Feminism and Environmentalism: Interdependent not Independent

| by Anna Brabender |

As I’ve been completing my environmental science degree and have been working with groups who advocate for environmental justice, my passion for environmentalism has flourished. So as I sat down to write for this blog, I felt out of place. It wasn’t the writing that felt daunting as I’ve written multiple articles and blog posts for various environmental groups before. It was the theme of feminism, as this is a feminist journal.

While I identify as a feminist, I have always focused my activism on environmental issues. Perhaps this is due to my realm of education, or maybe it’s due to a subconscious feeling that I should limit my focus to a concentrated impact. Whatever the reason, it felt like a daunting task to write for a platform filled with amazing women who so strongly advocate for feminism.

I don’t think I am alone in this feeling. Too often we hear people claim they are an environmentalist or a feminist. But I must ask, why are we focusing on just being under one label? I started to think about how my environmental fight could be related to the feminist fight. Was it possible that these two issues were not nearly as far apart as I thought?

After investigating the relationship, it was clear to me that not only are the struggles for environmental justice and female empowerment parallel, they are intertwined. While we need environmentalism because the consequences of climate change exacerbate gender inequality, we also need feminism as female empowerment is crucial to solving the climate crisis.

Climate change negatively impacts gender equality.

Climate change never fails to be in my daily conversations, but I find that we often center the conversation on the biophysical side, and when we acknowledge the social implications, we hardly ever take the same deep dive. As I dug deeper into my research, I realized that the social impact of climate change was disproportionately felt by women.

A large consequence of climate change is the rise in the rate of natural disasters. The 2007 World Disasters Report found a correlation between the presence of natural disasters and the risk of physical abuse to women. In addition to natural disasters, climate change affects agriculture. In many developing nations women are the providers of food and water, but as they encounter droughts and unseasonal weather, they have to spend more time on these activities and less time on other areas of their life to compensate. If we want to have a conversation about how to empower women on a global scale, strategies to mitigate climate change need to be included.

Women’s perspectives are imperative for tangible climate solutions.

The scientific community plays a vital role in not only identifying areas of environmental concern but also providing solutions. Yet, globally women account for a small portion of the people within the scientific community who make these decisions. Women have proven to be important contributors to sustainable solutions; women are often more engaged in team decision making which proves better outcomes. However, governments continue to be male dominated. Within the Canadian context itself, while a record number of women were elected to the House of Commons in 2019, they still occupied only 29% of the seats. If we want real action towards solving environmental issues, we need gender equality in the places where decisions are made.

While writing this blog, I had a final thought: environmentalism and feminism both encounter overwhelming criticism in society. Why is fighting for equal rights and protecting the planet so controversial?  Environmentalism and feminism help each other indirectly, but they can also go hand in hand in battling the current systems that still run on outdated structures of oppression.

It’s time we switch the dialogue of environmentalism and feminism from independent to interdependent. The relationship between environmentalism and feminism is clear. Not only do their solutions help to serve each other, but their setbacks are reflected in each other.

Written by Anna Brabender, third year environmental science major