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Feminism and climate justice

Tuesday 8 March 2016 Ethical Living

This International Women's Day we're looking at how the fights for gender equality and climate justice are part of the same struggle.

It can be easy to see feminism and climate change as completely separate issues. What has No More Page 3 got to do with the Heathrow 13? What do lad culture and carbon emissions have in common?

Maybe not much when you compare them like that. But looked at another way, the oppression of women and the threat of climate change are much more closely related. Just ask yourself: what’s the root cause for both problems?

Inequality. Tackle that and we’re taking action on both issues at once.

Over the decades to come, advancing women’s empowerment will go hand in hand with sustainability. Feminism and climate justice are part of the same struggle.

On the face of it, a changing climate might seem to affect men and women in exactly the same way. As MEP Marina Yannakoudakis put it a few years ago when criticising the idea of climate change as a women’s issue, “when it rains we all get wet”.

This isn’t really a fair way of looking at it. Sure, we all get wet when it rains. But we aren’t all affected equally when there’s a flood. Or when there are droughts. Or when there are food shortages. Or when millions are displaced by rising sea waters. Or when conflicts break out.

The social, economic and environmental impacts of climate change affect different people in different ways. The global poor will contribute the least to climate change, but will feel the harshest effects soonest. It's the same with gender.

Put simply – women will be impacted by climate change more severely than men.

We can look at the recent past to see that this is true. In the European heat waves of 2003, 75 per cent more women died than men. In the Bangladesh cyclone of 1991, five times more women died than men.

There are various reasons for discrepancies like this – ranging from a lack of access to education, poverty levels, social standing, legal rights as well as many more contributing factors. All are symptoms of inequality.

In times of conflict and disaster, it’s not good news to be in a position of oppression. Considering that climate change will bring worsening weather events with greater frequency, bringing with it greater likelihood of food shortages, displacement and war, it suddenly looks much more like a women’s issue.

On the plus side, the empowerment of women is also one of the key drivers of change in the fight for true sustainability. Even the UN is saying this. Look at their Sustainable Development Goals: gender equality sits alongside clean energy and climate action on the fifteen point list of essentials for a just and sustainable world.

Too often, the struggle for a sustainable future is seen as being completely distinct from other social justice issues. Just something for ‘the environmentalists’ to sort out. But the steps towards a stable climate are often the same as the steps towards gender equality.

Let’s take just one example. In most developing countries, employed women are more likely to be growing food than employed men. Sadly, agriculture in the global south is often hijacked by corporate interest – promoting destructive ecological practices and worsening local poverty, just to make rich white men richer.

The alternative – empowering women to achieve true food sovereignty – nourishes the local community, brings people out of poverty, and creates healthy soils which both feed the world and cool the planet.

That’s what No More Page 3 and the Heathrow 13 have in common. These are interconnected social justice issues and have to be addressed holistically, tackling inequality and injustice in its all its forms.

Climate change disproportionately affects women, but climate justice supports women’s liberation. That’s why sustainability is yet another example of how empowering women isn’t only good for women. It’s good for everyone.