Women’s Climate Action Vigil

Good afternoon sisters, my name is Fiona Steele and I am the Chair of the Scottish Trade Union Congress’ Women’s Committee.  I am absolutely delighted to be here with you all on International Women’s Day.


I want to begin today by sending our support and solidarity to our many sisters and their families suffering in, and fleeing from, the Ukraine under horrific circumstances that this time last year were unimaginable, our thoughts are with you all.


I’d also, like to thank the Women’s Climate Action for organising today’s event and for bringing the urgent need for climate action to the door of the Scottish Parliament, and solidarity to those women who have been participating in the 24hour vigil here.


International Women’s Day is not just a day to celebrate and recognise women’s struggles and achievements across the world – it’s also an opportunity to increase our demands.


We should never forget that the seeds of International Women’s Day grew out of our labour movement.

It’s origens emerged from thousands of working women taking to the streets of New York to demand a shorter working week, better pay, and the right to vote.

History has shown that when we collectivise and organise – we win.

On IWD our demands as women for climate justice must be louder and clearer than ever before.

As trade unionists and women workers everything we have been fighting for since our movement was born – social justice, worker’s rights, the weekend, health and safety, and decent wages for all – will be in danger if we don’t stop the climate crisis.

Gender inequality coupled with the climate crisis is one of the greatest and devasting challenges of our time.

It poses threats to the ways of life, livelihoods, health, safety and security for women and girls around the world.

No one is immune to the devasting impacts of climate change.

It’s a fact that globally, climate change disproportionately affects women.


Like all crisis – it is women who carry the burden of it while waiting on the world to act. 

The climate crisis is not “gender neutral”.

Tackling gender inequalities must coincide with the climate solution.

Yet one of the great injustices of the climate crisis we are facing is that the people and countries who are worst affected are those who have contributed least to its causes – including us women and girls.

We are 51% of the earth’s population and 80% per cent of those displaced by climate change are women.

Women produce 50-80% of the world's food but own less than 10% of the land.

Women and girls are much more likely to be killed during extreme weather events such as floods, tsunamis or typhoons.

YET we are woefully under-represented at every level of decision-making when it comes to climate change response.  And too often women and girls voices are locked out and treated as an afterthought.

The Inclusion, leadership and voices of women and girls MUST and SHOULD be at the heart of this struggle. It’s not simply an option to include us at all levels of climate, future green jobs and decision-making policy – it is essential.

The climate crisis threatens the progress we’ve already made towards equality. We are least likely to have been given opportunities to acquire the skills needed for a green transition. Climate change and the instability it creates is increasing violence against women and girls around the world - including domestic abuse, child marriage, trafficking, sexual assault and poverty.


Despite the challenges women – as we always do - are showing remarkable resilience around the world -  leading grassroots climate action movements like this one here today, championing clean sources of energy, and building alternative models of community that focus on sustainability and cooperation.


But the time is now for governments to take urgent action to support women and girls as leaders and frontline responders.

In the Scottish, UK and international arenas, we are faced with government greenwash and inaction coupled with corporate deceit and delay, while facing an urgent need for action on climate change.

It’ll be no surprise to any of us here today that it’s those with the least socioeconomic power in society who are hit the hardest by major world crisises and climate change is no different.


The politicians have talked a lot about a Just Transition. But what does that mean for women workers in Scotland? Who are more likely to be in low paid, insecure, undervalued jobs. Jobs in care, retail, catering and cleaning.


More likely to be on zero hours contract, working in bars, restaurants and our colleges and universities.


More likely to be single parents, struggling to find affordable childcare.


More likely to rely on social security and food banks.


More likely to dependent on public transport system  - which is already inaccessible and not fit for purpose in Scotland.


The inequalities faced by women leave us exposed to the immediate and long term dangers of climate change.


It is women who will be the first to go into debt trying to pay for heating their homes and feeding their families. with soaring and disgraceful cost of living already a massive issue for women.


It is women who will be the first to become isolated as fuel prices result in increased fares.


Moving to a green future can only be fair and just if it addresses these structural inequalities and has a gendered lens with women and girls voices at its core.


Just Transition originated out of the US labour movement and involved oil workers’ unions with the support of environmental and community groups.


Our priority is ensuring a just transition turns into a reality for workers on the ground. Green jobs must tackle the inequality that women face every day. They must be good jobs, fair jobs and secure jobs. And our climate response - from a workers’ perspective -  must bring with it an industrial strategy in Scotland too.

We need more women coming into trade unions to address these inequalities and more women at the bargaining table demanding their employers take action on climate change. We also need more women getting involved in the climate strike and campaigning so it’s great to see so many of you here today.

In recent years there has been a real groundswell of climate activism within the trade union movement. 

We saw this at COP26, just last October, as Glasgow’s striking bin workers marched alongside Greta Thunberg and young climate activists joined late night pickets supporting striking rail workers.


It’s left a powerful movement for just transition and climate justice. Alliances have been forged between environmentalists, unions, workers of all types and social justice campaigners. It made people think about justice at all levels, both local and global.


More than ever, we as women, whether we come from trade unions or the climate activist base, need to unite and fight this collectively, and ensure that women’s voices are not just recognised but valued in action.


As trade unionists we know too well that we cannot depend on the law and legislation alone. We need to organise. We need to consistently hold those in power accountable.


But decision makers have a responsibility to act NOW. We shouldn’t underestimate that time is not on our sides here when it comes to climate action.


But to effectively tackle the climate crisis we need our politicians to learn the key lessons from the pandemic. 


  • Firstly that it is not hedge fund managers or millionaires that kept our society going – but cleaners, carers, nurses, supermarket workers, cleansing workers, delivery workers and postal workers – low-paid, predominantly female, keyworkers that risked their health and wellbeing to keep us all safe and well;


  • Secondly that those countries who prioritise people’s safety over the concerns of business, were the most successful at suppressing the virus


  • Thirdly that countries with the lowest levels of inequality have fared the best, in terms of being resilient and able to cope.


These very same lessons can applied to the climate crisis.


Over the past 5 years some of the STUC’s most high-profile wins have been led by groups of predominantly women workers. From the Value Education campaign and the 30,000 strong march which resulted in the significant pay rise for all teachers to the Equal Pay Strike win against Glasgow City Council to the work going on now across various unions to organise social care workers.


It is women at the forefront of leading these campaigns and we can do the same with climate change – it is the fight that unites us all.


At the last STUC Women’s Conference we brought women together to learn from each other and show collective strength - from young climate activists going on strike every Friday, to policy officials and trade unionists fighting for green jobs – the fight for climate justice is our fight and the STUC Women’s Committee show complete solidarity in the efforts of this movement and hope we can build upon joining forces going forward.


So if you’re not already in a trade union please join one and together, we can achieve a just transition that combats rising injustices and to build a society that benefits us all.


Happy IWD Sisters. No cause worth fighting for is every easy. This is not just a battle for change but the fight for our lives and planet.


Keep resisting. Keep organising. Keep challenging. Keep demanding.


Solidarity. Thank you.


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