National Organization for Women

04/22/2024 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 04/22/2024 03:24

Why Environmental Justice Is a Feminist Issue

The first Earth Day in 1970 gave birth to the modern environmental movement as millions of Americans marched, spoke out, and participated in grassroots actions to safeguard our planet and protect our future.

Today, Earth Day is regarded as the largest civic event on Earth, when billions of global citizens commit to a common goal. This year's theme for Earth Day is Planet vs. Plastics and communities across the country will be holding events and actions-click here to find out more about this year's Earth Day and to find an event near you.

But more attention needs to be paid to how the climate crisis is making the parallel crisis of gender inequality even worse. "Climate change is creating a downward spiral for women and girls," said UN Women's Deputy Executive Director Sarah Hendriks last year at the 2023 UN Climate Change Conference, or COP28.

The UN estimates that by 2050, climate change will push up to 158 million more women and girls into poverty and make 236 million more experience hunger.

Here are five things you need to know about women and climate change, as outlined by the global community Concern Worldwide:

  1. Women are largely responsible for natural resources, but don't enjoy equitable access to them. Women are 43% of the world's agricultural workers, but only 15% of the world's landowners. Women and girls spend what UNICEF calls a "colossal waste of time" fetching water-a total of 200 million hours each day. The time spent on this chore means girls miss school and women don't have opportunities to break the cycle of poverty.
  2. Women are less likely to survive a natural disaster. A report from the London School of Economics looked at 141 natural disasters and found that female mortality rates are higher than men's in situations where gender inequality is the norm. In some countries, women and girls may not even be allowed to evacuate their homes without a man's consent.
  3. Women who do survive a natural disaster have a harder time recovering. Female climate refugees are more vulnerable to sexual abuse and human trafficking and face greater discrimination in getting emergency supplies and humanitarian aid. This creates a "cycle of vulnerability" against future disasters.
  4. Climate-related health issues pose a greater risk to women. Air pollution aggravates respiratory diseases like asthma, as well as cardiovascular issues. Floods, monsoons, and cyclones lead to higher rates of waterborne illnesses, to which women are often more susceptible. They use more water in their daily routines, making them more susceptible to parasites, and they inhale more toxins when cooking over unsafe stoves. Maternal and child health are also impacted by climate disasters, and women are the first to cut back on their own food consumption when harvests fail or run out.
  5. Women are often ignored when designing solutions to climate change. A 2023 UN Women report revealed only 55 national climate action plans make a specific reference to gender equality, and only 23 of those plans recognize women as agents of change in addressing the climate crisis. This exclusion especially impacts Indigenous women, women who are HIV-positive, LGBTQIA+ women, women of a non-dominant race, caste, or ethnicity, or are marginalized due to their gender identity.

But as Rangita de Silva de Alwis, an expert to the UN Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) has said, "Climate change is a man-made problem with a feminist solution." And a 2023 report from UN Women outlines "Feminist climate justice: A framework for action". It calls for a new vision of feminist climate justice that put puts women's rights at the forefront of the global fight against environmental catastrophe.

The global environmental movement has come a long way since 1970-and so has NOW. NOW members marched in the first Earth Day and we'll be marching, speaking out, and doing our part again today.

Climate change is a threat multiplier that makes existing inequalities and vulnerabilities experienced by women even worse. Climate action and gender justice are intertwined, interdependent, and inseparable from our intersectional feminist agenda.