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Why You Can’t Think of Gender Justice Without Climate Justice

Why You Can’t Think of Gender Justice Without Climate Justice

The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is ‘an equal world is an enabled world’. The question is, how does one build a gender-equal world?

The most recent data on the gender parity index comes in the form of the Global Gender Gap report 2020, which shows that worldwide gender parity will not be achieved in the next 99.5 years in a business-as-usual scenario. The report measured the gender gap in four main areas: economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment. According to the report, while Iceland, Norway and Sweden are the top three countries in gender equality, Pakistan, Iraq and Yemen are at the bottom of a list of 153 countries. India stands at #112, worse off than Nepal (101) and Sri Lanka (102).

By 2018, the world’s average surface temperature was approximately 1° C above pre-industrial levels. According to the most recent IPCC report, which that focused on oceans and the cryosphere, during the 20th century, the global mean sea level rose by 15 cm and is expected to reach up to 30-60 cm by 2100 even if greenhouse gas emissions are sharply curtailed and global warming is limited to well below 2º Celsius. Further, the ocean has absorbed to 90% of the excess heat of the climate system and has warmed by 0.8º already.

The impact of these changes is already evident in the global south, especially in poor economies where a large proportion of people depend on environmental resources for their daily sustenance. The sea-level rise, for example, has rendered coastal groundwater saline in many locations, making them unsuited to agriculture. The world’s fish production from the sea has also dropped in the last few decades, impacting millions of fisher-people.

The gender and climate data together suggest our prevailing climate crisis is unprecedented. The connection between the two is that the climate crisis is primarily fuelled by a masculine hunger for growth and profits based on a model that appropriates environmental resources. These resources are the base for millions of poor and marginalised women and men living below poverty line. Male-driven economies have created externalities in the form of a rapidly changing climate that is now hovering near a tipping point. The masculinity of economics is in turn guided by the masculinity of politics.

Political decision-making around the world is driven by men and often for men; the patriarchy has ensured both economic and political opportunities are distributed unequally and in favour of men. On the other hand, women have entered this space at a time when the environment is in dire straits, and it will be another 95 years before we can close the gender gap in political representation. In 2019, women held only 25.2% of parliamentary seats and 21.2% of ministerial positions worldwide. The political participation of India is much better than its overall rank would suggest (#18 on this count), but the country’s women still trail in health and survival (#150), meaning millions of women don’t yet have the same access to healthcare as men. On the point of ‘economic empowerment and opportunities’, we rank just above Pakistan (#149).

All together, India’s women have a long way to go before achieving gender parity across the board.

Climate justice is the idea that climatic changes have been caused by deeply political and unethical developmental models. The two sectors hit hardest by climate change are water and agriculture – both sectors where women’s workforce participation is also higher. However, women from the global south have been at the receiving end of decisions about the climate without being given seats at the table, without having contributed much to global warming in the first place.

Ground reports on migration show that men increasingly move to urban locations while women stay back, and are responsible for more – if not all – domestic and production-related issues, whereas the men control the finances. As a result, women suffer the consequences of climate breakdown to a disproportionately greater extent. A feminist approach to climate change should thus highlight the interconnectedness of issues rooted in economic, social and political inequalities.

Climate justice addresses climate change from an intersectional perspective and through a knowledge system, acknowledging that climate change only exacerbates the gender gap. Climate justice, therefore, demands action and seeks solutions that also transform gender relations.

Anjal Prakash is the research director and adjust associate professor at the Indian School of Business, where he teaches gender and development at the Advanced Management Programme in Public Policy. He was also coordinating lead author of the special report on Oceans and Cryosphere, 2018, and lead author of the ongoing IPCC 6th Assessment Report.

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