By Betsy Hartmann
Feminist work on vulnerability builds on previous research on what puts certain populations at greater risk from natural disasters such as floods and droughts, extreme weather events that could become more prevalent as a result of global warming.
As the evidence of climate change grows more pressing, the battle over who can determine its causes, effects and solutions will intensify. In both popular and political forums, a key political milestone of our time will be who can make themselves heard and who cannot. Currently, at the international political level, the absence of gender in the debates about climate change is evident. In fact, the terms "women" and "gender" are missing in the two main international agreements on global warming: the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol. Recent feminist studies and campaigns challenge this invisibility of gender, pointing in particular to the importance of gender differences in the analysis of vulnerability and adaptation to global warming.
Feminist work on vulnerability builds on previous research on what puts certain populations at greater risk from natural disasters such as floods and droughts, extreme weather events that could become more prevalent as a result of global warming. For example, where women have less access to food and sanitation than men, they start from a disadvantageous position in the face of natural disasters and environmental stress. Since they are often the first caregivers of children and the elderly, they will likely also have less mobility. Cultural restrictions on women's mobility may be part of the problem. During the cyclone that occurred in Bangladesh in 1991, many more women than men died because the first alerts were broadcast in public spaces to which women are prohibited from accessing and because they delayed leaving their homes for fear of behaving improper.
Rather than relying on broad generalizations, feminist scholars and activists have developed gender-sensitive risk maps, in which women map their own vulnerabilities in terms of which cereals to grow, which resources they control and which they do not, in their access to crops. irrigation systems, markets, information, etc. In this sense, gender analysis is a tool to explore different contexts and be able to provide effective local solutions, rather than an understanding of vulnerability that does not take into account individual cases.
To date, much of the literature on gender and vulnerability to climate change has focused on rural women in the South, although within a few decades most of the world's population will live in cities. As Hurricane Katrina illustrated, the North is also not immune to extreme weather events, and the degree of vulnerability of people in New Orleans was highly correlated with gender, poverty, race, age and class, and intersections. between these. Given the likelihood that the risks associated with climate change will increase in the coming years, risk mapping and gender-sensitive data collection would be useful tools for communities around the world, both urban and rural.
Much remains to be done to make early warning systems more gender sensitive. According to Maureen Fordham of the Gender and Disasters Network, this field is dominated mainly by male experts, with the traditional emphasis on scientific ("hard") and technical approaches to identifying hazards and solving problems. , while little attention is paid to the role of women's networks and other citizen groups in developing informal alarm systems. Similarly, the disaster management sector is male-dominated, and the information and service needs of women are often neglected in disaster response design.
Given the widespread neglect of gender issues in international climate change agreements, it is not surprising that little attention has been paid to how such agreements have generated consequences. In a critique of the Kyoto Protocol's approach to carbon trading, Larry Lohmann of the British organization Corner House points out how carbon accounting systems marginalize non-corporate, non-state and non-expert contributions to climate stability, creating new exclusive forms of property rights. They favor large-scale carbon sequestration projects in the South, which can have negative consequences, both social and environmental. For example, in Minas Gerais, Brazil, the company Plantar S.A. has already applied for carbon finance to expand its eucalyptus monocultures. These plantations not only occupy public lands that by law are destined for poor farmers, but also diminish water resources and reduce biodiversity on a large scale.
Such plantation projects are likely to have a number of effects at the gender level. For example, women will not have access to them to collect firewood for the home, and the few jobs they generate for forest rangers, etc. they will go mostly to males. Since women in many places depend on wild plants both as a source of food and for seeds for domestic crops, the loss of biodiversity could reduce their chances of adaptive survival. Nor does it seem likely that such plantations will contribute to meeting the longer-term energy needs of women. According to Margaret Skutsch of the Gender and Climate Change Network, the Kyoto Protocol's clean development mechanism has effectively closed the doors to small-scale, non-business solutions, such as systems to stimulate local control of existing forests. and improvements in its potential to sequester carbon and produce fuelwood in a sustainable way.
