Sarah Adlington, from Bristol University’s Amnesty International Society, reflects on the intersection of the climate crisis and feminism.
The climate change movement has taken the media by storm in the past few years, yet we hear very little about how feminist issues intersect with the climate crisis. One of the aims of Bristol University Amnesty International Society’s campaign ‘Climate Change Is A Human Rights Issue’ is to bring the issues surrounding gender and climate change into mainstream conversation.
The climate crisis disproportionately affects women – particularly in the developing world due to women’s increased likelihood to be in poverty and reliant on subsistence farming to provide for their family. However, this is often ignored in current feminist and environmental conversations. Ecofeminism is an exception, but both its strands have proved controversial. Cultural ecofeminism offers the stance that women are more connected to nature because of gender roles and their biology. However, this has been heavily criticised for excluding those who do not identify with binary gender categories and encouraging gender stereotypes, meaning that it actually damages the feminist cause. Radical ecofeminism argues that both women and the environment are exploited by men, and views women and nature as equal. But, these theories bear little relevance to the dire situation of the climate debate today. The effects of climate change are predominantly discussed in relation to the future. Due to our privilege and disconnection with the effects already being felt by individuals around the globe, we are failing to acknowledge how women are already bearing the brunt of climate change.
Along with FemSoc (Chair – Shamar Gunning), People & Planet and VegSoc, Amnesty held a discussion on why as feminists, we should be concerned with climate change and the effects it is having on women currently, as well as how students can get involved in activism effectively. The panel largely agreed that it is our duty to empathise with victimised women around the globe and use our privileged position in the West to draw attention to women suffering in developing nations (Cordelia Hughes – VegSoc; Iona Marshall – Amnesty). As mentioned above, one of the reasons that these women are disproportionately affected by climate change is their increased likelihood to be living in poverty. This means that when the adverse effects of climate change hit a country, such as drought or flooding, women feel the negative impacts in a different and more intense way. Not only because they are reliant on their own crops to feed themselves and their dependants, but also because environmental disasters have been connected with an increased risk of domestic violence due to the economic instability and lack of infrastructure in the areas affected.
In addition to this, Hannah Syed (People & Planet) highlighted how forced migration due to such events is more perilous for women due to the risks of violence and exploitation. With young girls in particular, the risk extends to of trafficking. These secondary effects of the climate crisis are often hidden in current debate and it is the responsibility of feminism to shine a light on how women are already suffering in relation to climate change, rather than just focussing on potential future impacts. Furthermore, women worst affected by climate change are often those with the least economic and political power. This means that feminists in more privileged positions should help give these women a voice in decision-making, as their knowledge and experience is invaluable, due to their personal victimisation.
On a more basic level, how can we get involved and make a difference? Cordellia Hughes emphasized the effectiveness of lobbying local MPs and councillors, as it is their duty to respond to you. You should be persistent in this, and should continue challenging the opinions you hear from those around you, from politicians to family members. Even institutions like the University can easily be lobbied into making change to benefit the climate cause. Hannah Syed added that this is more effective if collective action is taken, so get involved and find the right society to help realise the changes you want to see. In a longer term sense, Iona Marshall stressed the importance of using your career to make a difference. No matter what discipline you’re in, you can choose an ethically conscious path and in many cases make a direct impact on feminism and climate change if you so wish.
If you’re drawn to the issue of women’s human rights being jeopardised by climate change, embrace your inner Greta Thunberg and attend upcoming climate strikes and use your banner to draw attention to the issue. Throughout the rest of November and early December, there are plenty of workshops around climate change and human rights if you want to widen your education on these issues, the details of which can be found on the Bristol Amnesty International Society Facebook page.
Artwork by Aimee Egglesfield.