Feminist geographer, consultant, and former Brunel University professor Susan Buckingham visited UEP’s weekly colloquium yesterday to present her work on the links between gender and environmental issues. Her forthcoming book, Understanding Climate Change through Gender Relations will deal with climate change as a product and amplifier of social inequalities. Even in the realm of current environmental justice dialogues, she claims, gender is not adequately addressed.
One theme of her discussion was climate change as violence, with a disproportionate effect on women and girls. In an example from Bangladesh, 90% of deaths in a 1991 flood were women and girls. Refugee camps across the world are predominantly populated by women. In cases of refugees seeking asylum, rules dictate that asylum-seekers can’t work. This, according to Buckingham, produces a large number of bored, broke, mostly female refugees, many of whom end up turning to sex work.
The UN recognized the gendered component of climate change in 1992, when they incorporated gender equality into their development goals. Since the COP 18 in Doha, representatives have worked toward gender balance in negotiations. There is a generally accepted idea that once female representation reaches 30%, there will be a shift in balance and approaches to dealing with environmental issues. The problem with this line of thinking is that, like many movements, the environmental movement has tended to be “hypermasculine.” Many of the women being promoted to leadership positions have ended up there because of their willingness to follow this mentality.
Women in environmental movement marketing are predominantly portrayed in a sexualized way (think PETA’s “I’d rather go naked than wear fur” campaign) or as victims, which they often are. Meanwhile, men are portrayed as courageous heroes.
According to standpoint theory, the most disadvantaged people are the best equipped to critique the system and should be involved in changing it. Currently, 90% of environmental nonprofit executive directors are men and 99% are white. This has led to blindspots in strategic approaches and a lack of understanding around the intersections between race, gender and environmental issues.
Susan Buckingham’s presentation can be found here:Tufts_BuckinghamPowerPoint