gender pay gap in large companies and a commitment to address the, soon to be published recommendations of the Citizen’s Assembly on Gender Equality.

The new government also wants to amend the Climate Action Bill and establish the Climate Action Council on an independent statutory footing and “ensure greater gender balance and increased scientific expertise in its membership”.

Clearly, gender inequality is a complex societal problem that we all have to tackle but we all benefit from improving.

The hope that Kamala Harris will become a highly visible international role model committed to tackling the existential climate crisis is giving me something to be optimistic about.

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