Women are carrying the heavier impacts and burdens of climate change related natural catastrophes.
Climate breakdown is the hot toxic breath of the white supremacist capitalist patriarchy. Women, feminists and LGBTQIA2S+ peoples across the planet have been claiming for decades that the climate crisis has patriarchal roots.
Whether they call themselves ecofeminist, climate feminists, or eco-queers, feminist climate activists are pushing for a “feminist system change not climate change,” as one of the movement’s slogans goes.
Women and Feminists for Climate Justice have become a transnational force deserving of their very own acronym — WFCJ. As global warming accelerates this movement is doubling down on activism towards a feminist climate justice across continents. And although WFCJ have gone global, they spring from resistance and action at place-based community, regional and national levels.
The Indigenous women water protectors of Standing Rock Sacred Stone Camp and their victory against the XL Dakota Access Pipeline have become emblematic of the countless localized fights against extractive mining projects led by Indigenous women across the globe.
The peasant women of La Via Campesina’s - the International Peasant’s Movement - community campaigns to confront and dismantle household patriarchal structures are foundational to their internationalist activism for a peasant’s feminism against global industrial agriculture.
Then there is the African Eco-Feminist Collective, advocating for a reclaiming of the commons while resisting multi-national corporatism and global neoliberalism.
And the Kurdish Women’s Movement, who are strengthening cross-border ecological feminist alliances rooted in their home based construction of an ecofeminist society in Rojava.
There is also the Queer Pink bloc at the German anti-coal action Ende Gelände challenging the cis-heteronormative structure of a transnational climate destroying patriarchal system. These are just some examples of local ecological feminist actions that have built transnational solidarities with WFCJ across the globe.
Women are carrying the heavier impacts and burdens of climate change related natural catastrophes.
Place-based struggles are fundamental to this movement. They are specific, historically situated and intersectional. Naming them is crucial to avoiding essentialist, ethnocentric and universalist claims about gender and climate across borders.
The movements described above are building solidarities across place-based and cross-continental struggles in the same way that scholar activists Linda E. Carty and Chandra T. Mohanty have explained are pivotal to building successful transnational feminist movements.
In short, WFCJ are not a monolith. Carty and Mohanty also emphasize addressing and working on the difficulties of the north-south divide —a term used to describe the unequal access to material resources, the production of knowledge, and to power in general between women of the global north and the global south historically and today.
WFCJ are coming together across borders to enact this type of solidarity in international arenas for climate action. It is showing that just like climate resistance, feminist climate justice is not only domestic, it’s global.
In a 2020 online presentation, Ruth Nyambura, Kenyan political ecologist and founding member of the African Eco-feminist Collective, explained the complexities of what she referred to as a transnational feminist politics of solidarity.
She emphasized the importance of “working collectively, carefully and tenderly in transforming local struggles to global ones.” She explained how “our fights are not only similar but we seem to be fighting the same powers.”
That “the context that unite us are real, but so are those that divide us…” and how “many…are also living the impacts and afterlives of colonization.”
She also offered a vital proposal to the movement when stating, “so my call isn’t for a romanticized solidarity, but a call for us to seriously engage with its possibilities. To think through what these new liberated worlds can look like.”
Nyambura’s words were also underpinned by a message of anti-capitalist and decolonial possibilities as central to the movement’s vision.
The Women’s Earth & Climate Action Network (WECAN), Women’s Environmental & Development Organization (WEDO), MADRE Global Women’s Rights, and Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (DAWN) are leading women and climate NGOs working towards the liberatory worlds Nyambura invites us to imagine.
Feminist Agenda For a Green New Deal (FemGND), The Indigenous Feminist Organizing School, The Berta Cáceres International Feminist Organizing School, The Cura da Terra Pre-Ella Global Gathering of Indigenous Women, and the Women and Gender Constituency (WGC) are some rousing initiatives galvanizing a transnational WFCJ movement.
They are the frontline of frontline communities spearheading real and robust climate solutions.
WFCJ spurred a popular and vibrant presence at this year’s COP26 United Nations Climate Conference in Glasgow. Even Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez (AOC), the US congresswoman, joined their anti-patriarchal climate platform by sporting one of their “Feminist Climate Justice” masks.
Perhaps one of the most circulated pieces of data on gender and climate is that women, especially Indigenous and global southern women, are the most disproportionately impacted by climate change worldwide.
Women are carrying the heavier impacts and burdens of climate change related natural catastrophes. Floods, droughts, landslides, water shortages, rising infectious diseases and respiratory health problems hit women first and worst.
Women make up 80 percent of those forced to leave their home during climate catastrophes according to UN studies. They are also 14 times more likely than men to die during climate change related disasters.
Trans and non-binary peoples, particularly those of color, are also disproportionately impacted by climate change. They experience increased rates of physical and sexual violence during and after environmental catastrophes.
