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Is the Circular Economy the Game Changer for Women?

Happy International Women’s Day to all the women out there!

I am delighted to share my thoughts today as the world collectively takes stock and pride in the great strides made in elevating women's lives in nearly all corners of the globe.

What advancements we have registered all around to ensure dignity, hope, protection, and security for millions of women worldwide while working hard every day to safeguard the gains we have scored. But how much further do we still have to go?

As we celebrate, I can’t help thinking about one of the big international conversations today- the Circular Economy. What are the prospects for women to be front and center in this emerging economic model?

Have you been wondering just what the Circular Economy is? That is before we mention the Green Economy and the Blue Economy. Who knows what's next? But if you think about it, an economy, by definition, is such a behemoth that it can be dissected in any form. But I digress.

According to the UN, the Circular Economy aims to disconnect economic growth from the depletion of natural resources by creating innovative products, services, businesses, models, and public policies, while taking into consideration all the flows throughout the product or service. also defines Circular Economy as a set of practices prioritized according to their impact and intended to optimize the use of materials and energy

What has this got to do with women today? Everything, if you ask me because women are the uncelebrated engines of the modern linear economic model. There we go again! In simple terms, Circularity is a re-think of how we design, develop, and grow our economies.

Circularity advocates for the optimum use of resources by offering several options in a product life cycle ( for both products and services). These options include refuse, rethink, reduce, repair, refurbish, remanufacture, and repurpose.

I am sure at any given time, we, the consumers, apply any of these steps in our treatment of services and products, maybe without realizing that there is a name out there to what we are doing.

What Circularity does is create both intentionality and urgency in doing this.

What does this mean for women?

Women have been on the receiving end when it comes to access, ownership, application, and distribution of the factors of production- land, labor, capital, and entrepreneurship.

Therefore, a remodeling of modern economic systems has huge implications for women. Is this the moment we have been waiting for? Could women finally get around the decision-making the table and drive economies?

At face value, this is a chance to finally do things differently and get it right from inception so that we do not have to catch up by redressing the wrongs done.

In reality, it is a herculean undertaking,

This is a stark reminder of how several other efforts at promoting economic empowerment for women have been elusive. A good example is gender budgeting.

It takes a lot of effort to get government technocrats to balance public budgets through gender lenses. Whether by design or default, budget-making processes are so technical and complex and require balancing many interests that efforts to introduce gender into the mix often simply slide off.

Is this going to be the case for getting gender right in the Circular Economy? How long will women have to wait for this to be achieved?

Circularity Intrinsically means addressing the economic, social, and environmental issues that have typified the linear economic model of take-make and dispose.

As the world pursues sustainable means of production and consumption and creating jobs that don’t get us back to the drawing board in polluting the planet, women's roles that women play in the emerging models will remain a point of scrutiny and reflection point.

What will it take to right the wrongs of the linear economy in terms of gender mainstreaming and women’s economic empowerment? A lot:

  • Mobilization of financial resources to educate more girls and women in STEM and other related fields.

  • Redesigning value chains to give room to more women, not just at the bottom but at every desired level.

  • Developing new standards in protecting and safeguarding women’s rights in the service and productive sectors, in effect, revised labor standards.

  • Applying gender lenses in every step of design thinking

  • Policies to support more women-led enterprises

  • Public awareness campaigns that include making recycled services and products more fashionable for women!

The list is long, but we can choose to move forward with alacrity and boldness.

Indeed, top international brands have started experimenting with Circular Economic business models- Nike, Burger King, Ikea, tech and fast fashion companies, and several others – I didn’t realize just how many they were!

These pacesetters are embracing recycling materials in their packaging, for example, effectively transforming consumer preferences while meeting their responsibilities to protect natural resources such as energy and the environment.

In the spirit of leaving no one behind, the Circular Economy will only achieve its noble intentions when women are meaningfully integrated into the economic value chains, earning decent incomes as they do dignified work, whether as employees or entrepreneurs.

This calls for bold political leadership at all levels, even bolder decisions and actions by industry players accountable to their shareholders, and greater vigilance by the gender champions.

But for now, it's happy International Women’s Day!

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