What Is Climate Feminism? | NRDC
Last fall, two powerful hurricanes, Eta and Iota, slammed into Central America within two weeks of each other, causing massive flooding and landslides and affecting millions of people, primarily in Honduras and Nicaragua. Thousands were uprooted from their homes, and women, many with children in tow, suffered the greatest. The events followed a disturbing but familiar trend: The United Nations estimates that 80 percent of people displaced by climate change are women. And it’s not just storms that affect them; researchers in India have found that droughts, too, hit women the hardest, rendering them more vulnerable than men to income loss, food insecurity, water scarcity, and related health complications.
“The climate crisis is not gender neutral,” says Katharine K. Wilkinson, coeditor of the anthology All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis, a book of essays and poems written entirely by women contributors. “It grows out of a patriarchal system that is also entangled with racism and white supremacy and extractive capitalism. And the unequal impacts of climate change are making it harder to achieve a gender-equal world.”
In the face of this reality, the world needs to embrace a feminist approach to tackling the climate crisis, she adds. That includes a collective mission to shift who is leading the way on solutions to the crisis, and what the approach will be.
A Multiplier of Injustice
“The intersections of climate and justice and feminism include the disproportionate impact of climate change and the entire climate continuum on women,” says Jacqueline Patterson, director of the NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Program. “We also add the race lens, of course, and the additional risks that are unique to BIPOC women and, most specifically, Black women.”
Climate change developed in an unjust world, and now it’s exacerbating the vulnerabilities and inequalities experienced by women, particularly those who live in rural areas or the Global South and those who are Black, Indigenous, or other people of color. Patterson reflects on this injustice in the essay “At the Intersections,” which appears in the All We Can Save collection. She opens with an anecdote about the first time she saw racism, misogyny, and poverty collide with environmental issues as a Peace Corps volunteer in her father’s homeland of Jamaica. Later in her career, as a human rights activist working internationally to combat HIV/AIDS and gender injustice, Patterson learned the story of a woman who left her native Cameroon because the crops in her community had dried up, only to become a victim of rape and then to contract HIV at the country’s border. “These stories drew my tears,” she writes. “There is a pandemic of devastating impacts at the intersection between violence against women and climate change.”
These days in her environmental justice work with the NAACP, Patterson is committed to ensuring that communities in “grindingly desperate circumstances, communities that aren’t even thought about,” like those without running water or electricity, for example, aren’t left out of the climate conversation. And that means not just including them, but deliberately prioritizing them and ensuring their voices are heard on all levels. She asks, “How do we make sure we don’t continue with the ills of the past in terms of assuming the rising tide will lift all boats?”
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