01. March 2022There is no just transition without gender justice

In the discourse about the coal phase-out and the policies that accompany it, the focus usually is on the mostly male miners employed in the coal industry. In two recent publications conducted as part of the CINTRAN project, the authors look at those who remain mostly invisible in this discourse - women. They examine how women have been affected by past coal phase-out processes and how they have become politically active in these processes. Furthermore, they derive policy recommendations for a gender-equitable structural change.

Combating the climate crisis requires the restructuring of the entire energy system. This restructuring includes, first and foremost, the phase-out of coal combustion, as there are favourable alternatives for this most climate-damaging form of energy production. The changes that go hand in hand with this restructuring do not happen in a vacuum, but interact with social power asymmetries. They affect women and men differently, as they have different starting conditions and resources.

Against this background, two new papers examine these different starting conditions, needs and interests in order to create and contribute to a scientific basis for equitable policy measures for all social groups in structural change. So far, this scientific basis hardly exists. Scholars often only analyse the broader economic impacts of structural change processes (e.g. net employment effects) for entire regions. They do not examine the impact of transitions on different groups of actors and their differing opportunities to participate in relevant decision-making processes. If there is a focus on one group, it is on the predominantly male employees in the coal industry. With policy measures adapted to the differentiated needs of people, sustainability transitions could be an opportunity for society to overcome existing unjust power relations instead of reproducing these structures.


Figure 1: Detailed description of search for literature (Source: Walk et al. 2021)


In the first publication, published in Energies in September 2021 (Walk et al 2021), the authors review the existing literature on the effect of coal phase-out processes on women and their political participation in the process. They conduct a systematic literature search called a “systematic map”. In an extensive process, they screened 4 literature databases, conducted a grey literature search and asked academics researching in the field for relevant literature. In total, the authors read over 3100 abstracts and finally selected 73 publications for the analysis. Because such an extensive literature search process took place, it can be assumed that most of the literature that exists on the nexus between coal phase-out processes and gender was covered (for a detailed description of the literature review process see figure 1).

Figure 2 provides an overview of how many publications were found for which countries, the methodology used and the scientific discipline of the publications. It is clearly visible that the majority of the literature deals with the UK and US coal transition processes.


Figure 2: Overview of the publications geographical origins, methodologies and scientific disciplines (Source Walk et al. 2021)


The authors only included countries where there has been a historical decline in coal production, power generation or in the number of employees in the coal industry. The size of the decline in each country is shown in figure 3, which also summarises the main reported gender aspects for each country. The research project’s focus on past coal transitions is one of the reasons why hardly any literature was found on coal-producing countries in the Global South as the phase-out is often still imminent in these countries. One future field of research would be to examine the gender dimensions of coal mining in the global South more intensively and systematically.



Figure 3: Transitions’ overview and main reported gender aspects per country (Source: Walk et al. 2021)


Since most of the literature refers to the transition in the UK and the USA – and there in particular to Appalachia – Isabell Braunger and Paula Walk in a second paper focus on these two countries. In addition, the authors make a theoretical contribution to the transition literature by linking Avelino’s POINT framework with gender theory.

In the UK, the analysed literature focuses mainly on the decline in coal production in the 1920s to 1940s and in the 1980s. For the Appalachian transition, literature was found mainly on the time period from 1990 to the early 2000s. Across both transitions, there were many parallels in terms of the effects on women. During the transition, there was an increase in women taking up wage employment in both countries, especially in the services sector. This employment was mostly poorly paid and precarious. Nevertheless, it gave women some financial independence. Despite the increase in wage labour, women were still mainly responsible for care work, which increased their overall workload. In former coal regions, which were very strongly influenced by coal, the coal exit sometimes led to an identity crisis. Some publications reported that it was mainly women who did a lot of emotional work to alleviate these crises and sustain social networks. Loss of job and identity of former coal miners and the new role of women as wage earners also led to conflicts within families.

With regard to the role of women in the political process around the coal phase-out, the two case study countries are very different. The literature on the UK focuses primarily on the role of women in the miners’ strikes in the 1920s, 40s and 1980s. They wanted to support the miners’ strikes in their efforts to save as many coal mines as possible from closure. However, this was made very difficult for them because they were largely denied access to important organisations, especially trade unions. Therefore, they founded their own organisations, such as the “National Women Against Pit Closure”, which received a lot of media publicity and was set up nationwide.

The literature on Appalachia focuses on the role of women in anti-coal protests. These increased significantly in the 1990s and 2000s as the environmentally damaging mining method of mountain top removal became more widespread. These movements were mostly led by women. The women were driven by a desire to protect their land, whereas men tend to shy away from becoming active in this movement because they are more emotionally attached to the coal industry.

Braunger and Walk have linked the empirical findings to the POINT framework (see figure 4) and developed categories on how sustainability transitions in general (not only coal transitions) could be analysed regarding their gender implications.


Figure 4: (Un-)intended effects of sustainability transitions and (dis)empowerment (aspects of the POINT framework) influenced by gendered power asymmetries


Furthermore, Braunger and Walk (2022) have derived policy recommendations from their research to make structural change processes more gender equitable. In essence, these are the following:

  • Working conditions in sectors where mainly women work should be improved (care, service sector etc.)
  • Counselling, networking and further training opportunities for women in regions affected by structural change (not only for former coal workers)
  • Caring and emotional work in the context of structural change processes should be more strongly valued
  • Better provision of nursing and care facilities (as a prerequisite for women’s participation in structural change processes)
  • Strategies to overcome hegemonic masculinity, e.g. incentives to share care work equally, self-help groups for ex-miners/ men to cope with the loss of (a very identity-forming) job
  • Citizen participation formats so that residents of coal regions can engage in dialogue about what a new “identity” for the region might look like
  • Support for organisations in which women come together to represent their interests
  • A better institutionalisation of women’s interests, e.g. by assuring an equal representation of women in decision-making processes (expert groups, local politics, etc.)
  • Special funding to grassroots organisations and community based work, as these are forms of organisations especially used by women
  • Reduction of barriers to political involvement (reconciliation of work, family, and political work)


In summary, it can be stated that despite a very extensive and complex literature review process, a relatively small number of relevant studies was found. Considerable research gaps remain at the nexus between gender and coal transitions. The two publications show that there is a great need for much more gender-aggregated qualitative and quantitative data. Understanding women’s needs and positions more thoroughly is key to ensuring a just transition for everybody.



Walk, P./ Braunger, I./ Semb, J./ Brodtmann, C./ Oei, P./Kemfert, C. (2021): Strengthening Gender Justice in a Just Transition: A Research Agenda Based on a Systematic Map of Gender in Coal Transitions. Energies 14: 5985. https://doi.org/10.3390/en14185985

Braunger, I./ Walk, P. (2022): Power in transitions: Gendered power asymmetries in the United Kingdom and the United States coal transitions. Energy Research & Social Science 87: 102474. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2214629621005612


Paula Walk
Research Associate | CoalExit Group
Technische Universität Berlin | Europa-Universität Flensburg

Isabell Braunger
Research Associate | CoalExit Group
Technische Universität Berlin | Europa-Universität Flensburg


Christof Arens
Senior Researcher | Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy
Energy, Transport, and Climate Policy Division