Slowly it has been dawning on me the complete lack of men in this environmental world. Why is it that all over my social media feeds and the faces I meet at talks and events are female by an overwhelming majority? Is fighting for the environment and social justice a female issue?
Where are all the men?
After this realisation it has been almost impossible for me to get out of my head. Just last week I was speaking at an event on sustainability at the University of Edinburgh, and as I am looking across a sea of faces in the audience, I am again stood frantically scanning to see if I can find any male faces. With about 50 attendees, about 5 were male. This is not a one off event. Time and time again I find myself engaging with an overwhelmingly female audience. It is also apparent that so much of the ‘ground’ work and research is being led by females, while it is male journals, books and discoveries which grace the headlines.
Then I came across this post from my friend Jo – Treesandpeace:
“Climate change isn’t gender neutral. An unjust distribution of wealth and labour means woman are affected by climate change the most and the worst (especially women of colour)! Social and economic discrimination act as barriers in accessing resources, increasing vulnerability.
Women – majority of farm workers, primary caregivers in the world, less paid, less educated and often the last to eat and yet at the forefront of fighting climate change! WOMEN ARE STRONG AS HELL!”
“Climate change is a man-made issue with feminist solutions.”
The issues surrounding environmentalism link undeniably to issues of both human rights and social justice. Climate refugees, food security and poverty are just a few issues which stem either directly or indirectly back to our natural world – and our anthropogenic degradation of it! Climate change is no longer a movement solely focused on ‘saving the trees’ but it is a political, ethical and moral dilemma which intertwines with injustice and inequality.
Rife in these inequalities is gender. Climate change impacts some of the most marginalised communities and people across our globe. Mara Alejandra Rodriguez Acha, a Peruvian activist put it perfectly:
‘The changing climate…further increases disparities, as its impacts hit vulnerable populations – who have done the least to contribute to this crisis – the hardest. And among those at the frontlines of climate impacts are the bodies, lives and livelihoods of women around the world — particularly rural and indigenous women.’
Globally there is an unprecedented number of vulnerable women. Women are driving the labour working force; being agricultural labourers and making up 70% of the global population living in poverty. Not only do these employment sectors depend heavily on the work of underpaid woman, but these are the industries which are most at risk from changes to our climates. The most vulnerable people in our world and working with the least stability in the most at risk environments.
The changing climate
The changing climate brings many uncertain and negative changes to regions where women already face social and economic disadvantages. Extreme flooding and storm events risks complete desolation of homes, infrastructure and work places. Prolonged drought periods results in more time spend collecting basic amenities such as water, and less time spent in education and work. In countries where education is still a luxury (or worse unattainable) for girls, further division is created through the lack of adaptability knowledge. Women are forced to be dependant on those who have the freedom and access to education, especially in regards to climate change mitigation and resilience.
Feminism and environmentalism are the same fight. However, we need to bring gender into the picture for climate change mitigation. Whilst reading up on this topic I found a blog which was discussing the role that the IFPRI (International Food Policy Research Institute) played in conveying the differences in how women and men perceived climate change. Surely with differing viewpoints, more tailored information and strategies are needed to effectively educate and motivate all people to act on this issue. They also found that in large international and even national scale campaigns, gender is not taken into account. This highlights ever more the role in which feminists must play in the continued fight for justice across our world.
Mary Mellor is a professor from Northumbria University who has dedicated much work to the movement of ecofeminism: the alignment of feminism and environmentalism. She says that this movement ‘sees a connection between the exploitation and degradation of the natural world and the subordination and oppression of women.’
Bringing feminist values and ethics into the environmental discussion is paramount in ensuring social justice. Patriarchy, racism and western industrialisation are continued oppressions being fought to overturn today. Environmental spins can be taken on all of these. Moving away from the stigma that feminine attributes in terms of caring, nurturing and tending are what drive environmentalism, and moving away from gender stigmas in general is a key consideration.
I love this example from the everyday feminism magazine:
The eco-feminism lens is helpful in addressing environmental issues because it allows us the unveil oppressive societal structures – like racism, sexism, and classism – that play a significant role in the health of the environment and who is most impacted by this health declining.
So from now on, when you’re discussing recycling with your friends, don’t just think about where your un-recycled items will end up. Dig deeper and consider which communities tend to live near the landfills in which non-recyclable waste is dumped.Then dig even deeper and consider how living near the landfills may impact their health and wellbeing and if they are likely to have access to health insurance or not when it comes time to address these health impacts.
That is the beauty of the intersectional nature of eco-feminism.
So I will leave you with something else to consider. There are men in the environmental world. Albeit a lot are sitting at the top of environmental companies and organisations (thats a whole other blog in itself). But there are some guys out their doing there bit and doing it well. I had a really great talk with Keiran – Semisustainableman – about this whole thing. He is trying to live as low impact as possible. His instagram gives me inspiration daily. And he is a guy.
We talked about everything from the stereotypes of feminine attributes to the ‘environmental’ way of living, woman holding the position of ‘homemaker’ and lead buyer of household things, to the practicalities of men carrying around reusable items in their non-existant hand bags. We wondered whether there was a higher chance for guys to change their habits if other guys were doing it too, or whether it is really all about who you surround yourself with?
A note to add to this is that there is a massive lack of any BIPOC people being recognised within environmentalism let alone BIPOC males too as overall global power is held and managed by cis white older men. This balance needs to be shaken up dramatically, if only to recognise the value of women’s work in environmental work.
To end on a positive note. This community and movement is growing. It is growing into far flung reaches off the globe, and as it grows so does the information about all people we share this wonderful world with. Breaking social norms which are intertwined so deeply with injustice and inequality is not going to be easy. We should all be continually searching to uncover these injustices and adapt to ways of living which are fair and just for all.