They also face higher levels of danger during climate emergencies as they are less likely to successfully evacuate due to isolation caused by discrimination.
Phillip Brown, a queer non-binary femme climate justice mobilizer, artist and writer, reminds us how “Queer Bodies Resist, Queer Bodies Belong, Queer Bodies Protect.”
Having immigrated to the US from Kingston, Jamaica at the age of 18, Phillip once explained to me how queer and trans communities are crucial to climate justice. How their demonstrations of authenticity and community making are structured around cooperation and love which are integral to the care ethics needed for a truly climate just world.
Yet even though climate change’s burdens are gendered, climate change also impacts different women differently. Not only gender, but race and class determine the impacts global warming has on women of various identities, countries, and socio-political histories.
If this is the case, how do women and feminists from across all continents generate solidarity into a transnational movement for climate justice?
If you guessed “the system,” ding ding ding… you’re right (shrug emoji). But I hope it’s alright if we go ahead and call it for what it is: the Climate Patriarchy.
Or more specifically, The Racial Capitalist Climate Patriarchy— a woman devaluing, global earth commodifying system that has been historically uplifted and sustained through colonialism, imperialism and an imposition of dominant cis-hetero family models and subjectivities.
I would also like to suggest that within this transnational structure exists a multiplicity of Racial Capitalist Climate Patriarchies. A plethora of more site specific or localized manifestations of the global Racial Capitalist Climate Patriarchal system.
Climate Patriarchies are characterized by specific geographical locations, social political histories, and subjective positionalities determined by gender, race, and class.
I’m a white western cis woman (she/her) and a scholar activist. I’m committed to illuminating the theory I write with the on-the-ground activist movements I’m engaged in.
I’ve spent almost a decade with transnational Women and Feminists for Climate Justice. Many of them have become my dearest friends and comrades.
Waging direct action, painting feminist slogans across climate justice banners, and getting “debadged” - from where else but the COP, while brainstorming feminist climate resistance and solutions are what make up some of my experiences alongside the stellar souls that compose this movement.
I’ve interviewed more than 100 WFCJ from dozens of countries at multi-cited events on both sides of the Atlantic. I’ve read the theory and literature which links gender and climate across the globe and the ecological feminist theory that explains how this all happened.
What has become clear is that there is both scholarly science and a common WFCJ narrative of climate change disproportionately impacting women’s ecological and land based labor, power, bodies and epistemologies across this transnational movement, but in markedly different and intersectional ways.
What bonds WFCJ is a shared sense of naming today’s global economic system, rooted in racist colonial legacies, as the historical and current source responsible for disempowering and subordinating them by causing and compounding climate change itself.
There is a Racial Capitalist Climate Patriarchal structure which we are collectively resisting. However, it impacts all of us differently depending on our unique place-based positionalities and material histories.
The disproportionate burdens of climate change on gender and race across the globe is not a coincidence - nor is it some sort of global patriarchal plot.
What the empirical data show us is that climate change is compounding women’s already existing structural inequalities.
International attacks on reproductive rights, a crisis of feminicide, ongoing sexism, undervalued and unpaid gendered divisions of labor, escalating levels of poverty and homelessness, geographical displacement, increased level of disease, and rising levels of sexual violence sound like an overdrawn list describing the fiery gates of patriarchal hell.
Tragically, it is just a summary of the disproportionate structural burdens that women have faced under capitalism for hundreds of years. Globalization and neoliberalism are the instigators of such borderless attacks.
Tetet Nera-Lauron, a long time WFCJ activist and advisor at the Rosa-Luxemburg-Stifung in her home of Manila, Philippines, told me how such systemic inequalities are rooted in an “inherent ill-logic of a broken global trade and financial architecture.”
She added how “in a context where Covid-19 and the intensifying economic downturn have magnified pre-existing vulnerabilities throughout the global south and north, the failure of the dominant development paradigm to offer just and lasting solutions to the multiple crises has become more obvious than ever before.”
In her recent article Climate migration is a feminist issue, Nera-Lauron also explains how in response to the systemic gender inequalities that cause disproportionate gendered climate impacts must come a decolonial, feminist global Green New Deal.
The term Racial Capitalist Climate Patriarchy is not just a hot take or some buzz words bundled together. It is meant to name and explain global structural hierarchies of power and oppression.
The concept is rooted in decades of foundational feminist activism and theorizing around systemic patterns of gendered, racial and class oppression that date back to the 1970s. Systems of oppression that overlap and make up the global capitalist economy as we know it.
The Racial Capitalist Climate Patriarchy is an adaptation of the Capitalist Patriarchy, a term coined by Zillah R. Eisenstein in 1978. It expresses that capitalism is not the sole system causing global inequalities, and that capitalist oppression is also patriarchal and racist in addition to being classist.
