Yesterday, on Sunday September 21, women from all over the world took action for climate justice at the People's Climate March in New York City.
At 68th street and Central Park over 40 women's organizations met, united under the slogan "there will be no climate justice without gender justice." The message acknowledges that the climate crisis is most dramatically affecting women, particularity of the Global South, when they are the least responsible for global warming and environmental destruction.
As 80 per cent of the world's small-scale farmers, it is women who are burdened with the repercussions of crop failures and food scarcity. Still playing a prominent role as the caregivers of their communities, it is largely women who are dealing with the impact of increased levels of disease and illness made more extreme by climate change. Moreover, as natural resource scarcity worsens within these communities and at the demand of the global markets dependence on never ending resource extraction, it is also tragically the women who are experiencing an increase in violence and rape.
"The Woman for Climate Justice" contingency spanned across all political spectrums ranging from organizations such as the Women's Environmental and Development Organization (WEDO), to grassroots initiatives such as the group "Radical Women" who describe themselves as the "revolutionary wing of the women's movement… Immersed in the daily fight against racism, sexism, homophobia and labour exploitation."
Although the diversity was significant, there was one coherent agreement amongst the group -- that there are inseparable links between the climate crisis, today's global economic structure and the ongoing exploitation and disempowerment of women.
For the women's contingency the root of the climate crisis is not simply an environmental problem. It is systematic problem based in gendered issues. Understanding the drivers of the climate crisis means understanding that Global Southern and Indigenous women's work, and societal and political positions are overwhelmingly at odds with today's development model centered on endless growth.
For them, a main proponent of climate change is the replacement of global women's economies based in small-scale agricultural models of ecological sustainability, by limitless industrial development and production. Corporations like Monsanto are systematically displacing women's economies all over the world through land grabs, which result in the severe disenfranchisement of women.
The Advocacy and Communications Director of WEDO, Bridget Burns, explained that "we need a feminist ideology and women's perspective to enact a model of collective and women's ownership, of their seeds, of their plants, and of their forests in order to save the climate, and unless we stop trying to challenge those systems by creating new market mechanisms then we wont be helping women."
For the NGOs and organizational groups present at the march, an increase in Women's participation is part of the solution. Women's leadership in climate decision-making processes including UN negotiations and international government policies is a way in moving forward toward a women's solidarity economy and collective environmental responsibility.
That's why organizations such as The Women's Earth & Climate Action Network (WECAN) is holding their "Women Leading Solutions on the Frontlines of Climate Change" conference today at the United Nations. Here they will present their "Women's Climate Action Agenda", followed by a "Rights of Nature" event.
However although several of the women's groups felt there was importance in staying linked to policy based negotiations, it did not take away from the deeper systematic critique of the issues at hand. Noelene Nabulivou from Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (DAWN) and LBT Diverse Voices and Actions for Equality explained "as much as the UN is getting it wrong, we need them right now. As a lesbian from the Pacific we also need to remain focused on the intersectionalist work we have to do around gender and sexual identities for women in rural and remote areas."
The resistance of the colonization of Mother Earth, Terra Madre and Pachamama was also central. In Canada specifically the rights of Mother Earth movement has become a symbol of the climate movement at large. Indigenous women activist and academics have been vocal about the history of how the European colonization of Indigenous people's land was dependent on disempowering any positive ethic toward nature and women. This was achieved by installing European forms of gender relations and dismantling women's power aided by the appropriation of Indigenous women's bodies.
Although she marched with the Indigenous contingency, which led the People's Climate March, Melina Laboucan Massimo, long time Indigenous activist and tar sands campaigner for Greenpeace Canada also agreed that climate justice and gender justice go hand in hand. "People don't realize that violence against the land is violence against women, which is an issue we have in Canada, specifically with missing Indigenous women, my sister being one of them. If we continue living through patriarchal ways, colonial values both outside and inside our movements then we will never reach climate justice, which includes gender justice. There is a need to look at what equality really means -- really."
Melina explained how many Indigenous peoples have a matrilocal history of gender balance unlike what is seen in today's patriarchal system. "With the exploitation of Mother Earth we see a disproportionate imbalance between our genders around the world and that's why we see violence against Mother Earth and violence against women." The expansion of tar sands pipelines is a result of this destructive relationship.
Diana Duarte of MADRE: Demanding Rights, Resources and Results for Women Worldwide, was also vocal about such interlocking issues between the climate crisis and women. She also emphasized that the privilege and power of women in the Global North results in different impacts of climate change on women of the Global South. However she does not think this divides us and instead advocates for a real coming together in order to confront the real roots of climate change.
Julie Gorecki is a feminist and climate activist, published academic and writer. Follow Julie on twitter @JulieGorecki
Photo: flickr/Climate March