Climate Change Is A Feminist Issue

By Linnea Engstrom, EuropesWorld,
11 April 2017. 
Linnea Engstrom is MEP for Sweden’s Green Party and Vice-Chair of the EP Committee on Fisheries. Climate change is the single most pressing global injustice facing present and future generations, and one of the greatest human rights challenges of our time.
IMAGE CREDIT: CC/Flickr – Annette Bernhardt
But climate change is not gender neutral. Women
are disproportionately affected by climate change, but only a small part of
climate funding is allocated specifically to the needs of women in the most
affected countries.
And while there is a gender gap on climate funding,
there is also a gender gap when it comes to the increasing problem of climate
change denial.
Recently-published research shows that climate
change denial is strongly correlated with accepting patriarchal or hierarchical
structures. One extremely visible example of this is the new President of the
United States, Donald Trump. He has attacked women’s reproductive rights and
produced a litany of sexist remarks; he has also referred to climate change as
a “hoax” and promised to withdraw the US from the 2015 Paris climate change
Climate denial is also on the rise in Europe,
linked to an old faith in oil and coal as job-creating money machines, and to
nationalism. Climate change is an inconvenient truth for nationalism: it is a
problem that cannot be solved at a national level; it requires collective
action between states and between all actors in society at all levels. And
perhaps more provocatively, it calls for gender equality and the renouncement
of a western masculine identity with its links to consumption patterns.
Lifestyles with a larger carbon dioxide
footprint are linked to a high income, while lower incomes are linked to lower
energy consumption. The traditional distribution of money and power, with men
in possession of greater wealth and freedom of movement, therefore results in
men being responsible for higher levels of greenhouse gas emissions. While rich
women in the western world are responsible for higher CO2 emissions
than poor men in developing countries, they are still likely to have a
lifestyle that emits less CO2 than men with the same income do.
Research shows that polluting habits attributed
to men are the result of the norms and values which define traditional
masculinity and femininity. These images are very strongly embedded in our
minds, reinforced by advertising aimed at increasing consumption. A car, for
example, is sold as symbol of a man’s wealth and social status; we are told
that ‘real’ men eat meat. Hegemonic masculinity explains why some forms of
masculinity become dominant and others subordinate, and why certain traits come
to define a ‘real man’. These traits change over time and vary between
cultures, but are usually associated with power, strength, domination and
Breaking with traditional norms of consumption
can therefore encourage a more gender-equal society and combat climate change,
with both genders encouraged to use public transport and adopt a vegetarian
diet. While this presents no problem for many progressive men, others –
including many on the conservative right – have their identities increasingly
tied up with notions of traditional masculinity. This makes green policies even
more provocative: they challenge a gendered identity.
Considerations of gender are also necessary as
we work to limit the negative impact of climate change upon the world’s
population. Globally, women are more vulnerable to the effects of climate
change than men, primarily because women constitute two-thirds of the world’s
poor and because their livelihoods are more dependent on the natural resources
that are threatened by climate change.
In 2015 the World Bank published a report
showing that climate change in poorer regions such as sub-Saharan Africa and
South Asia could force more than 100 million people into extreme poverty by
2030. Without a fair distribution of resources we face a world with millions of
climate refugees: the United Nations estimates that there will be 200 million
climate refugees by 2050. But with a rapid, inclusive and gender-sensitive
development agenda focused on adapting to changing climate conditions, most of
these impacts can still be prevented.
“Globally, women’s
livelihoods are more dependent on the natural resources that are threatened by
climate change”
Raising awareness of climate justice, the need
for gender mainstreaming and the consequences of climate change is a
prerequisite to tackling the challenges we face. The balance between adaptation
and mitigation is unjust, and those who need the most frequently receive the
least. Climate funding has become ‘big business’, and the most affected and
most vulnerable are not part of the deal. The Paris agreement offers, for the
first time, a chance for climate policymakers to focus on human rights and
gender equality. This is crucial to ensure that climate mitigation and
adaptation policies do not endanger the full enjoyment of human rights.
Women and men living in rural areas within
developing countries are especially vulnerable. They face great challenges in
securing water, food and fuel for cooking and heating. For women this issue is
frequently coupled with limited mobility and unequal access to both resources
and decision-making processes. In short, women often face social, economic and
political barriers that limit their coping capacity. It is vital to identify
gender-sensitive strategies to respond to the environmental and humanitarian
crises caused by climate change.
Integrating gender into climate policy is
efficient policymaking and a necessary tool to achieve climate justice on a
global level. By introducing gender aspects into climate measures, policymakers
will have to consider how different social factors, such as gender, education,
income and age, determine our access to resources and our opportunities to act
in a climate-friendly way.
The result of a gender-sensitive approach is
that the diversity of social groups is more likely to be taken into account
when formulating climate policies. That is why gender analysis is the starting
point in making climate policy socially fair – and why climate change is
certainly a feminist issue.