Aarya Venkat
4 min readMay 29, 2021

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Ecofeminism: how climate change impacts marginalized women.

Living through a pandemic, we’ve all heard stories about women who have been trapped in violent domestic partnerships that they’re unable to escape [1, 2]. With expiring federal moratoriums on rent [3] and difficulties in finding new places to rent (and especially buy due to rising housing prices), American women facing abuse, often moms, have been stuck.

We weren’t prepared for the pandemic, that’s a fact. But will we be ready for future pandemics, churned by the effects of climate change [4]? It isn’t simply a matter of getting people vaccinated, making them wear masks, and ensuring appropriate quarantine protocols. That is the baseline of what we must expect.

The simple truth is that women, particularly Black and indigenous women of color and disabled women, are vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Looking beyond the pandemic, what do we do and what can we do for women in view of the inevitable effects of climate change?

Fact is, women across the world are more susceptible to the effects of natural disasters. Cyclone Gorky in 1991 killed 140,000 Bangledeshis [5], 90% of which were women [6]. The gender equality bureau of Japan revealed in a report in 2012 [7] that women of all age ranges were disproportionately affected by natural disasters than men, especially amongst the elderly.

While there are initiative taken to assess risk of mortality across gender and to reduce this gap and statistic overall, it is critical to highlight that patriarchal laws (or lawmaking) and gendered expectations are what have led to this large gap between male and female mortality. It is also critical to note that while this essay has so far highlighted only cis-gendered women, LGBTQ people, including trans women, also suffer [8] due to added layers of oppression.

Understanding the intersectional nature of patriarchal oppression opposing the advancement of women in society, especially in the face of climate issues, is the basis of ecofeminism.

Fetching water, for example, in developing countries and places with limited water access is a primarily gendered action [9]. Women are responsible for getting water; this act exposes them to consequences of poor water quality due to contamination or other climate issues including severe floods and storms [10]. The consequences to being injured for these women, due to lesions and scars, is ostracization, leaving them without support.

Swimming is a gendered issue [11]. Drowning is the third leading cause of death worldwide, yet a study focused across various islands of the Phillipines, reveals 80% of men knew how to swim contrasted with a mere 50% of women. Only 50% of these women, surrounded by ocean, knew how to swim.

There are plenty more vulnerabilities to talk about, but the critical aspect is how do we tackle these vulnerabilities? This is a global issue, it isn’t centered around Americans, nor should it be. We can’t just focus on ourselves when it comes to climate change. When you consider global poverty, women are consistently at the lowest rungs; women from developing countries, often disabled women [12].

What do we do? Do we fund NGOs to teach women to swim? How do we lower the risk of mortality of women in our climate crisis? A look at the Paris Agreement [13] shows only one mention of women in relation to the climate crisis. Specifically this paragraph:

Acknowledging that climate change is a common concern of humankind, Parties should, when taking action to address climate change, respect, promote and consider their respective obligations on human rights, the right to health, the rights of indigenous peoples, local communities, migrants, children, persons with disabilities and people in vulnerable situations and the right to development, as well as gender equality, empowerment of women and intergenerational equity.

It’s short.

Obviously, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to addressing climate change and gender, but so far even the Paris Agreement truthfully fails to do anything beyond suggest that countries should consider this viewpoint.

Suggestions are not enough.

We need actionable solutions. We need funding from prosperous countries that focus on advancing the status and financial mobility of women in developing nations. Even women within the US must be offered funding opportunities to be free from the consequences of domestic violence, whether in or out of a climate-caused crisis. Child tax credits proposed to cut childhood poverty in half is huge for single mothers and women experiencing domestic violence [14]. Yet, it must be renewed every year to keep women out of these situations. Women cannot be an afterthought in the impending climate crisis. We need to continue shining a light on these situations and tailor policy towards reducing the effects of climate change on women.

References:

  1. https://www.gazettenet.com/Domestic-violence-survivors-in-pandemic-40392651
  2. https://wdet.org/posts/2021/05/04/90913-domestic-violence-during-the-pandemic-staying-home-meant-dealing-with-a-different-threat/
  3. https://www.vox.com/22429430/renters-rent-relief-eviction-moratorium-housing-market
  4. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/c-change/subtopics/coronavirus-and-climate-change/
  5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1991_Bangladesh_cyclone
  6. https://documents.worldbank.org/en/publication/documents-reports/documentdetail/723731468234284901/making-womens-voices-count-integrating-gender-issues-in-disaster-risk-management-overview-and-resources-for-guidance-notes
  7. https://unstats.un.org/unsd/gender/mexico_nov2014/Session%207%20Japan%20paper.pdf
  8. https://www.fs.usda.gov/treesearch/pubs/49888
  9. https://www.un.org/womenwatch/feature/climate_change/downloads/Women_and_Climate_Change_Factsheet.pdf
  10. https://www.ifad.org/documents/38714170/40706239/Gender+and+Water+-+Security+water+for+rural+livelihoods_the+multiple-uses+system+approach/0b3d7bac-c073-4e8f-8424-2d0473b7d226
  11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4835034/
  12. https://www.oxfam.org/en/why-majority-worlds-poor-are-women
  13. https://unfccc.int/sites/default/files/english_paris_agreement.pdf
  14. https://www.npr.org/2021/02/26/970999998/with-one-move-congress-could-lift-millions-of-children-out-of-poverty

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Aarya Venkat

I am a Biochemistry PhD student who studies Biophysics and Computational Biology. Sometimes I write articles when I’m angry, like Prof Hulk.