Long gone are the days when climate change was just glaciers melting and oceans warming – right now this phenomena, better called global ‘heating and cooling’ means rampant destruction of lives and livelihoods, dramatically increasing the vulnerabilities of those who were already at risk.
In Asia-Pacific, Bangladesh and India are often seen at the very top of the list of countries facing the most risks associated with climate change, while global studies have also placed Nepal, Philippines, Afghanistan and Myanmar within the top 10 countries facing ‘Extreme Risk’. Thus six of the ten countries most vulnerable to the effects of climate change are Asian nations.
For these countries in the region, which is home to half of the world’s extreme poor (at least 641 million people) there is very little capacity and means for coping with these new challenges. The diversity of the region – geographically, economically, politically and socially – means that the peoples’ experiences of climate change are varied, yet their overall state of poverty amplifies their shared vulnerabilities.
International climate diplomacy and resulting negotiations were formally launched with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) at the Earth Summit in Rio De Janeiro in 1992. Since then, every year there is a meeting of the Conference of Parties (CoP) to shape and strengthen global climate efforts to keep the world below 1.5 degree Celsius. This year, the CoP24 will take place in Katowice, Poland to formalise the Paris Agreement that was successfully signed and ratified by 183 member countries (although the USA has pulled out and Brazil is in line to do the same ever since President Trump made it ‘fashionable’ among leaders to deny climate change).
In the recent rise of increasingly right-wing and corporations-backed governments in the countries like USA, Poland, Hungary, Italy to name a few, there is more confusion and resistance to truly commit to financing for climate action or change their business-as-usual approach which is problematic for the environment (for example, fossil fuels, extractives, mining). Civil society organisations who participate in the UNFCCC processes are increasingly frustrated at the inadequate action taken in times of unmitigated urgency of the climate crisis. Global civil society networks like Demand Climate Justice and Women’s Global Call for Climate Justice are at the forefront asking for fairer climate policies.
Climate Justice Is A Feminist Issue
Time and again, reports from ground shows that climate change is not gender neutral. Women are always, and more severely, affected by natural disasters and extreme weather events, including during post-disaster response efforts. On average, women and children are 14 times more likely to die during a natural disaster than men. During the 2004 Tsunami of the Indian Ocean, three times more women died than men.
Women are always, and more severely, affected by natural disasters and extreme weather events, including during post-disaster response efforts.
Similarly, in Bangladesh, 90% of those killed in the 1991 typhoon were women. The obvious and unequal poverty in the Asia-Pacific limits women’s opportunities to escape or reduce their chances of survival if escape is impossible. Traditional gender roles keep women at home, caring for children and the elderly, in less stable housing conditions than the men who leave the house for work in public or commercial buildings.
Entrenched, historical gendered roles mean women are more likely to die in disasters, suffer long term health impacts, face reduced income, increased burden of unpaid care work and destruction of livelihoods. They have limited access to resilient resources that make it harder to break the cycle of poverty.
Climate change exacerbates patriarchy for many women. In Bangladesh, a persistent link has been suggested between the loss of lands and livelihoods due to climate change and early, child or forced marriage. Researchers also found that climate change has increased demands for dowry payments, as other forms of livelihoods become less dependable, and in most instances child marriage and dowry have become coping strategies for locals.
Climate change exposes women to an increased risk of violence, trafficking and conflict. In the last sixty years, at least 40% of all intrastate conflicts have had a link to natural resources and the environment. Increased economic insecurity related to climate change increases the susceptibility of people, including young women, to be recruited into combat. Gender-based violence is increasing in the countries of Asia-Pacific region, and there is a numbing acceptance to the everyday reality of violent solutions to disputes, within and among communities.
For instance, women and girls in the Philippines were already vulnerable to sexual violence and trafficking due to high rates in poverty. Their displacement during the typhoon Haiyan has only made it worse. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates that 5,000 women were exposed to sexual violence in December 2013.
