Women – particularly those who come from indigenous and impoverished communities, as well as those of color – are the most impacted by climate change. Yet environmentalism and its intersections with gender, race and class don’t come up very often in mainstream feminist discussions. Feministing columnist Juliana Britto Schwartz is hoping to change that.
In a new series for the feminist blog called Bearing Witness, the Brazilian-American writer is highlighting some of the indigenous mujeres who are leading the fight against climate change across the Americas, including communities in Ecuador, Honduras and Brazil.
Why did you want to create a series on this issue?
Climate change is affecting and will affect everyone on this planet. It should be an incredibly accessible and intersectional movement, but I think that many people, particularly people of color, feel that it doesn't represent their needs or struggles. I wanted to talk about those people and the work that they are doing – often with very few resources and in the face of violence repression – to protect our planet.
How is climate change a feminist issue?
In general, marginalized people are least equipped to deal with climate chaos: it costs money to buy water during a drought, to build a new home when your house is flooded or to migrate to another country to escape conflicts fueled by climate change. Women make up a disproportionate amount of those marginalized people. On top of that, women are often in charge of gathering food and water for their families, caring for vulnerable family members and maintaining social ties that allow communities to survive droughts, storms and floods. Women, and particularly women of color, bear the burden of climate survival.
Why then do you think the feminist community here hasn't prioritized this issue as much as, say, income inequality, violence against women, reproductive rights, etc.?
I think for many people – including myself – the threat of climate change hasn't felt nearly as immediate as issues like violence against women or access to reproductive health care. For a long time, saving the planet was communicated in terms of individual choices, like saving paper or carpooling. But more and more, climate activists are pushing the conversation toward bigger, more systemic tasks, and demanding that the fossil fuel industry be held accountable for the damage it has done.
But we're starting to really feel the results of climate change – whether they be historic floods in India, droughts in California or 70-degree winters in New York City. It's undeniable that this is real, and it's scary.
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