March is Women’s History Month in the US, hooray! Similarly to a blog written last month, one focus of this blog will be highlighting the achievements of women environmentalists in our city and around the world. However, such celebration does not come without the recognition of the unique challenges that women face as a result of climate change, and it’s resulting inequities.
Recently we got feedback from a reader that prompted some thought and discussion on what climate justice is and how it differs from environmental justice. Firstly, I want to say that feedback, critique and questions are not only welcome but encouraged by readers. Anytime thinking is challenged, learning occurs. Secondly, I have been thinking a lot about climate justice, and it’s origins. From one understanding, the term emerged from a climate justice summit which took place seventeen years ago at the same time as the 6th Conference of the Parties (COP-6) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in The Hague. Of course, we can not fully credit the UN with the creation of a climate justice framework, as those of us committed to this work understand that long term movement building has and must continue to center and value the wisdom and struggle of people most directly impacted by climate change and its aftermaths. I’d venture to say such folks are not going to UN conventions in droves.
What this brings up is the necessity for intersection in talking about climate justice. Research taught me about the “action portfolios” and development goals of this work including funding the shift toward renewable energy, moving away from oil and carbon-based energy, reducing large scale emissions, conserving biodiversity and so on. But what does this mean for the average Baltimorean, or world citizen, who is trying to obtain and maintain health for themselves and their loved ones? What does this mean when you are not at the proverbial “table”? For the countless low and no income women and gender minorities living in under-invested areas of our city and world, what does climate justice look like?
Despite the fact that men (as assigned at birth) outnumber women (as assigned at birth) by nearly sixty-six million as of 2015, we know that double standards and unfair treatment lead to women being in the majority when it comes to those living in extreme poverty, regardless of which city or country they live in. Plus, due to many connected factors, poor women in less industrialized areas are most impacted by climate change. It is difficult to pinpoint what leads to what (nor do I think it is worth the debate) but at the intersections of money, housing, health, the environment, gender, race, education, and other life stuff, we often find women and gender non conforming people facing the most barriers. This is in no way to deny that there are plenty of men struggling to live in safe, healthy, clean communities. No matter one’s sex or gender, being poor and brown on planet earth means a higher chance of living in a polluted, overcrowded, isolated or otherwise undesirable place and having little chance to change that. However, women and gender minorities face additional violence – sometimes at the hands of their brothers, lovers, and friends – which makes their lives even harder. Breathing polluted air is everyone’s problem, but fearing that you may be raped if you dare to venture out to the next village to gather water for your family is something many women deal with daily. When political unrest occurs as a result of land and water struggles caused by the changing climate, women suffer in ways that others do not.
With that in mind, I want to mention a few women who dedicated their lives to environmental and climate justice, striving to make their communities more healthy and just. First is Norma Alvares, an Indian social worker, lawyer, and activist who has worked hundreds of cases, free of charge, in their areas of women’s and human rights, animal welfare and the environment. Norma is also a founding member of the Goa Foundation. Last month we mentioned local Destiny W which has been a core part of the fight to shut down harmful polluting facilities in the city. Check out this article for more details about her work. The last woman I want to mention is Winona LaDuke, an indigenous woman of the White Earth reservation in northern Minnesota. Winona is a writer, activist, and academic who has worked to develop sustainable food and energy systems. She has also made great strides in winning battles for the preservation of indigenous land across the US.
Of course, many were not named here who deserve to be. But the few who were have been mentioned because I had never heard of them and felt that they should be shouted out. Who will you discover as an inspiration in this ongoing work?