It’s no news that climate change disproportionately affects vulnerable socioeconomic groups. One of the largest groups in this mix is women.
An unequal world
- Women are more likely to be living in extreme poverty – women make up 70% of the world’s poor
- Women have less access to basic human rights
- Women have limited access to education or employment, restricting their economic participation and social mobility
- Women are more vulnerable to experience, poverty, displacement, food and water insecurity
- Women are much more likely to experience discrimination and systemic violence
The statistics, data and facts are well known and understood, however, it is crucial to note that this unequal state of affairs exacerbates the impact of climate change on women.
What is climate feminism?
Quite simply, the discourse of climate feminism sheds light on the intersectionality between the climate crisis and gender inequality, with climate change being “inextricably linked to systems of power and oppression”. Moreover, apart from recognising such disparities, climate feminism seeks to accelerate women’s agency to catalyse climate mitigation and adaptation.
Climate feminists argue that, just as climate justice highlights the exploitative nature of humanity’s attitude towards taking Earth’s resources to produce and consume, along with doing the same with vulnerable groups, the hardest hit social groups are women.
“Moreover, various intersections of gender, class, race, ethnicity, sexuality, socioeconomic status serve as “multipliers of justice” as each intersection further dispossesses women.”
The climate crisis including climate-related extreme weather events have serious impacts on agriculture and the global food systems, specifically endangering communities that rely heavily on subsistence farming. Women hold major responsibilities including producing household food supply and make up a larger proportion of the agricultural workforce in developing countries. Moreover, the wage gap, lower educational and employment opportunities, restricted land rights and fewer social support networks exacerbate food insecurity in women. Research also shows that men are often given first preference in food distribution, which in turn puts women at greater risk of malnutrition and hunger. Climate change, and climate-related extreme weather events thus disproportionately impact women. In reality, this is just one example. Water insecurity, displacement, sexual violence, health, domestic abuse and number of challenges endanger women further.
Moreover, various intersections of gender, class, race, ethnicity, sexuality, socioeconomic status serve as “multipliers of injustice” as each intersection further dispossesses women. Challenges such as discrimination, sexual and physical violence, wage gaps, and limited access to education and economic participation are more prevalent among rural and indigenous women or women living in the Global South and women of colour, who are ultimately worse off.
The Feminist Climate Renaissance
Climate feminism makes the case that the complex nature of the global climate crisis requires a comprehensive and collaborative response, an approach that would be remiss without the inclusion of women. IUCN notes that gender inequality may “dramatically” restrict climate resilience, adaptive and mitigative efforts, citing that woman empowerment and gender equality can strengthen a number of sectors including economic security, health and food security.
“Women are uniquely situated to be agents of change”
This is demonstrative of the need for what the All You Can Save Project has dubbed as a “female climate renaissance”, who clearly link the climate crisis to a leadership crisis, with a vision to create a transformational climate feminist ecosystem in which feminist climate leadership can grow.
While women have traditionally held roles as primary caregivers of their families and communities, and so are more vulnerable to climate change, considering their position on essentially the ‘front-line’ of the climate crisis, women are also “uniquely situated to be agents of change.” Dr Katherine Wilkinson (co-founder of the, All We Can Save Project) states that, “research demonstrates that women’s leadership and equal participation leads to better outcomes for climate policy, reducing emissions, and protecting land.”
Existing global initiatives including the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement state the urgent need to empower women and achieve gender equality. The Paris Agreement specifically includes the need to empower women to make more climate-related decisions.
Globally, feminist climate leaders are already taking action, with some of the most notable examples including:
- Christiana Figueres, the Former Executive Secretary to the UNFCCC,
- Anne Simpson, Director Global Governance, CalPERS,
- Greta Thunberg, 15-year-old Swedish climate activist,
- Sunita Narain, Environmentalist and Political Activist
- Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand,
- Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Congresswoman, US Government
- Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, Environmental Activist
Feminist solutions to climate change
A number of solutions can be implemented to battle climate change whilst bridging the gender gap. These can include gender-responsive climate (and other) policies, where women can meaningfully participate in key decision-making processes, financing can be provided to women-led climate mitigation or adaptation initiatives or to small holder women farmers, women-owned businesses and SMEs to provide economic opportunities and financial support, banks and financial institutions can implement fintech to scale financial inclusion initiatives to accelerate financial independence for women, and many more.
“There is an urgent and dire need to include people of diverse backgrounds, and especially those most impacted by the climate crisis to create effective and comprehensive policies, initiatives, projects and instruments to best deal with the inevitable reality of climate change.”
A number of other local, community and grassroot-level initiatives are working towards creating more feminist climate leadership. Feminist approaches to climate action and leadership are becoming increasingly important due to the simple reality that individualistic approaches to climate change prevention, mitigation or adaptation are not effective. There is an urgent and dire need to include people of diverse backgrounds, and especially those most impacted by the climate crisis to create effective and comprehensive policies, initiatives, projects and instruments to best deal with the inevitable reality of climate change.