“Women in the United States and around the world are the linchpin of families and communities and are often the first to feel the immediate and adverse effects of social, environmental, and economic stresses on their families and communities.”
When Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) introduced H.R. 4932: Women and Climate Act of 2018 this month beginning with this statement, she was clear about the goals of her bill, which already has thirty co-sponsors. (And, yes. They are all Democrats.).
Unlike many appointed and elected officials, Rep. Lee understands the reality of proven science. She applauds the steps that the Paris agreement took to recognize the disproportionate impact that global warming is having on women and girls around the globe.
Reading through the different sections, I noticed the verbiage makes a point of addressing “disparate impacts, food insecurity, and poverty.” In the policy section, Lee proposes the need to have a “coordinated, evidence-based, and comprehensive strategy” in place throughout America.
People may think that domestically, women are not affected in the same ways as their counterparts in developing countries.
However, for frontline communities, people of color, our indigenous populations, or low-income earners – there are definitely higher risks tied to environmental concerns.
According to the Institute for Research on Poverty (2014/2015), “Families headed by a single mother are by far the poorest family type.”
American women and girls may not be retrieving firewood or collecting drinking water from distant wells, but they are working to advocate for their children who are not getting adequate clean air, lead-free water, and food untainted by chemicals.
I contacted Lee, to find out her motivation behind the bill. She wrote:
“Climate change is already impacting communities around the world. It is worsening public health epidemics, forcing migration and refugee crises, and destabilizing communities, with a disproportionate effect on the world’s poorest residents. As leaders in their families and the majority of the world’s poor, women are especially vulnerable to abrupt changes in the environment and will bear the brunt of this global crisis. Women, especially those in indigenous communities and developing countries, are not given a seat at the table.
It’s time to make these women an essential part of the decision-making process. Women are called upon to find food and clean water, secure safe housing, and care for loved ones. That’s why my bill will make sure that our policies prioritize fighting climate change while empowering the women whose lives are being affected.”
Since the Trump administration has put environmental justice on the back burner, I asked Lee about the situation for African-American women. She responded:
“Black women in the United States and around the world have long struggled with systematic and intersectional discrimination – prejudices compounded by sexism, racism, economic inequality, and many other factors. Women, especially women of color, personally understand the issues that we’re struggling with today. And that’s why our perspective on climate change and environmental security are so essential. Women’s voices and ideas must be heard.
My legislation encourages approaches to climate change mitigation that uplift, include, and empower women.”
Ironically, when women endeavor to spearhead environmental action, they are often bullied or denigrated. A recent article, Why Climate Deniers Target Women, posits that there is a definite “link between sexism and climate denial.” Author Jeremy Deaton underscores how the established hierarchical power structure (patriarchy) is predisposed to support the agenda of white men, specifically their needs and goals.
The concept of putting “man above nature” is in direct conflict with the point of view of indigenous cultures – who understand the need for societies to coexist with and respect natural resources.
At Standing Rock, within African-American, Hispanic, and in global indigenous areas, women and mothers are leading the fight. It can be dangerous work. Berta Cáceres, a Goldman Prize winner, was murdered for her efforts. In January, Ecuadorian Amazon activist Patricia Gualinga, had her life threatened. In reaction, she stated:
“If the intent to attack and threaten me was to instill fear to paralyze me, it failed. Following this incident, I am more motivated than ever to stand strong and work to defend the rights and territories of Sarayaku and all of the Amazon threatened by (oil) extraction…We must stand together to protect the Living Forest and Mother Earth for our future generations and all life.”