Women’s Empowerment and Sustainability

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‘One World Double Standards’ Women of the World – Southbank Centre – London         March 2017

As with every aspect of human security and development, we cannot separate the significance of women’s empowerment from climate change and sustainability. I attended the WOW Festival in London this month specifically to hear from women working in the movement on why this matters, and found the conversation mirrored my views on the topic. Women have come a long way over the years but there is still a long way to go. But isn’t this just a science thing, that we need to make better decisions that don’t hurt the planet and this is primarily to do with knowledge, resource management and not gender?

It is patriarchal capitalism that has caused many of the problems we have with the climate. It is a combination of economic, social and environmental problems that are leading to an unsustainability crisis. The world is more globalised and interconnected than ever before but poverty and inequality continue to decrease. We have seen crisis of climate, food, finance and resource scarcities which demonstrate that neoliberal market-driven processes have failed us all. They collectively effect livelihood, people dying of hunger, disease, and unemployment. Over consumption and unsustainable production by the rich and middle classes of the world put a range of strains on resources alongside the dirty effects of extractive, polluting and manufacturing industries.

Women’s roles have sometimes been essentialised as being the ‘carers’ of nature, placing the responsibility of environmental chores on them as voluntary labour. The human rights, dignity and capabilities of women have to be respected. The conversation should not end with simply stating that women are victims and suffer more from the impacts of environmental degredation, and therefore unable to provide adequately for their families and communities. Women can in fact be central actors in finding solutions for green transformation and for this to happen they need to be respected for their knowledge and expertise. Women are currently not so represented in science, engineering and maths; change is needed here. There are also social and political  issues at play here, and gender-focused movements have examined a range of forms of injustice that can lead to powerful transformations in reimagining sustainability.

Intersectionality is critical here, for an ethical world order considering differences in race, class, sexuality, age and ability have to be taken into consideration, as well as differences between global north and south. Context is key. These variables become important when we remind ourselves that we do not live in homogenous societies, so to communicate the issues, find solutions and empower people to take responsibility and allow for real change to take place, we have to re-frame our stories and challenge existing narratives. We want to engage and empower people, and women of all backgrounds, so to do this effectively they need to see role models and connect with the stories we are telling through our campaigns.

Grass roots participatory initiatives are required for families, and particularly groups currently not engaged, often the marginalised or minority. Our role is not to preach but to connect and listen; empower them to lead. We can only blame politicians and corporations for so long but we can also mobilise ourselves and encourage personal responsibility. Demonising the private sector will not necessarily lead to results, we need to work with them. For change we need monetary language and evidence to approach the government to be effective. But what is key is that women need to be a part of the decision and change making process at every level, as mother earth needs the women of the world to come together with men if we really want to save the planet.

For further reading consider: Why Women Will Save the Planet.

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