Gender and Climate: Where do they intersect?

Kate Fraser - Teen Aspect - September 15th, 2022
(Greenpeace, 2018)
 

Climate science has always been a whirlwind of numbers: temperature ranges, sea-level rise, years until catastrophe. It’s hard to not deem climate change as something only for the scientists; in fact, science is the very thing that upholds our understanding of our position within the climate crisis and where it may take us.


Overwhelmed by the seemingly complicated research and knowledge that goes into our understanding of the climate crisis, there is a crucial component to the issue that has consistently been left out of the various climate discussions led by our world leaders. Sociological and humanitarian implications behind the climate crisis go hand in hand with understanding the impacts of climate change to their fullest extent. I often think about the doomsday discourse behind sea level rise in Miami. The increase in sea level is put next to a projected year, leaving behind a jumble of numbers. Yet, who will this displace? How many people will be forced to move? Will this deepen the already prominent social divide? These are sociological questions that are dangerously overlooked by some climate experts. To put it simply, climate and sociological research must go hand in hand if we are to fully grasp what the future holds for us. This can guide us to effective climate policy via a humanitarian approach, putting the people and the environment at the forefront of our priorities.


A significant social factor that has become a standout conversation within climate discussions is gender.


Mary Robinson, the former President of Ireland and United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, wrote Climate Justice: Hope, Resilience, and the Fight for a Sustainable Future, a book that takes you through the stories of women around the world fighting for climate and environmental justice initiatives in their communities. There’s a quote that stuck with me from this book: “…by linking women with access to power to women on the front lines of climate change at the grassroots level, we could all gather strength and create a new kind of climate activism.” Robinson has led numerous panels and discussions that exclusively involve women, trying to give a voice to those who are often spoken over within international climate negotiations and discussions between political leaders. Many of these women-led discussions have, as Robinson describes, brought about a “new sense of energy” within climate activism, showing that connecting similar backgrounds can provide hope for an already uncertain future. Robinson also uncovers the various ways in which women are disproportionately impacted by climate change and subsequent weather disasters. Whether it’s the female-majority farming workforce in Africa struggling with unusual weather patterns or women having to resort to prostitution to feed their families during disastrous floods, it is clear that women are often bearing the brunt of climate change.


Despite this disproportionate struggle with the climate crisis, women often do not have access to the representation they need. Following a series of UN climate talks in 2018, many individuals who were in attendance could not help but draw attention to the fact that the male speakers outnumbered women in a 2:1 ratio, with “manels” becoming the buzzword of the conference [i]. Yet, this male majority is not exclusive to the United Nations. Take our very own U.S. Congress. Despite the fact that women make up 51% of the U.S. population, only 28% make up Congress at large.


Approaches like those promoted by Robinson involve aspects of both feminist and climate activism, connecting the dots between the multifaceted overlaps within the two historic social movements.


Nonetheless, gender is not the only societal factor that we need to consider in discussions around climate change. Socioeconomic status, race, geographic location, age, etc. are all leading issues that must be included as we navigate the rocky water of the climate crisis.


References [i] Apparicio, S., & Darby, M. (2018, May 4). 'Manels': Male speakers outnumber women two to one at UN climate talks. Climate Home News. Retrieved August 4, 2022, from https://www.climatechangenews.com/2018/05/03/twice-many-men-women-panels-un-climate-talks/

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