Opinion Sustainability

The SDGs Series (Goal 5): Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls

In recent years, the importance of achieving gender equity and empowering women has been debated. In conferences such as COP 26, discussions about the relevance to opening spaces for women in different fields of society have been risen. And although, it is a fact that we need more women in science, politics, engineering, and leadership roles in different social areas, is there really a difference?

The world has changed a lot since the first wave of feminism, when women sought access to equal education, the right to vote, as well as physical and financial independence, but there is still a long way to go to achieve true gender equality. A close proof of this is that, even in the middle of 2022, there is still a significant wage gap between men and women. In Germany, the difference is 18%, and in Europe, it is 13%. Another example is the lack of representation in government institutions; the European Parliament has only 39.2% of women, the latter figure being the highest value in history.

Nor should we forget to mention our sisters from the global south, who are currently fighting for justice in the face of gender violence, who seek sexual education, who have achieved in several states the right to free, accessible and free abortion. We also have our ecofeminist sisters, who organize, give their time, will, body, and life to defend natural resources against large extractive companies.

Being a woman in different contexts represents different challenges and inequalities. The climate crisis is certainly one of them. Climate change does not affect everyone in the same way. Women and minorities are the most affected by it, as – in many cases – they are responsible for managing, administering, and protecting household resources, such as collecting water, caring for backyard gardens to feed their families, managing the wood from their forests, etc. All these activities depend on climatic health, so changing it threatens their livelihoods and places them in a more vulnerable position. In addition, structural inequality aggravates gender-based abuse, which is observed across environmental contexts, and limits the capacities of communities to adapt to the effects of climate change.

Hence, it is important to analyze gender inequality and its relation to the climate crisis through the lens of intersectionality. In this way, we can include the systemic inequalities that were set from the overlapping of different social factors such as gender, ethnicity and social class. All these situations of violence and inequality faced by women show that being a woman in this society is clearly a disadvantage. But, if we are aware that this inequality exists, why does it continue to be propagated?

Our current conditions are a response to a historical truth: we live under a patriarchal system. But what do we mean when we talk about patriarchy? Patriarchy is an unequal hierarchical system, which attributes characteristics, roles, statuses, and behaviors to each person based on their gender. What it does is to divide women from men based on a supposed female inferiority, giving men the dominant power. According to Kate Millet, patriarchy is a “system of male domination that facilitates the oppression and subordination of women”.

This same relationship of domination and subjugation experienced by feminized bodies is transmitted to how they perceive nature. Both have been objectified and used as a territory of conquest, as objects of exploitation, and are victims of violence. Nature and women are – to a large extent – victims of the externalities of economic development.

We currently live under an economic system that subjugates territories and nature in favor of a supposed economic development based on accumulation and consumption. Moreover, it is controlled by invisible forces, under the utopia of infinite growth and the fantasy of individuality on a planet with limited resources. Therefore, we can say that the climate crisis and gender inequality have patriarchal roots and are partially the result of supremacist capitalism.

“Women’s organizations and feminist movements are taking a broader look at the problem of climate change. We see how classism, patriarchy and racism are intertwined to accelerate the destruction of the planet. We as Indigenous women talk about putting life at the centre as part of the political project.”

~ Milvian Aspuac,
Asociación Femenina para el Desarrollo de Sacatepéquez

Adriana Guzman, an anti-patriarchal community feminist from Bolivia, goes further and refers to patriarchy as “the system of all oppressions, all discriminations and all violence that humanity and nature historically built on women’s bodies, therefore, it considers that all oppressions, such as the exploitation generated by capitalism, are learned directly in women’s bodies”.

The relationship of violence and harm against feminized bodies and the environment comes from the same systemic mechanisms. So, we can say that achieving gender equity means ending the patriarchal capitalist system, which is deduced to a complete deconstruction of social schemes under a scheme of domination. It also means the inclusion of a diversity of ideas and worldviews with which we could build a better reality for society.

However, currently, the same factors, actors and systems that have caused the climate crisis are the ones that pretend to look for solutions, while other voices and ideas are ignored. Similarly, it is not possible to reach comprehensive solutions if we do not question our colonial past and the remnants of post-colonialism, as well as the methods of exploitation of territories. Thus, the ecological and feminist dimensions are essential to transform the conception and management of territories and, therefore, of planet Earth.

Likewise, being aware that patriarchy exists and that it is a structural problem is only the first step in eradicating it. Marilyn Fyre argues that the power of domination exercised by men has been so long internalized in society that it is difficult to break it. This system takes shape in everyday life; what may seem normal and correct does not always follow ethical principles. This can be seen in subtle attitudes, for example mansplaining to situations that threaten our lives (domestic violence and femicide).

Nevertheless, we must not forget that the current conditions are the result of the strength of feminist collectives and our ancestors. Those labeled as witches or madwomen were doctors, philosophers, leaders, and fighters for rights. They are women who, with the right conditions, have managed to change the social structure little by little. It is important to remember that women leaders exist and have been breaking through over the years in a system that is designed to favor men. Currently, we are fighting hard to end inequality and create a new reality, there is still much to do and we will achieve it.

“Que tu privilegio no nuble tu empatía”

“Soy porque somos”

Diana Miriam Pineda Fernández

Author: Diana Miriam Pineda Fernández

I studied B.Sc. Environmental Science at the National Autonomous University in Mexico. Currently I am a new student of M.Sc. Global Change Ecology in Bayreuth. I am interested in climate change and its impact on the ecosystems.
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