Here at 350.org we strive to use our power to help build power for our movement partners, especially those who, for reasons of class, gender, race, religion or sexual orientation, are on the margins of the climate movement. In this spirit we are commemorating International Women’s Day and the Women’s Strike.
As a women-led organization we understand that when we support women and girl’s rights everybody wins. The same is true for climate justice because women and girls are not just impacted by climate injustice, they are also changemakers. When I think about this, I realize that there cannot be climate justice without gender justice.
Climate disasters impact women and girls first and worst because of gender inequality. Ever since the United States started measuring poverty women have been more likely to be poor than men. 70% of the poor are women and children. Single mothers, women of color, and elderly women living alone are at particularly high risk of poverty. And there is an intricate connection between women’s poverty and children’s poverty. When we speak of climate change we need to center women and girls because the impacts are disproportionately felt by them.
As a former girl-child refugee, I know the struggles that women and girls face when they flee from their homes. Today, women and girls make up around 50% of any refugee, internally displaced or stateless population, all situations that are increasingly exacerbated by the impacts of climate change coupled with rising xenophobia and racism. When I fled my war-torn home, due to US military intervention, with my two brothers, younger sister and my dad, I had first hand experience of the courage that people in the U.S., and ultimately Canada, showed despite unjust laws that prevented them from “harboring illegal aliens.” And it’s that kind of resistance that we need today to ensure that those who are fleeing their countries for whatever reasons can find sanctuary.
It doesn’t escape me that both the Muslim Ban and the proposed wall between the U.S. and Mexico will affect people from countries that along with extreme violence, many times incited by US intervention and policies, are also experiencing droughts and flooding due to climate change. As xenophobia and racism are on the rise our ability to responsibly respond to increased refugee populations is hampered and the lives of the most vulnerable are put at further risk.
We don’t have to go too far to find proof of this, all we have to do is look at images of people risking their lives and their children’s lives trying to get to Europe in inflatable dinghies or risking death in the Mexican desert only to have this government shut the proverbial door in their face by feeding the fires of their most extreme base through xenophobic and racist policies. As a country that is one of the biggest contributors to climate change, and purports to stand for “justice for all,” we have a responsibility to do better.
Violence is another area where women are the most vulnerable and it is compounded by increased fossil fuel extraction. For example, much attention has been given to the struggle to stop the North Dakota Access Pipeline but a further look reveals violence against women that is all too real for Indigenous women and girls as their bodies are put on the line. A recent department of justice report confirms what we have already heard through our partners on the ground; that violence against women near fracking wells and other fossil fuel infrastructure projects has increased.
As in many places across the world, violence against women intersects with and is multiplied by deep racism and a legacy of exploitation, systemic violence and genocide of Indigenous peoples. One in three Indigenous women are raped during their lifetimes—two-and-a-half times the likelihood for an average American woman—and in 86% of these cases, the assailant is non-Indigenous. So in order to achieve the climate justice we seek we must be accountable to Frontline communities like Standing Rock, and the women and girls whose lives are at risk, that have become sacrificial zones.
For me, as a woman of color, the struggles to protect water, food, and land against the fossil fuel industry are the struggles for the rights of women and girls. These struggles are tied to our calls for autonomy over our bodies, lives, livelihoods, and our right to live free of violence. Through deepening this consciousness in our movements, I believe we can center our demands towards a vision of a climate justice movement and a country that values women and girl’s lives and their contributions. And so today I’m commemorating International Women’s day and the Women’s Strike because gender justice is climate justice.
— Natalia Cardona, North America Frontline Engagement Coordinator