(Photo illustration: Clare Chan)

I stared at the painting. I squinted my eyes, and tilted my head, but could not figure out why the painting did not look right. I like to think of myself as a painter, but when I try to take flavours from my favorite feminist painter, Frida, I struggle.

Frida could effortlessly blend with oil, her political views, agony, and love as spirited attempts to express her own reality. I chewed on the end of my paintbrush, wondering how she did so time and again. The answer stared back at me from in between the interplay of green and blue textures.

Aha, it was Orange! The painting needed a pop of exuberance to make the green and blue more appreciable. I threw that canvas and began anew.

My painting experience is no different from what we are experiencing in the world today. If we could, we would just throw away all that hasn’t worked and start afresh, but fixing the world is slightly more challenging than fixing a painting.

(Related: Can the art world reduce its carbon footprint?)

The planet has begun to face noticeable effects of climate change. As erratic weather events, first-of-their-kind epidemics, and struggling economies become more commonplace, those in the global south are pushed deeper into poverty and face resultant losses to basic amenities, livelihoods, and life itself.

To add to this, Covid-19 has further exacerbated income inequalities and set back the progress we made towards the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Now, with the herculean task of limiting the average global temperature rise to 1.5 deg C above pre-industrial levels at hand, we’re seeing fanatic strokes to fill the climate finance canvas. It is not surprising then that sustainable or “green” investing reached an AUM of $35.3 trillion in 2020, more than a third of total assets under management.

However, just like my painting, the underlying currents of blues and greens need a bold splash of Orange to make finance truly work for those who need it the most. Women are that missing Orange.

Durreen Shahnaz is the founder of Impact Investment Exchange (IIX) and IIX Foundation. Her mission is to build an inclusive, sustainable world while putting women front and centre of capital markets.
Durreen Shahnaz is the founder of Impact Investment Exchange (IIX) and IIX Foundation. Her mission is to build an inclusive, sustainable world while putting women front and centre of capital markets.

Climate change is a feminist issue. Why? Because as the crisis worsens and escalates existing socio-political and economic tensions, women face increased vulnerabilities that range from loss of livelihood, heightened risk to health and safety, and access to resources and relief.

Boxed up as passive recipients of aid, women’s potential as solution holders to the raging climate crisis has largely remained untapped, their empowerment a mere afterthought in the global climate finance movement.

To put that into perspective, less than 1 per cent of all sustainable bond issuances currently have gender as a priority objective.

(Related: What a Singaporean found after travelling to the Arctic and Antarctica to document the impact of climate change)

With an ecosystem of forward-looking partners, we set out to change this paradigm in 2017. Since then, IIX’s $150 million Women’s Livelihood BondTM series has empowered over 1 million women across Asia, both as active agents of climate change action and as linchpins for community-wide impact.

Now, we are getting a bigger and bolder canvas with the Orange Bond Initiative TM, a global coalition to create the world’s first gender-lens investing asset class by and for the Global South.

Along with our visionary founding signatories, we are pushing the boundaries yet again by unlocking $10 billion in the capital markets by 2030 to impact 100 million women in the global south and ensuring that orange makes the green achievable and sustainable.

(Related: How the late Aretha Franklin made ‘Respect’ a feminist anthem)

Just as Frida’s art emboldened with a sense of surrealism far ahead of her times, our initiatives have been laced with the pragmatic fantasy of redefining the financial system to work for women.

After all, investing in women translates to stronger, financial, and climate-resilient communities that have a better chance of braving climate change-associated uncertainties.

Without women, solving the climate change crisis will continue to be like painting without passion, ineffective at best.

Frida continues to inspire us in more than one way. IIX Foundation’s annual flagship programme SHE IS MORE is officially open and invites submissions of art that celebrates stories of women’s resilience and making art into empowerment.