What really makes climate change a crisis is how much devastation it will be bring to those oppressed across the world. Women will not only bear the brunt of the ecological effects, but also the compounding social inequality that will pursue. Confronting the sexism rife in our society is necessary if we want any chance of combatting this crisis.
Melting ice caps, rising sea levels, increased presence of natural disasters; these are the most well-known symptoms of climate change. But what really makes ecological change a crisis is the devastating impact it is going to have for life on Earth. As with all crises, climate change will exacerbate pre-existing social inequality. Research suggests that women will bear the brunt of the effects of climate change, while at the same time spearheading efforts to combat it. It seems that once again the world needs reminded that women are valuable; we need to care about their futures, and we need to utilise them as a resource.
Globally, women’s role as caregivers places them perfectly to bear the brunt of the effects of climate change. Longer droughts and more frequent flooding will make sourcing essentials for the home like food and fuel much more difficult and, as a domestic task, this burden will fall to women. In Central Africa where over 90% of Lake Chad has disappeared, indigenous women are having to walk much further just to get water. Women are not only expected to care for their families, but for their communities. It is not uncommon for men to flock to cities for work, leaving women to care for rural communities that are most devasted by the impacts of climate change.
AT A TIME WHEN WE ARE LOOKING FOR SOLUTIONS TO HUMANITY’S GREATEST THREAT, WOMEN ARE AN UNTAPPED GOLD MINE OF POTENTIAL INNOVATION.
Again, ecological change does not happen in a vacuum. The strain it puts on our societies reinforces social hierarchies, disproportionately impacting those at the bottom. This tends to be women. The majority of the world’s poor are women. The majority of those displaced because of the climate is women. Not only will these women lack housing or economic security but will also struggle to access pre- and post-natal care. More young girls are being forced into child marriage because it’s a way for their families to make money; a need exacerbated by unreliable and extreme weather that has devastating impacts for crops. The instability in many countries is a legacy of being colonised, and former colonisers must acknowledge this as a part of attaining environmental justice. But patriarchy is a global problem, and as such the needs of women are secondary everywhere. Even in the world’s ‘superpower.’ In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the Superdome was inadequately supplied with sanitary products, a reminder that women’s health and dignity remains an afterthought.
Women are undervalued across the globe; it is not just in faraway lands where women cannot vote. Domestic, unpaid work primarily performed by women like housework or farming is still not included in a country’s GDP, the most widely used measure of economic wellbeing. At a time when we are looking for solutions to humanity’s greatest threat, women are an untapped gold mine of potential innovation. One study suggested that by educating women and girls, the equivalent of a decade of China’s emissions could be saved be 2050. Advancing gender equality has been shown to lead to greater economic, food, and health security which are areas under strain because of climate change. It also leads to more sustainable choices at household and national levels.
Women are undervalued, but that does not mean they are underperforming. Women are already at the forefront of climate solutions because they are often socialised to be responsible for protecting communities, but those with intersecting marginalised identities are rarely acknowledged for their contributions. Indigenous women have skills and knowledge on making resource management sustainable, in areas like energy and waste. We could learn much from their traditions of sustainability when trying to cut back our greenhouse gas emissions. Policymakers would do well to remember that sustainable ways of living already exist, and that skills and knowledge learned outside of Western universities are equally valid.
The patriarchy has insidiously trickled its way into every facet of this crisis, which means that tackling the crisis requires tackling the sexist hierarchy it relies upon to thrive.
Where are the women? We should always dive deeper into gender inequalities than simply requesting for the inclusion of women, but that does not mean inclusion isn’t important. Research shows that governments with a greater number of female representatives are more likely to support environmental treaties, so why are we not recognising the role women could play in making climate solutions a reality? Again, the problem lies is a social one. Opinions that women simply do not belong in politics are still prevalent, even if they are not voiced in this way. Greta Thunberg and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez rarely receive criticism because of the content of what they say. Rather they are mocked by misogynists who focus on their age or ‘attitude’.
Could the fact that climate change is a gendered issue be a reason for reluctant action in response? Governments are making steps to tackle climate change, but it is at nothing like the rate to which they would react in the face of armed conflict, economic instability, or any other ‘hard’ security issue. It is a threat that primarily impacts ‘low’ politics; that is families, communities, and those in poverty. All of these groups have women at the heart of them. Not only is it an issue with gendered impacts, but the threat it poses has been gendered in that it is seen as ‘feminine’. That it is humanitarian crisis rather than a military one and that it requires international cooperation instead of aggression means that we have diminished the level of threat it poses.
The patriarchy has insidiously trickled its way into every facet of this crisis, which means that tackling the crisis requires tackling the sexist hierarchy it relies upon to thrive. Acknowledging the need to tackle this social crisis as well as the ecological one certainly makes the job bigger, but it also creates an exponential growth of benefits. Because there really is no point in striving to create a world with just as much instability and inequity as exists now, just with fewer fossil fuels.
Art by Holly Brown