Climate justice, feminism and anti-imperialism

| 16th October 2019
Women and Indigenous peoples are losing their homes, livelihoods and lives to an insatiable and imperialist greed.

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We move one step closer to our worst-case climate catastrophes with every passing year that countries and transnational corporations put economic profits over people.

I’m from the Philippines but currently based in Germany, where extended heatwaves caused drought and forest fires last summer. Elsewhere, the impacts are much more severe - from supertypoons to snow storms. 

Climate change impacts women and members of structurally-disadvantaged communities more severely. Oftentimes women are the ones in charge of the household, child-rearing, and care-giving for elders, as well as outsourcing their domestic work for wages. 

Women find themselves in scenarios of not only struggling to find shelter, food, and clean drinking-water, but also desperate to evade the higher risk of sexual violence during a state of emergency.

Environmental defenders

Indigenous peoples, too, are on the frontline of climate action in the Global South, but also in the Global North. Canadian prime minister Trudeau violently evicted activists and protectors from the Wet’suwet’en Nation from their land in the way of the TransMountain oil pipeline this January.

I have spoken at rallies in Berlin against the North Dakota access pipeline, too. In many of these movements, it’s the women who are leading the resistance to protect the Earth.

While Brazil and the Philippines are under strongman leadership by macho-fascists, they are also the countries with the highest and second-highest rate of murders to environmental defenders in the last years.

The United Nations special rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous peoples, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz (Kankana-ey-Igorot), and several other Indigenous Filipinas are women who have found themselves placed on national terrorist lists, as enemies of the state for protecting their land from environmental destruction.

Environmental defenders literally risk their lives in the face of land grabbing by agribusinesses.  For example, a local woman asked the president about shutting down the quarry that was likely to have caused a deadly landslide in the Philippines caused over 60 deaths. She was forced into hiding for having openly criticized him.

Disaster

Mining corporations bring a lot of male aggression into regions were women and children become the targets of violence, trafficking, and prostitution, if not outright murder - as is the case in North America’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (#MMIW).

In November of 2013, Supertyphoon Haiyan ravaged the islands of Samar and Leyte in the Philippines, to date with more than 6000 human fatalities and 1000 still missing.

Warming oceans caused a stronger typhoon than the typical ones that hit the region during typhoon season. The seawater rose in the low-pressure system of the eye of the typhoon and caused a storm surge that the population hadn’t been warned about or prepared for.

This storm surge was well over two stories high, rolling across infrastructure in the city of Tacloban where my uncle, aunt, and cousin live. They were presumed to be among the dead in the hardest-hit area - the peninsula the city’s airport was on - cut off from any communication. They were found after three days, when another relative connected to the military had made his way there from a neighbouring province.

The reason I mention the storm surge is also because women in the Philippines are discouraged from learning how to swim. They don’t stand a chance to survive sudden-onset flooding in an archipelago of over 7,100 islands.

Colonialism

The same racist forces of American colonialism and neocolonialism that the Philippines has been under since 1898 are why Flint still doesn’t have clean drinking-water, why Puerto Rico is still rebuilding after Hurricane Maria while many residents have migrated to the US mainland.

Colonialism is why the US Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas - within the path of the same typhoons that regularly hit the Philippines - still has residents living in shelters and tents after Typhoon Mangkhut and Supertyphoon Yutu destroyed their homes in September and October 2018.

While some governments and their politicians are still denying climate change, a handful of global corporations are responsible for causing the majority carbon emissions and pollution.

Climate justice demands funding poorer nations and communities already impacted by climate change. In addition to resources with which to adapt, these communities must also see a just transition away from fossil fuels and compensation for loss and damage.

We must consider the long-term consequences of our energy supply, while protecting our labour force. 

System change

By contrast, unjust and imperialist solutions take away more Indigenous lands for palm oil plantations, and promote nuclear energy as a safe alternative to fossil fuels only to dispose of the waste near marginalized communities.

It’s affecting us all globally, but at a different speed and intensity.

Postponing a collective system change - from profit to people - is still seen as a worthwhile gamble in the global North, while others in the global South and in Indigenous territories are already losing their homes, livelihoods and lives to an insatiable and imperialist greed.

This Author 

Karin Louise is Filipino-German academic, Indigenous rights and climate justice activist and PhD candidate in American Studies. 

This text is adapted from a speech given at the Women's March 2019 in Berlin, first published on Medium.

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