It looks to find the deepest roots of global inequality and locates them in gendered racial oppression. In 1983 scholar Cedric J. Robinson develops and theorizes the term Racial Capitalism.
The term expands on the interdependent relationship between racial oppression and global capitalism advanced decades before by revolutionary thinkers including W.E.B Du Bois, Oliver Cromwell Cox, and Frantz Fanon.
In the 90s, luminary feminist scholar bell hooks merges the terms Capitalist Patriarchy and Racial Capitalism by renaming the global system the “Imperial White Supremacist Capitalist Patriarchy.”
In a 2015 interview with scholar George Yancy, hooks reaffirms the ongoing importance of the term to global structural analysis today stating “…for me, that phrase always reminds me of a global context, of the context of class, of empire, of capitalism, of racism and of patriarchy. Those things are all linked — an interlocking system.”
The same year trans actor and activist Laverne Cox gave her take on the term by tweeting: “Actually its cisnormative heteronormative imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy…”. This adds the structural oppression of hegemonic cis gender binaries to the mix.
The Racial Capitalist Climate Patriarchy is founded in the contributions of these activist thinkers. In its most disclosed form it is the cisnormative heteronormative imperialist white supremacist capitalist climate patriarchy.
Following in the footsteps of these feminist, transnational and world-systems thinkers, I believe it is fundamental to name climate oppression as a root system of oppression, inseparably interlocked with the others.
Climate oppression is extractive and ecocidal. It treats women and marginalized peoples the same way it treats the earth.
Ecological feminist activists and scholars have long contended that nature cannot be liberated without liberating women, trans and non-binary peoples.
They have affirmed that capitalism’s founding ideology of continuous growth - manifested as the infinite extraction of finite natural resources - is enabled by the interlinked subordination of women, racialized and marginalized peoples and nature.
In her 1974 book Feminism or Death - the English translation is forthcoming with Verso books in 2022 - French feminist Françoise d’Eaubonne argues that an interlinked historical oppression of women and the earth are at the root of both the environmental crisis and women’s widespread systemic oppression. That the environmental crisis is in fact a result of women’s oppression.
For d’Eaubonne the remedy to this crisis is “ecofeminism” - Feminism or Death being the book in which the term ecofeminism is published in for the first time.
However, Indigenous feminists and activists have been articulating capitalism’s double subordination of gender and the environment since the start of climate crisis.
More recently, Tom Goldtooth, Dine' and Dakota director of the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN), spoke at the COP26 Coalition’s general assembly and emphasized that “the system that objectifies women is the same system that objectifies Mother Earth.”
His words build on Cree activist Melina Laboucan-Massimo’s words that “violence against the Earth begets violence against women.” And most recently Gidimt'en clan member and Wet'suwet'en land defender Delee Nikal spelled out how “feminicide is directly linked to ecocide.”
Colonialism is the vehicle that exported the Racial Capitalist Climate Patriarchy across the world through projects of development and industrialization. “Colonialism caused climate change” was a central grassroots message at this year’s COP26.
At the opening plenary, Māori climate activist India Logan-Riley explained how “climate change is the final outcome of the colonial project, and in our response we must be decolonial, rooted in justice and care for communities like mine who have borne the burden of the global north greed for far too long.”
The Racial Capitalist Climate Patriarchy is not an unmovable structure that we have no alternatives for. And WFCJ are not victims but targets - like many of them have explained. Moreover, WFCJ and frontline communities have always been spearheading real and innovative climate solutions.
Grassroots activists continue to push for the systemic change needed to save the planet but are blocked by gatekeepers of this violent system inside the COP.
Fossil fuel lobbyists - there were two for every one Indigenous person at this COP; theatrical performances by world leaders making un-robust commitments while upkeeping broken promises, and the institutional logic of the COP structure itself is composed of the very forces these activists are fighting.
On the final day of the conference at the People’s Plenary, Ta'kaiya Blaney of the Tla’Amin First Nation represented Indigenous Peoples in explaining, “I am not going to come to my colonizers for solutions…we reject false solutions from our colonizers!”
The message echoed Riley’s words at the start of the conference when she explained how “land back, oceans back!” is what climate justice looks like. She ended with a warning to all those halting real climate action to “get in line or get out of the way.”
Women and Feminists for Climate Justice have also been explicit about their feminist climate justice demands both inside and outside of the COP.
As Andrea Vega Troncoso of Women’s Environment & Development Organization (WEDO) told me, the movement won’t stop until there is “a feminist systems change focused on an intersectional feminism with no more patriarchy, no more colonialism, and no more capitalism.”
Julie Gorecki is an ecofeminist scholar, activist and writer. She works on new ecological feminisms by reexamining the systemic links between gender, race, class, marginalized people and ecology in the face of today’s climate emergency. She is a PhD candidate at the University of California Berkeley and is also part of the transnational Women and Feminist for Climate Justice movement. Follow Julie at @JulieGorecki.