What does feminism have to do with the environment?

I know what you’re thinking. Gender equality is all about closing wage gaps, preventing sexual assault, and fighting the patriarchy with Emma Watson and #metoo… so what does it have to do with agriculture and being eco-friendly? I’m glad you asked.

1. Gender equality could help world hunger

Feminism isn’t just about basic human rights in the way we often see it portrayed in the media, because there are a lot more issues across the world which intersect with being a man, a woman, or non-binary. One of those is agriculture.

Women make up about 48% of the agricultural labour force in the developing world – a staggering 1.1 billion women farmers in total. And if those women cannot get equal access to land, education, specialist training, tools, and technology… you can imagine that their crop yields will suffer, too. Some studies have estimated that if women were able to receive the same education, training and access as men in the agricultural sector, they would be able to produce 20-30% more food – and that’s enough to feed 150 million people!

2. Climate justice is gendered

Did you know that around 80% of the world’s climate refugees are women? This is because women make up 70 percent of the 1.3 million people in the world living below the poverty line, and so they are much more likely to suffer from the consequences of natural disasters and climate change – whether that’s because of being unable to repair damaged homes, recover lost valuables, restrictive social codes, or simply not having been taught how to swim in female education programmes.

This isn’t an issue far from our front doors. Even in the UK, women are 19% more likely to be classified as living in poverty. These figures aren’t the same for all women (or men), either. If you are a person of colour, have a non-binary identity, come from a minority background, or are LGBT*+, you are even more likely to be affected. Climate change only magnifies those existing inequalities. If we improve gender and racial equality, as well as equal access to education, land and healthcare across the world, we can reduce the impact of climate change on women.

3. Being eco-friendly should be a job for everyone

I’m sure you’ve heard people talk about women often doing a larger share of the domestic chores in a household. Whether this is through social convention, oppression, or choice, the result for eco-friendly measures is the same: when we introduce new technologies to protect the environment or save energy, women are disproportionately loaded with this new role and the stress that comes with it.

Smart meters, for example, are set to be standard (though not compulsory) by 2020 and will allow households to save money by using their electric appliances at specific times of day and monitoring their spending in real-time. When we can see how much we’re spending, this should prompt us to start turning off those pesky appliances on standby and being more careful about our energy efficiency. It also aims to encourage investment in sustainable energy sources, to reduce the burning of fossil fuels.

But if we need to start using our appliances at off-peak times of day, and women are the people most commonly tasked with domestic labour such as laundry, cooking, and cleaning, who will be the people tasked with adapting to these new measures? Yep, you got it: the same people who already do the domestic labour now and are often already time-poor because of it.

Increasing the freedom to choose and share domestic chores in a way that isn’t gender-biased will make it easier to be eco-friendly in a way that doesn’t disadvantage some groups of people over others.

So what can we do?

If women and people of colour are more likely to be affected by climate change and environmental issues, then why are the people at the top not representing that same percentage?

The people who suffer most from climate change (and therefore who have experience dealing with it) are the same group of people who are often not considered or represented in decision-making, whether that’s in a rural town in a developing country, or at a United Nations conference on environmental laws. That makes change difficult. But it is possible.

If we can give women and men the same opportunities and access to crucial tools, then that newfound equality will feed through to all parts of life… yes, even the environment.

Statistics taken from the FAO and Womens’ Environmental Network.

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