It is easy to forget just how many aspects of our existence are infiltrated by the effects of climate change, how closely climate is interwoven with and can impact social constellations. This Trinity Term’s last panel event on Monday, 14th May 2018 aimed to shed light on an area that is often overlooked: how climate change affects women – how women and climate may influence each other. Judy Ling Wong, painter, poet and environmentalist best known as the Honorary President of Black Environment Network (BEN) and Lisa Shipper, Environmental Social Science Research Fellow at the University of Oxford’s Environmental Change Institute, spoke about their views on this matter.
The two main pillars to sustainable development are the relationship of people to the environment and the relationship of people to each other. An ancient description of the environment is the metaphor mother earth, a mother giving us all we need to live and flourish. Cultural visions of nature and environment naturally differ from scientific descriptions. Similarly, visions differ largely across cultures. For example, in some parts of Mexico, where many areas remain still untouched, not only mother earth but also father sun and grandmother moon are cherished. But one of the strength of being global is being able to reach back into one’s own culture to uncover where visions and appreciation of the environment originate from while likewise appreciating the views of other cultures. If we can achieve to bring together these passionate identifications with nature, we can turn the fight against climate change into something else: caring for the environment almost as if we were caring for our own family. Motivation would not only be to avoid adverse effects, but also love, love for the earth and nature, and a desire for it to be heathy. This perspective is based on not necessarily female qualities, but qualities traditionally perceived as feminine in many societies, such as the integration of head and heart. There are feminine and masculine qualities within both women in men. Is the solution to climate change that women claim the “masculine power” and men claim traditional “calm and caring features of women”? How do we unlock the hidden opportunities of the full incorporation of the woman?
The idea of the “feminine perspective and process” can be adopted to reflect and improve our current approaches on tackling climate change. Structures of empowerment within communities’ organisations must be put in place so that woman can be fully present on committees and policy work. Unfortunately, this is currently not generally the case. It is important to be cautious of blanket statements, as there are differences across cultures. The single story is almost always incomplete or even wrong. Nonetheless, women tend to be the poorest and the poorest are often most affected by climate change, which further drives poverty creating a viscous cycle. Women are often less likely to have land ownership and financial control, which generally weakens their stance as leaders and decision-makers. We must realise that this effect is visible to some extend in most if not all cultures, and in a developed country we are certainly not free of structural issues of gender in climate change. Recently (March 2018) even the IPCC uncovered shortcomings in gender balance. It was subsequently decided to form a task group on gender to work on this and other gender-related issues within the IPCC.
Climate change is not gender neutral. Gender dimensions must be considered as drivers of disparity in vulnerability but more generally also in the study of climate change as well as the search for and creation of solutions. Inequalities need to be tackled when tackling climate issues to prevent solutions of one aspect causing harm to the other.
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