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October 21, 2019

Climate breakdown, decision-makers, we need you to wake up, to rise up!

Climate change is a feminist issue. Or, really, to be more specific, climate change is an issue of patriarchy, racism, and exploitation. And if feminists care about these things, then we really need to care about climate change.

Climate change affects women, girls, and gender non-conforming folks in ways that are different - and usually worse - than men.

When natural disasters hit, women and non-binary folks face the most violence. They face the steepest hill to climb toward recovery, with less access to financial and legal resources to rebuild their lives. This is also true when it comes to adapting our lives to climate change. Limited access to resources influences to what degree women and non-binary folks will be able to adapt - there are people who can easily move from a lake site to a top-hill site, while displacing those who lived there before.

Women in the global South perform the vast majority of the world’s workforce that is directly dependent on the environment, like gathering water to drink and wood for cooking. As the majority of the world’s subsistence farmers, they also tend to grow food for their families while men grow crops to sell. All of this means that when the environment changes, the ability of women to do their work changes too.

Climate change causes more droughts or wildfires or floods? Climate change causes pollution and fossil fuel’s toxicity to proliferate, affecting reproductive health? All of these things impact women and non-binary individuals differently and disproportionately.

Women and non-binary folks are at the forefront of environmental changes, and are impacted by them more severely because of the political and economic marginalization they already face.

Current trends of nationalist and totalitarian politics having a strong anti-feminist, anti-LGBTQI+ and an anti-climate action agenda increase risks for women and non-binary folks, which leads them to become prominent activists in climate and human-rights movements. They are attacked from different angles as they invest their energy in fighting back. And it is not by accident that climate deniers and toxic-masculinity come together in those backward movements. It reminds us that we truly live in patriarchal and exploitative societies from which some people, however, benefited for decades, if not centuries, ad that the systemic changes needed for entering a just-future will mean giving-up power for people who won’t give in easily, not even for the sake of human existence.

As the Women’s Major Group, we represent a group of feminist advocacy organizations that care about these intersections and how they affect women’s lives. Environmental well-being is deeply related to women’s rights. We must advocate for climate action because we advocate for women’s rights.

This past July, the Women’s Major Group was at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City for the High Level Political Forum 2019, where governments came together to assess the progress made on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Among the Goals under discussion is SDG13: take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.

It’s clear that governments around the world have not acted on this Goal with the ambition they need to. The 2018 IPCC report told us we have 11 years to act, making it clear that this is an emergency of unprecedented scale. So why haven’t we seen sweeping, urgent, ambitious action to end the burning of fossil fuels, transition us to renewable energies, and prepare our communities for the coming changes?

The Women’s Major Group demands real climate action that centers around women and gender non-conforming people. Climate justice means addressing climate change with policies that recognize how race, gender, class, and nationality change your experience with climate change’s effects, and prioritises the most vulnerable. These are intersecting and overlapping systems of oppression, and acting on climate also means acting on racial justice, economic justice, and gender justice.

The necessary climate action to become just and zero-emission societies demands structural changes to overcome the fossil-fuel-based economy rooted in patriarchy. We need gender equality embedded into national policies, strategies, and planning. We need women’s organisations to be recipients of funding and partners in projects.

Tetet Lauron of the Philippines, a representative of the Women’s Major Group, delivered an intervention in UN debate recently: “No one can win, and we will all end up losing, if we flush out the system that puts corporate and individual profits over the survival and development of our planet and its people. We need you to wake up. We need you to rise up!”

The Women’s Major Group knows that there is no climate justice without gender justice. There are no jobs on a dead planet. We need more than just climate action, we demand climate justice, now.

The Women’s Major Group (WMG) was created at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where governments recognised Women as one of the nine important groups in society for achieving sustainable development. The WMG is an official participant in the United Nations processes on Sustainable Development. It is self-organised and open to all interested organisations working to promote human rights-based sustainable development with a focus on women’s human rights, the empowerment of women and gender equality. Twitter: @Women_Rio20

An original version of this article was published in The Beam. 

Image: Markus Spiske.