Looking beyond the events at COP which explicitly refer to themselves and their content as “feminist” or “concerning gender issues in climate change”, there have been clear feminism wins throughout COP25. So, where does feminism actually fit into climate change and climate action?
So, what do we mean by feminism? Broadly, it is the theory of political, economic, and social equality of the sexes. But what is feminism in the context of climate change? Often referred to as “Ecofeminism”, this element of feminism incorporates environmentalism while considering the concept of gender to analyse the relations between humans and the natural world.
For example, Greta Thunberg and Luisa Neubauer, two young climate activists, hosted the Unite Behind The Science event in Madrid on the 10th December. Although these female activists provided a platform for 5 scientists, only 2 of whom were female (Rachel Cleetus and Ko Barrett). This highlights the imbalance of gender in STEM, as Barrett mentions the lack of women in this field. Nevertheless, there were 4 women on stage in total, avoiding the dreaded “manel” I have often found at scientific conferences.
For all those out there who are tired of every facet of life being plagued with feminism, you may be wondering what the relevance of feminism is in climate change when the human race as a whole is being affected. Well, there are many inequalities within this; who is accelerating this climate change, and who is being affected disproportionately? This can be noted in 4 main issues highlighted again and again in the side events during COP:
Climate change is a gendered issue
In less developed countries, traditionally it is women who do not get an education, who travel miles daily to get water, who source fuel for warmth; climate change makes these tasks of survival increasingly difficult. UN Climate Change Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa cites the potential success of the Paris Agreement requires including women in climate solutions, and we see improved economic growth and more sustainable outcomes with women of all ages involved.
“Climate change is exacerbating inequalities that already exist” (Rachel Cleetus: Union of Concerned Scientists)
Climate change is an age issue
The UN recognises the importance of inclusion of young voices; YOUNGO are an observer constituent of COP. Additionally, the UN acknowledges that climate science needs to be in the school curriculum, but this education also needs to be accessible and translated to adults globally. Political change, although influenced heavily by the vote, is also influenced by those without a vote- the youth. The youth of today will have to deal with the climate which has been worsened by previous generations.
Referring to Greta and Luisa, William Moomaw (Professor of international environmental policy at Tufts University) explained that he was born into a different climate than them, and they will see a different climate than he will live long enough to see.
Climate change is a political issue
Our daily actions (such as Greta’s Fridays for Future protests) have great potential to influence governments beyond the polling station. Recently, Boris Johnson was criticised for not attending a televised climate debate on Channel 4, and has drawn further criticism for the relative unimportance climate change is given in the Conservative election manifesto compared to other UK political parties. This highlights that even adult interests and priorities are changing.
Greta very poignantly said during this event that voting is powerful, but democracy isn’t just on voting day, but it is every second of every day (Greta Thunberg).
Climate change is an economic issue
Living in poverty means people have less resilience, making them more susceptible to climate shocks. It is also women who make up 70% of the world’s poor, meaning their economic status increases their risk of being negatively affected by climate change. Those with greater money and power literally fuel climate change. Additionally, they have the advantage of throwing money at a problem in order to adapt more easily to changes, such as through insurance and the ability to move location.
“Deep pockets of fossil fuel companies and their allies” prevents true industry reform (Rachel Cleetus).
Upon googling ‘young climate activist’, 42 million results are returned, with the top 5 results giving lists beyond Greta for other inspiring youths. The majority of whom are female. On a personal level, I find this exciting and necessary. It is women, globally lacking in education, who have the situated knowledge necessary for making bottom-up solutions to changing climate. They are an untapped resource.
Mainstream media don’t cover the science. Yet, mainstream media avidly covers Greta’s every move. Nowadays, very few people will be unaware of Greta and her work: she. I argue, that Greta Thunberg has not only given scientists a platform in the media but has given women a voice. As a side effect of empowering youth, Greta is encouraging, enlightening, and engaging women all over the globe to act with policymakers against climate change. Greta is my climate change feminist icon.
All quotes are from the Unite Behind the Science event 10/12/19 COP25