System change means dismantling patriarchy

Cooperative agriculture
Gender justice is fundamental for meaningful environmental justice.

In the parallel exploitation of women and nature, both are seen as infinite and elastic resources – free, readily available, to be appropriated without resistance.

Our societies have mostly been organised to maximise capitalist accumulation for the benefit and privilege of elites and corporations. In the parallel exploitation of women and nature, both are seen as infinite and elastic resources – free, readily available, to be appropriated without resistance.

This historical and ongoing exploitation is possible through the reproduction of mutually-reinforcing structures of oppression: patriarchy, capitalism, class oppression, racism, (neo)colonialism and heteronormativity. 

Patriarchy is the system that benefits men as a social group through the oppression and exploitation of women. It is founded on the sexual division of labour and nurtured by the biological determinism of socially constructed gender roles. 

Women's work 

The sexual division of labour organises women’s work in the private sphere (home) and also in agricultural and urban production and markets.

Women workers are concentrated in areas of work that are an extension of care - such as health and education - and that are low paid, precarious and informal, or for which they are paid less than men for the same work. 

Patriarchy relies on women’s time, energy and (re)productive capacities to ‘make up’ for the destruction and privatisation of nature. 

Nature and the commons are commodified, privatised and extracted on a scale that is catastrophic to the environment, natural cycles and ecological functions, and the communities whose livelihoods depend on them. This is especially true in times of crises and austerity, when women’s unpaid physical and emotional labour is essential for family and community.

In the same way that transnational corporations, industrial agriculture and dirty energy systems control and exploit nature and our territories, so too are women’s rights over their bodies, lives and work controlled by regressive laws, traditional practices and societal institutions (including education, family, religion and the judiciary). 

Frontline resistance 

Due to their perceived “natural” role, women are disproportionately affected by social and environmental injustice and the multiple interconnected crisis, such as climate change and hunger. This is especially so for women of colour, peasant and indigenous women, migrants, working class and LBTQ women.

We have to work harder and longer hours to produce sufficient food, maintain livelihoods, and protect our territories. Women’s wisdom and our potential role as food producers and practitioners of agroecology are attacked and denied by the capitalist system. 

Despite this, women are fighters, not victims. Largely as a consequence of our historical connection to the production and reproduction of life in the territories in which we live and struggle, women are collectively taking the lead in grassroots environmental justice struggles to challenge unjust economic models.

In the parallel exploitation of women and nature, both are seen as infinite and elastic resources – free, readily available, to be appropriated without resistance.

Women are standing at the frontline of resistance to defend nature. We are protagonists in the defense of our territories and the fight for autonomy over our work, lives and bodies – our primary territory.

For Friends of the Earth International, the fight to dismantle patriarchy and all structures of oppression within our own organisations, structures and societies is crucial to the system change needed to face the current deep-rooted and interconnected social and environmental crises affecting climate, food, and biodiversity. 

Radical transformation 

System change means creating societies based on peoples’ sovereignty and environmental, social, economic and gender justice. 

We seek freedom from patriarchy and all forms of oppression that exploit and devalue women, peoples and the environment. We are working towards a radical transformation of our societies, of relationships between people, and of the relationship between people and nature. 

We believe that grassroots, anti-capitalist feminism is key to this transformation, both as a conceptual-ideological-political framework and as collective praxis and movement.

We aim to show in practice that feminism can and is constructed from the grassroots up, that it is relevant to all women and men who resist oppression, and that it is representative of regional diversity and different realities.

Our grassroots, anti-capitalist feminism has a class perspective and is rooted in women’s collective experience in societies in which our bodies are marked by mutually reinforcing oppressions.

Powerful alliance 

We have a strong and holistic political vision of justice and system change, and we build solutions together as women, as peoples, as an international federation and with our allies, including La Vía Campesina and World March of Women

We are proactively supporting women’s leadership and protagonism in our structures, as well as spaces for women to build their collective power.   

We are challenging power structures in a world in which violence and the threat of violence are used to control women who challenge their socially constructed responsibility for unpaid, invisible care and domestic work.

In this same world, women’s millennial knowledge of ecological cycles, of seeds, of medicinal plants, of how to nurture biodiversity and the forests is unrecognised and ignored.

We are supporting each other to collectively recognise the power relations that we reproduce and, in this way, to transform our federation and our societies, together with our allies. We are fighting together for a just world on a living planet. 

These Authors

Dipti Bhatnagar is climate justice and energy coordinator at Friends of the Earth international. Syeda Rizwana Hasan is chief executive of Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (Friends of the Earth Bangladesh). Both authors are members of the Friends of the Earth's International Gender Justice Dismantling Patriarchy Working Group.

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