‘Genderblind’ doesn’t cut it – the climate change edition

// 14 June 2008

photos of four women affected by climate change, profiled by OxfamOne of the challenges faced by feminists is getting across the fact that gender affects more than just issues like violence against women, pay equity, media representations. Indeed, feminists are often hard pressed to get people to recognise that even these most obvious manifestations of misogyny and sexism are anything to do with gender, so perhaps it’s not surprising to read posts like this, over at the New Scientist, containing, sorry Catherine Brahic, clueless statements like:

There is no denying that the films cast climate change in a light which we are not used to seeing it in. But for me, climate change is not a gender issue. Climate change will not affect women more than men. In different cultures, where men and women have different roles, it will affect them differently.

Followed by the irritating (my personal experience as a visitor to “Africa” – a country of 53 countries and nearly a billion people and massive diversity – outweighs considered evidence collected by environmental and feminist groups over decades!):

In African countries I have visited, men plant the fields and make the decision on when to sow the seed based on rain patterns.

This followed four clips put together by Oxfam demonstrating the absolute opposite – as part of their Sisters on the Planet campaign.

Of course, this is about more than gender – it is the poorest women in the world who are going to bare the brunt of catastrophic weather, which, of course, is down to other factors, most obviously historic and continuing exploitation carried out by those same rich countries that set us on this path to environmental destruction.

But, well, the concept that the climate change is gendered is not new. The concept that poverty is gendered is not new. The Women’s Environment Network, which produced the Women’s Manifesto on Climate Change, was set up in 1988. Even the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – a massively influential body of scientists whose key, peer-reviewed reports are partly why you now see governments taking serious action, or at least talking about, climate change – said in its report on adaptation to climate change:

The role of gender in influencing adaptive capacity and adaptation is thus an important consideration for the development of interventions to enhance adaptive capacity and to facilitate adaptation. Gender differences in vulnerability and adaptive capacity reflect wider patterns of structural gender inequality. One lesson that can be drawn from the gender and development literature is that climate interventions that ignore gender concerns reinforce the differential gender dimensions of vulnerability

This is not new news – it’s not even controversial.

On the other hand, as Madre points out, neither the Kyoto Protocol nor the UN Framework on Climate Change (both international mechanisms to get countries to cut greenhouse gas emissions), mention gender or women. The public debate on climate change never or rarely mentions women. Companies have taken to putting out exhaustive, book-length reports on how sustainable they are, and if you’re lucky there will be one or two mentions of women – strictly in the section on hiring practices, or charity work.

And the online environment reporter for the New Scientist can say that she’s not used to reading about climate change as a feminist issue.

Of course, I can see this playing out clearly in the case of climate change, because I, too, work as an environment reporter. However, I am sure that this tendency to see the world as gender-blind, apart from a few, narrow ‘women’s issues’ such as rape and domestic violence, is much more widespread.

I don’t really have an answer to this – perhaps those of us who are involved in other fields, as well as feminist and social justice activism, have a responsibility to point out ‘the women angle’ more often. We only have to look a tiny bit deeper than usual to find it.

Comments From You

JENNIFER DREW // Posted 14 June 2008 at 8:57 pm

The Madre website is a good place to start because it gives excellent examples of how climate change disproportionately affects women far more than men. Of course central is the still entrenched gender inequality because it is still men as a group who continue to hold the power. Likewise male sexual violence which is usually defined as rape and male violence against female partners, can be linked in very easily with climate change. When resources become increasingly scarce it is always women and children who are the first ones to suffer and it is not because of their ‘vulnerability’ it is because they are still devalued compared to men. Or to put it another way – it is how power is still disproportionately distributed. Rich western countries are not in the least concerned about less powerful countries instead it is all about controlling natural resources. So, look at who holds the most power within western countries and I don’t think it is white western women.

But ‘gender’ is now considered to be passe because everyone in our so-called ideal world is equal (I wish). Excluding a gendered perspective neatly allows patriarchal and male-dominant myths to flourish such as the claim climate change is not a gendered issue because of course since women are always invisible, then obviously climate change can only affect men. When publications such as The New Scientist ignore and invisibilise women then of course there is no gendered issue because humans are all men. Has this not always been the case – men defining men as human and women as non-human.

Mary Tracy9 // Posted 15 June 2008 at 12:59 am

In every catastrophe, in every crisis, the people at the bottom suffer more than the people at the top. That’s a fact. Climate change will affect the poorer of the world more than the rich, and it is doing so now. It’s only logical that women will suffer more than men.

This is just another example of a very narrow idea of feminism, which concerns itself only with tweaking the existing system so that the grossest inequalities (sorta) vanish and the rest of it remains unchanged.

And… what Jennifer said.

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