Throughout the history of the environmentalist movement, women have led strikes, written critical analysis, advanced climate science, rewrote politics, and have been some of the movement’s most important people. Rust and Fray has spent Women’s History Month celebrating women leaders and changemakers through our Journal page, but to finish up the month, we’re going to make the case that there is no environmentalism without feminism.
One major reason that environmentalism and feminism are inseparable is that the effects of climate change disproportionately affect women and girls. Women, especially women in developing nations, are at a much greater risk during natural disasters due to societal marginalization and the needs of childcare. Furthermore, these women and girls also feel the daily effects of climate change and environmental mismanagement more keenly. Societally constructed roles often put women in charge of household water supplies, cooking, and heating. Contaminated water, pesticide laden foods, and unclean sources of fuel mean that these women feel the effects of climate issues directly, and sometimes the need for heating and cooking fuel, especially when children are involved, means that they sometimes run afoul of badly implemented environmental laws that should be protecting forests from greedy corporations instead of punishing the world’s poorest. These women need to lead the conversation on climate change, because their personal experience and insight into the real human costs of environmental degradation are vital to creating the best solutions.
On the flip side, multiple scientific studies have shown that women make better choices towards the environment. Women landowners are more likely to adopt sustainable land management solutions, governments with diverse gender representation are more likely to adopt environmental laws, corporations with female CEOs are less likely to run afoul of environmental regulations, and studies have shown that women are more likely to include long-term thinking and community needs in their decision making.
Empowering women and girls at all levels is key. A recent study shows that having less children absolutely dwarfs every other personal choice one can make in terms of climate change, to the point where every other decision is not even close, so the fight for women’s reproductive rights and family planning has a major impact of CO2 levels. Furthermore, family planning is statistically linked to reducing poverty and increased access to education. Women are overrepresented in extreme poverty and underrepresented in access to education.
Tackling the gender gap in education is necessary to empower women to create those sustainable initiatives, and tackling the pay gap helps women out of poverty cycles and be able to fund their and their children’s improvement. With the climate change threat being such a large issue, we can’t afford to lose the ideas these women could bring to the table because they’re stuck in a cycle of simply trying to survive.
Any serious look at building sustainable initiatives needs to look at balancing gender roles in leadership, empowering women at all levels of society, and fighting for women’s rights and education. There is no environmental movement without feminism.