In general, little effort has been devoted to analyzing how gender relations affect the mechanisms of climate change. For example, in the North, whose responsibility for global warming is disproportionately large, the transportation sector is one of the primary sources of greenhouse gases. Perhaps, with the exception of the US, women in the North tend to own fewer cars and use public transportation more. Furthermore, in Europe, cars driven by women tend to be smaller and more fuel-efficient because they are not seen as symbols of prestige. This last point underlines the need to look at the dimensions of consumer wishes as they affect energy use according to gender. Advertising has a strong gender component - the typical SUV or van driver portrayed in American advertisements, for example, is a male, either alone or with his companions, ready to conquer the wild. If women are seen in the ad, they are generally pretty and slim, adding an element of sexual attraction. In this way, the notions of masculinity and femininity are strategically deployed to create and sustain a wasteful and fuel-consuming culture, from the promotion of SUVs as "toys for boys" to the Hummer SUV, a mixture of military and civil vehicles, such powerful symbol of American virility.
Studying climate change in terms of gender also requires looking very closely at the fine line between justified concerns regarding the threats posed by global warming and the strategic deployment of alarmist discourses to build platforms to support the Kyoto protocol as well as to serve other more troublesome goals. Here a very close monitoring of implicit and explicit discourses is necessary, taking into account gender, which can reinforce the negative views of women and poor people.
An example of this is considering women in terms of demographic threat. Apocalyptic predictions that population growth will exceed the carrying capacity of the planet have long enjoyed great popularity in northern environmental circles, especially in the United States, where there is a relationship between the lobby for population control and the main environmental movements that comes from long ago. Those who try to shift the responsibility for global warming from consumption and production patterns in the North to poor people in the South often use alarmist demographic arguments. For example, Professor Chris Rapley, director of the British Antarctic Research Agency, recently made headlines in the British press arguing that without a significant population reduction, there was little hope for effectively tackling climate change. The implicit message is that women's fertility must be controlled. In the past, such reasoning has contributed to the implementation of draconian demographic policies, which profoundly damaged the rights and health of women.
Demographic scaremongering also appears in images of large waves of refugees fleeing climate change dying on our shores, as described in an abrupt climate change scenario commissioned by the Pentagon in 2003, in which reductions in carrying capacity in Overpopulated areas was the cause of an increase in wars, epidemics, famines and finally emigration to the North. This type of discourse incorporates women into a totally threatening portrait of the poor in the Third World and reinforces the authority of national security institutions over the initiatives of the civilian population to confront climate change.
One way to challenge such military maneuvers is to focus on the significant role that the military itself plays in global warming, which is often overlooked. The Department of Defense is the largest individual consumer of fuel in the US, accounting for 1.8% of the total fuel used for domestic transportation. This is certainly not a small contribution to global warming, given that the US is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases. Elsewhere the military also consumes energy resources disproportionately; by one estimate, the world's militaries use the same amount of petroleum products globally as Japan, one of the world's largest economies. In the case of the US, the irony is that the military is currently using huge amounts of oil to fuel a war in Iraq, the goal of which is, at least in part, to secure future American control of the oil supply. .
When we take a gender-based look at both militarism and climate change, a whole host of interrelated issues emerge. What are the gender-based policies for determining strategic and budget priorities? How do masculine ideologies and powerful men's networks shape defense policies, exempt the military from the need to reduce fossil fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions, and establish that defense spending conventional energy have a much higher priority than investing in clean energy sources and technologies?
How does male military culture impact consumer choices through products like the Hummer, maintaining wasteful and energy-intensive lifestyles?
How does the state of war undermine democratic freedoms, push women out of public life, and reduce the space for open debates on how to deal with global warming?
How does militarism multiply and intensify the vulnerability of women to climate change? In the case of natural disasters induced by global warming, for example, will the risk of sexual violence increase if governments rely on military institutions to maintain order and respond to emergencies?
Looking at it more positively: how can women's peace and environmental movements contribute to a broader vision of climate justice and to more practicable solutions that reduce emissions while increasing incomes for men and women poor?
These are just a few questions we need to ask in order to build an effective front from the feminist and social justice fronts that challenges the traditional world of business in an environment defined by climate change.
* Betsy Hartmann is Director of the Population and Development Program at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. He has recently written with Joni Seager, from "Mainstreaming Gender in Environmental Assessment and Early Warning" (UNEP 2005) and edited together with Banu Subramaniam and Charles Zerner "Making Threats: Biofears and Environmental Anxieties" (Rowman and Littlefield, 2005). Published in Elbow to Elbow - February 2007.