Climate change is thought of as a standalone issue that traces back to the Industrial Revolution. But it started long before that with the dawn of colonisation and is tied up with racial injustice and patriarchal systems. Settlers destroyed habitats, brought in invasive species and ignored Indigenous customs that respected and preserved the natural world.
Today, women and BIPOC are disproportionately affected by the impacts of climate change. For International Women’s day, we talk to three environmental and social justice advocates Ella Noah Bancroft, Aimee Renault and Kristy Drutman to learn about why these groups are more vulnerable and how working towards social justice helps solve the ecological crisis.
Why are women and BIPOC more vulnerable?
Today, 80 percent of people displaced by climate change are women. “More than ever here in Australia I see how women are affected by climate change,” says Bundjalung writer Ella Noah Bancroft. “How single mothers are often the first to be kicked out of communities due to being under-resourced.” Often pushed into areas with higher rates of pollution that are more vulnerable to natural disasters, “gentrification of small towns around Australia, specifically where I live, has left us in a housing crisis and single mothers and families are living in tents in caravan parks or sleeping in cars.”
In Australia, only one percent of our Indigenous community live in cities, while 64 per cent live in remote regions that will experience a reduction of native foods due to rising temperatures and extreme weather events that impact community infrastructure. “We are seeing that climate is destroying our water lore as Indigneous women. All up and down the east coast, there are dry river beds, slow trickles of water, while the fields of sugarcane and wheat next to the rivers are abundant and green, lined with monocropped plants that destroy the soil and promote desertification.”
“This system is inherently anti-nature, anti-women and anti-Indigenous. This global economic system is built on extraction of wealth and resources for the very few at the expense of many.”
Ella Noah Bancroft
Around the world, communities whose ancestors were victims of slavery are today living in the most vulnerable areas. Over 80% of the homes that were lost in Hurricane Katrina belonged to Black communities. In the US, disproportionate percentages of people of colour live near polluted areas and areas vulnerable to climate hazards.
Developing countries where women are the primary farmers are even more vulnerable to changing weather. “These communities rely more on natural resources to live. Therefore, they are more impacted by climate change as it reduces the quantity of food, agricultural productivity and access to water,” shares climate and social justice advocate Aimee Renault. “It also increases heat, certain diseases and sexual violence, causes the loss of homes and jobs. In [the film] ‘Above Water’ directed by Aïssa Maïga, in a Nigerian village where women and girls are responsible for collecting water, desertification pushes them to walk ever further to fetch water.”
Aimee adds that climate change and sexism are not two separate causes and that instead they are closely linked, representing male domination over women and nature. “Climate change and sexism betray a hierarchy of lives. Not all lives have the same value. The life of some humans, the life of animals and plants, are worth less.” These lives are then treated as though they have less value, with women and people of colour living in lower socio economic areas prone to pollution and climate hazards.
Adding to that, she highlights that these communities have less political power and are less represented in politics. “Moreover, they are overrepresented among the poorest populations. In addition, some women live in countries that have fewer resources to overcome losses and damages.” Summarising it perfectly, Aimee concludes “if we are all in the same storm, we are not all in the same boat.”
How addressing social justice for women and BIPOC is the key to solving the ecological crisis
Providing women adequate family planning, education and farming resources would save billions of tonnes of carbon from entering the atmosphere.
Over 200 million women in lower income countries express the desire to choose when they become pregnant, but don’t have access to adequate family planning. Providing these resources could mean avoiding 120 billion tonnes of carbon entering the atmosphere by 2050.
It’s estimated there could be 1.8 billion less people by 2050 than current projections, if we simply educate more women. Similarly, providing female farmers with equal resources to their male counterparts would allow them to produce more food per square metre on existing land, saving the need to clear cut more forests.
What can we do to support the Climate Justice movement?
There are so many ways to support the climate justice movement. Lobbying for better legislation through petitions, MP letters and activism is a great start. Environmental advocate Kirsty Drutman has seen this first hand, with “Philadelphia’s Passage of Community Health Act - a legislation to protect the most marginalised communities from pollution and other harm,” an initiative she says is largely driven by grassroots environmental efforts.
Financially backing BIPOC and women-run environmental organisations is another angle to take. “We should give more space to these communities in decision-making bodies and make greater use of their knowledge,” says Aimee. “It’s also important to financially support more innovative environmental projects led by these communities and to encourage the development of infrastructures, transportations, health services, employment, etc.” There are countless Indigenous or female run organisations around the world to support, two that Hakea are currently supporting include female led and run climate action group 1 Million Women and Indigenous youth climate network Seed Mob.
Educating ourselves in order to understand how racial injustice, patriarchal and colonial systems are all intertwined with the climate crisis is another important action we can take. Learning about new systems we can adopt through learning about localisation, Indigenous Wisdom and regeneration is also important.
Ella’s not-for-profit The Returning is an outstanding example of how this is already taking place. Her retreats provide a place for women of all walks to re-wild, decolonize and find a way back to a deep relationship with nature. Contrary to our current systems, Ella says her retreats are built on “a culture of rest, and gratitude to combat the consumptive and logical mind that so many of us have been taught to operate in.” I believe that as women our power lies in our relationship to the natural world, in how we communicate ourselves to the world.”
Moving towards this way of being isn’t only better for the planet, but for ourselves. “I have seen it first hand, within myself and my own journey back into a deeper relationship with the natural world and women around me,” says Ella. “When we connect deeper and back into the natural world, we are tapping back into our intuition, we are refining our magic, we are returning to our health and that is where we embody trust, joy and happiness from."
If you’d like to donate towards climate justice, these two organisations are ones that Hakea donates to through our partner 1% of the planet.
Seed Mob - Australia’s first Indigenous youth climate network
1 Million Women - A female founded and run climate action group
IWD 2022 #BreakTheBias - Imagine a gender equal world