Climate change is now posing an existential threat to humanity with increasing conflicts, resource-wars, human rights violation and insecurity of the masses. But understanding climate change or solving the crisis is not limited to the science and technology elements as we often perceive. Climate change is a manifestation of the global capitalist and neoliberal economic order that continues to fail us and remains a stronghold with the endless loyalty offered to it by governments and corporations alike. Modern globalisation has offered endless economic boom to a few and put the planet in the crisis that we currently face.
Today, only 1% of the world’s population owns 48% of global wealth. Even ‘democracies’ like India are befuddled with the rise of wealthy and deep corruption in governance and absolute unaccountability in both. Developed economies accounting for 15% of the global population use about half of the global resources and contribute the most to global warming and environmental degradation. Adding to the burden are global tax evasions and illicit financial flows that keep the poor getting poorer and without justice.
Increased economic insecurity related to climate change increases the susceptibility of people, including young women, to be recruited into combat.
‘Systems change, not climate change’. Climate change will force change. We can choose to change in ways that are more equitable and just for women and communities or we can continue on a path of destruction and a dystopian future of gross violations, inequality and ultimately, annihilation. The feminist philosophy of ‘personal is political’ and its constant criticism of globalisation-fundamentalist-militarised form of systems like capitalism must therefore be at the core of any deliberate climate action.
Bringing The Women In The Climate Forefront
Global South feminists have long rejected the dominant conservative view of women of this region as only victims of colonisation, conflicts and climate change. Undocumented and often forgotten, our region is rich with the individual and collective stories of women who have been at the forefront of defining ‘adaptation’ and ‘resilience’ before they were taken over as a service offered from the developed country perspectives.
Bearing the brunt of the global neglect to their realities, women, especially from the indigenous and marginalised communities still continue to challenge the norms of development, often paying a heavy price for it in their subsistence and lives. The rising instances of State-Industry-Military nexus of violence against women human and environment rights defenders questions our belief in the ‘system’ and complicity of agencies like United Nations that no longer place ‘people over profits’.
Inspiring stories of the women across the world, like Rachel Carson and ‘Silent Spring’, Wangari Mathai’s Green Belt Movement in Kenya and Jane Goodall’s conservationism have been celebrated; but lesser known are the struggles (and occasional wins) of the women in the Endosulfan Protests in India, peasant women alliances in Philippines, women human rights defenders in Mongolia and in the Pacific against large mining corporations.
The world is not without the strength and capacities of these women. They are still at the forefront of many of the present fights against large-scale dams, deforestation, mono-cropping, oil and gas development, mining and polluting industries, which all contribute to climate change. They have also for quite long spearheaded initiatives for local adaptation and livelihoods through frugal innovations and traditional knowledge. These remain unacknowledged and are often just sidelined as ‘case studies’ or ‘success stories’ of ‘big’ development agencies or research agencies.
Histories that have seen women empowered and collectively involved in decision making, show resulting decisions to be more community and environmentally positive. When women are involved in climate or environment related decision making, their power and position in communities is strengthened through access to land and livelihoods. For instance, development with a difference was made during the democratic decentralisation and the people’s plan campaign of the government of Kerala, in India, during the 1996-97 period which marked a new approach to development planning in the State.
The gender dimension that had been built into the planning process, along with the Women Component Plan contributed to the Kudumbashree idea. Kudumbashree, which is an association of women in the grassroots, has been considered as a successful poverty eradication programme in Kerala. In a cooperative models of public-public partnerships, it provides many services such as microcredit, saving facilities, children’s education, health and well being, safe food and microhousing.
In the heart of the women-led movements and struggles in the modern climate activism is the thought, “What kind of world will we leave to coming generations?”
There is no equality or sustainability on a dead planet. So what can a world that keeps the welfare and dignified lives of communities and its members at the core look like? Building on the Feminist Fossil Fuel Free Future manifesto of women’s organizations, an alternative development paradigm needs to be designed based on a radical ecological democracy that functions on the principles of collective commons and solidarity, human rights and respecting the planetary boundaries, diversity and interconnectedness of life in its pursuit of advancement that is equitable and just.
Featured Image Source: Ambiental