One of the most important objectives of the feminist movement is to achieve gender equality for women. However, understanding what gender inequity is and the ways that it affects women in their daily lives has been vitally important on the road toward gender equality.
One of the major discussions regarding the Paris Agreement was on the language related to human rights, which also included aspects associated with gender equality. But why is it so important to emphasize the gender category? Does climate change affect all of us equally?
It is precisely because climate change does not affect everyone equally that makes mainstreaming gender into climate agreements so important. Gender is a category that, together with class and race, exacerbates the adverse consequences of climate change for women, making it a matter of climate justice.
The relationship between climate change and women goes in two directions: the risks posed by climate change are aggravated by gender and the adverse effects of climate change can deepen existing gender inequalities. Why does this happen?
The relationship that women have with the natural world is very different from the one that men have. This difference is not due to biological or “natural” reasons, but because of structural reasons, both social and material, that can be divided into three types inequities:
- The distribution of productive resources, property and access to the labor market.
- The distribution of power and access to decision-making spaces.
- The distribution of reproductive and care work.
It is clear that gender also intersects with other factors such as class and race. Therefore, a white woman from an urban area will not experience climate change in the same way as an indigenous woman from a rural area.
These inequities both exclude women from productive and decision-making processes and allocates them with responsibilities associated with the care of others (human and non-human). This distribution of labor and power makes women especially dependent on natural resources for their subsistence.
Lacking access to financial capital, women rely on resources such as firewood, water, medicinal plants that are found in what feminist political ecology calls “intermediate spaces”: those that hold little economic value, but are important for sustaining life.
Climate change has adverse effects that, together with other practices such as extractivism, lead to environmental degradation. This in turn affects subsistence resources and, therefore, the lives of women all over.
Bina Agarwal explains that environmental degradation affects 6 critical aspects in the lives of peasant women: time, income, nutrition, health, social survival networks, and knowledge.
More time is required to procure resources that are no longer easily found, for example, water which has become scarce in some regions. This leads to less time to devote to rest or activities that generate income for themselves and their families (time poverty).
On the other hand, changes in the climate that affect resources also have consequences on women’s health and nutrition as well as on the people they care for. Water contaminated by flooding and crop failure due to drought are some examples of the negative impacts on health and nutrition.
Peasant women are also especially dependant on social networks made up of family members and neighbors. The adverse effects of climate change have forced millions of people to move, which have have in turn disrupted the social survival networks that many women rely on.
Lastly, knowledge is linked to specific social practices. The knowledge that women have of the natural world arises from their daily use and interaction with it, the degradation of the ecosystem as they know it also implies a form of “epistemicide,” the killing of knowledge systems which have been produced over generations.
Not only is it important that gender be a cross-cutting category in climate treaties and agreements, it is necessary for women of different classes and ethnicities to participate in decision-making processes. Climate change affects them differently and they know how to best tailor climate action to fit their needs.