Feminism and sustainability

Thursday 12-03-2015 - 17:26

This International Women’s Day, we’re celebrating a vision of how women’s empowerment is key to a truly sustainable future.

It can be easy to see feminism and climate change as completely separate issues. What has No More Page 3 got to do with Save The Arctic? 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 this: 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 climate action. Feminism and sustainability 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. So when we remind ourselves that climate change will bring worsening weather events with greater frequency, bringing with it greater likelihood of war, food shortages, and displacement, 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 a sustainable future.

Population control is often regarded as being a crucial part of sustainable development. The best way of controlling population is to grant women autonomy over their own fertility – a key part of women’s emancipation. Similarly, giving more food growers (the vast majority of which are women) stronger, more localised food sovereignty is better for women, and for the climate.

These are just a couple of examples of how greater equality naturally contributes to a sustainable future. There are many more. 

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. 

As editor of The F-Word Jess McCabe wrote a few years ago: "Climate change is a feminist issue; women are on the front lines of climate change impact and need to be part of creating solutions"

That’s what No More Page 3 and Save The Arctic have in common. These are interconnected social justice issues, and have to be addressed holistically. In the end, climate change is just another example of how empowering women isn’t only good for women. It’s good for everyone.

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