Women contribute less to global warming yet will be hit harder by its effects. Reproductive justice is a separate issue
Last week Mary Fitzgerald argued that climate change is a feminist issue on the basis that population control is a way to prevent the situation spiralling out of control. And, she posited, this could be achieved by giving more women more autonomy over their own bodies, through improved access to contraception and abortion.
I'm not going to get into the arguments around whether population control is a good solution to climate change. Others have already done so; George Monbiot's piece barely more than a month ago, for this newspaper, is a great place to start.
Ensuring all women have full reproductive freedom and reproductive justice is a necessary goal in its own right moving towards a more equal and just world. I get that it might be tempting to hitch this issue to climate change, which has so much political capital.
But, as Betsy Hartmann said recently in On the Issues magazine, "A world of difference exists between services that treat women as population targets and those based on a feminist model of respectful, holistic, high-quality care."
Although Fitzgerald does say that rich countries as well as poor countries need to look at population control, in reality this is not on the political agenda, as countries such as Germany are already incentivising women to have more children. The resource consumption of a German resident is considerably higher than the resource consumption of a child born in countries likely to be targeted – any population control efforts are realistically likely to target mostly poor women and mostly women of colour.
But Fitzgerald is completely right that climate change is a feminist issue. Everyone stands to suffer if climate change is allowed to spiral out of control, of course, but a gender analysis of both the impacts and causes of climate change shows that globally women contribute less to the problem and yet are likely to be hit especially hard.
Poor people are likely to bear the brunt as the climate changes and 70% of the world's poor are women. According to one estimate, 85% of the victims of climate disasters are women. Another study found 75% of environmental refugees are women. (Statistics from the Women's Manifesto on Climate Change).
Last month, the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-Moon, recognised this with a message to a women's leadership conference, in which he acknowledged that women are especially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change – and called for women to be given a greater say in tackling the problem. Of course, as this demonstrates, men are capable of recognising and acting on the gendered impacts of climate change, but the fact that out of 146 delegates at recent climate talks, only seven were women nevertheless speaks to a significant shortfall in political representation of women in this process.
Gender CC, a network of activists and academics working on this issue has a compendium of research on this area, with case studies and materials, all of which paint a clear picture that ignoring gender in tackling climate change risks both failing to get the job done and perpetuating – or even worsening – gender inequality.
And this is not just relevant in the developing world either; a study by the Swedish government found "significant differences" in women's and men's energy consumption in four European countries, both in terms of total energy consumed and what that energy is spent on. The picture varied by country, however – for example carbon dioxide emissions from Swedish single households were 10,700 kg/year for men and 8,500 kg/year for women.
So, yes, climate change is a feminist issue; women are on the front lines of climate change impact and need to be part of creating solutions. And women all over the world are in dire need of access to full and real reproductive justice. But linking the two by advocating population control as a solution to climate change isn't the way to achieve either of these aims.
This piece originally appeared in The Guardian