Restoring the Equilibrium of Earth Day – A feminist agenda

Restoring the Equilibrium of Earth Day – A feminist agenda

On April 22nd, every year since 1970, we celebrate Earth Day. Although ‘celebrate’ would be an overstretch when the earth is basically turning to stone. However, Earth Day has persisted and is widely recognized as the largest secular observance in the world. A day of action to attempt to change human behavior.

Over the years, there have been some moments of much lauded progress. Australia elected a pro-climate-action government. In Brazil, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva won on a platform that included halting and reversing Amazonian deforestation, and at COP 27, countries agreed to develop new funding arrangements that can mobilize resources. The fight for a clean environment continues with increasing urgency. But alas maybe too little, too late.

Emissions continue to rise at an alarming rate and since the war against Ukraine, climate change has become interwoven with rising energy prices, climate-fueled droughts, and raging food insecurity. Oceans filled with plastic are turning more acidic. Extreme heat, wildfires and floods, have affected millions of people. Disruption of biodiversity, such as deforestation, intensified agriculture production and illegal wildlife trade, are accelerating the destruction of the planet.

Hey Earth Day, our world, is in crisis!

Of course, one of the biggest challenges to the earth’s sustainability, is the changing climate, which is widely regarded as humanity’s greatest contemporary challenge. Climate crisis, however, does not affect us all the same. It is not gender neutral. Climate change hits the world’s most vulnerable people the hardest, particularly women and girls. 80% of people displaced by climate change are women. 70% of the 1.3 billion people living in conditions of poverty are women. Women predominate in the world's food production, but they own less than 10 per cent of the land. Women have limited access to and control of environmental goods and services; they have negligible participation in decision-making, and are not involved in the distribution of environment management benefits. When water deficits force women and girls to travel farther to collect water, they are exposured to sexual violence. They are also more likely to experience respiratory illnesses due to indoor air pollution from burning wood and charcoal for cooking, and they are at greater risk of contracting waterborne diseases due to a lack of clean water, if they can access water at all.

For women in conflict areas, the threat from the horrors of war is intensified by a ruthless changing climate. For example, In Syria, a historic drought from 2006 to 2011 led to water scarcity and agricultural failures in rural regions, which, in turn, impacted economic and food insecurity. Forced displacement into urban areas then intersected with other factors of instability, including drought which hastened the outbreak of violent conflict.

In Afghanistan, reduced water availability as a result of climate change, coupled with poor irrigation systems, made the production of staple crops increasingly unreliable and threatened the livelihoods of many farmers, pushing them into illicit poppy production. During the 2006–2007 drought, many young men in Balkh province also opted to join the Taliban or other insurgent groups to diversify their livelihoods. Environmental degradation through climate change is a major factor in making young people more vulnerable to recruitment by armed groups and insurgent organizations.

Women also face increased barriers leaving climate disaster zones because of their caring obligations, lack of assets and often ID. This puts them at risk to trafficking, sexual exploitation, child marriage and violence.

But there is hope for. We can pull back from the breech. And channeling Bob Dylan, times they are a changing.

Over the last decade, even before Greta, there has been a renewed vigour for climate activism and a renewed recognition that gender and climate are closely interlinked. Promoting gender equality is essential – and we have patterns and example to learn from. In Zimbabwe a renewable energy fund that will create specific entrepreneurship opportunities for women, was established. In Uzbekistan, a pilot green mortgage scheme helped rural households access affordable low-carbon energy technologies. Uruguay has established a gender-responsive monitoring, reporting and verification system to track how Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) programming is supporting gender equality and women’s empowerment. And many more.

Cambodia and Lebanon are two countries that have undertaken gender analyses, while revising their NDCs, to assess the gender gaps in the implementation of mitigation and adaptation actions in key sectors. For example, the Lebanon analysis provided entry-points to increase the gender-inclusiveness and responsiveness of climate change policies, strategies, planning and reporting aspects and Cambodia’s included gender as a key criterion for prioritizing mitigation and adaptation actions. Georgia has also developed a guide on mainstreaming gender in climate change interventions that is now available for all civil servants working on environmental issues.

The urgency of adapting to climate change has never been clearer. We have an opportunity, through global commitments like the Paris Agreement, to rapidly scale up action. But for this to be effective, we need to start from the premise that everyone must have a voice, including those that are typically excluded. And we need to ensure that investments in adaptation provide equitable benefits for people of all genders and social groups.

As Mary Robinson, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights once said, “Climate change is a manmade problem with a feminist solution.” It is going to take feminist solutions to restore the equilibrium for a safe and thriving earth. Are we ready?

Author: Clare Hutchinson - Power Corporation of Canada Distinguished Fellow

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