In honour of International Women’s Day we’ve put together a list of some of the ways in which gender intersects with issues of climate change.
Like how any consideration of feminism is not complete without looking at the ways that gender intersects with race, sexual orientation and class, it’s useful to take a gendered perspective when looking at environmentalism to see the ways in which these systems of power and domination cross.
Of course, reversing climate change and protecting the environment is in everyone’s best interest, but looking at how feminist issues such as menstrual health intersect with environmentalism can help develop a more well-rounded and informed perspective on both.
1. Women are disproportionally affected by climate change. Natural disasters and resource shortages as a result of climate change hit poor communities first, and worst. Women make up an estimated 70% of those living below the poverty line, meaning that they are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and environmental degradation.
2. Women are left out of decision making on climate change. Despite this, women are left out of decision and solution making as they are underrepresented in governments, international agencies and business worldwide. This means that they are not being included when it comes to policy and decision making on all issues, including climate change. In the words of WEN’s Georgie Johnson, “until gender equality, and indeed total humanequality, is achieved, global crises such as climate change will never be tackled with the full force of the human population. To change everything, we need everyone.”
3. Menstrual health. Commercial menstrual health products for women are made from a blend of Rayon, cotton and processing chemicals which have been bleached with chlorine. Rayon is known to cause toxic shock syndrome and cotton is grown using a huge number of pesticides. The average menstruating woman in Western society disposes of 10 to 15,000 pads or tampons in her lifetime and these highly toxic products end up in landfill, and eventually get into the soil, plants and water. This wastage isn’t a necessary part of menstruation - moon cups and biodegradable menstrual health products exist.
4. Women and consumer culture. As a demographic, women are aggressively targeted by marketers persuading them that they need new/better/more products. Clever marketing encourages women (and men) to over-consume products that are detrimental to the environment.
5. Patriarchy and the environment. The current environmental climate is a predictable outcome of a patriarchal culture and it’s narratives of domination and superiority. Throughout history, women have been described in animal terms (bitch, cow, chicken…). Similarly, nature has been described in female and sexual terms; it is raped, mastered, conquered and controlled. Soil is fertile, or alternatively it is unproductive and barren. This use of language both feminises nature and naturalises women, connecting the two and reinforcing the domination of both.
6. Female animals are exploited for their reproductive capacity. Animal agriculture is hugely detrimental to the environment and is reliant on the exploitation of female animals and their reproductive capabilities. Their capacity to breed overwhelmingly dictates how their bodies will be controlled.