By: Claire Armstrong
With the imminent threats of climate change rapidly increasing in severity, the issue of climate justice has come to the forefront of social justice conversations. Mary Robinson, the current Chair of Elders in the United Nations, defines climate justice as a movement that “insists on a shift from a discourse on greenhouse gases and melting ice caps into a civil rights movement with the people and communities most vulnerable to climate impacts at its heart.” Climate justice considers the effects of climate change not only on our planet, but on the people who inhabit it. And, as the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals website states, “The impacts of climate change will not be borne equally or fairly, between rich and poor, women and men, and older and younger generations.”
According to BBC, UN statistics show that more than eighty percent of people displaced by climate change are women. Reporter Mary Halton states that because many women in developing countries are expected to be the primary caregivers for their families, providing food and fuel, they are at greater risk during flooding, drought, and other climate-related issues. For example, during an earthquake in the Indian state of Maharashtra, many more women perished because they were at home, and therefore in danger of being crushed by rubble, while men were working in open fields. Additionally, longer dry seasons resulting from decreased precipitation make women’s task of providing food and water for their families much more difficult.
Overall, women face harsher repercussions from natural disasters than men. Research conducted at the London School of Economics and Political Science found that “natural disasters exacerbate previously existing patterns of discrimination that render females more vulnerable to the fatal impact of disasters.” The main reason for this is that women are typically of lower socioeconomic status than men as a result of systematic oppression. Since women much more commonly experience poverty, they are more likely to face challenges while recovering from disasters. For example, Halton reports that African American women were disproportionately affected by the events of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Beenish Ahmed of thinkprogress.org reports that during a cyclone in Bangladesh in 1991, many women died in their houses while waiting for their husbands to return home and make evacuation decisions. This is a profound example of the dangers of the indoctrination that males are more capable than females.
Traditional gender roles make women much more vulnerable to the effects of climate change because, among other things, women spend most of their time in the home, lack education, are unable to swim, and are considered responsible for looking after children during a crisis. The limitations women have long faced have become a matter of life and death in the face of the climate crisis, making climate justice a movement that we as feminists must absolutely play a role in.