How Does Gender and Climate Change Intersect?

This blog post is written by our Co-Founder and COO, Mel Faxon. She explores the interplay between gender and environmental issues.

I originally wanted to write this post on the absurdity of gender reveal parties and the fact that a recent gender reveal party destroyed 10,000 acres in a California wildfire. A firefighter passed away on September 17th fighting the flames, and the fire is still burning. The sad thing is that this isn’t the first time this has happened; in 2017, another gender reveal fire “consumed more than 45,000 acres, resulted in $8 million in damages and required nearly 800 firefighters to battle it,” according to the New York Times.

The devastation caused by the wildfires isn’t the only issue at play — the continued emphasis of our country on a binary gender system is also devastating and harmful for so many. And the toll that constant reaffirmation of masculinity takes on men is another huge threat to the overall health and safety of the entire population.

In order to truly understand the impact that toxic masculinity has on the environment, let’s take a look at the overarching relationship between gender and climate change. It’s worth consciously thinking about how those two systems interact.

Climate change is universally recognized as one of the most serious threats that the world is facing. It’s not just the environment, our homes, food systems. It’s also national security. So much of this stems from the different effects that increased water levels and natural disasters will have on other elements of our lives. The UN recently released an article stating:

“It has become increasingly clear that climate change has consequences that reach the very heart of the security agenda: flooding, disease and famine, resulting in migration on an unprecedented scale in areas of already high tension; drought and crop-failure, leading to intensified competition for food, water and energy in regions where resources are already stretched to the limit; and economic disruption…not seen since the end of the Second World War.”

The 2015 Paris Agreement was the first to establish a global goal for climate change, recognizing the inequalities inherent in climate change; those that contribute the least to climate change suffer the most from its effects. And unfortunately, that population is disproportionately women.

Women are overall more likely to live in poverty (70% of the world’s poor are women), own fewer assets, and depend more on natural resources for their livelihoods. According to the, “Women own only 1 percent of the world’s property. Although they predominate in world food production (50 to 80 percent), women own less than 10 percent of land.”

And, because of this unequal distribution of land ownership, when climate change increases drought, floods, and other disasters that affect agricultural production, women bear the brunt. The UNDP also notes that, “cultural norms related to gender sometimes limit the ability of women to make quick decisions on whether to move to safer grounds in disaster situations until it is too late.” And women are more likely to be displaced, sexually assaulted, and to face other violations after natural disasters.

Unsurprisingly, as women are more directly impacted by climate change, there is a gender-based variance in how seriously people view the threat of climate change. While in poorer countries the general population is affected similarly by natural disaster and all genders tend to view climate change on a narrower scale, this variance is heightened in wealthier countries. A recent paper by the MenEngage Alliance highlights that, “men are much less likely than women in wealthy countries to agree that personal lifestyle changes are necessary to reduce the effects of climate change — changes that are desperately needed since most greenhouse gas emissions are caused by wealthier nations.”

We’ve talked about this before — just like household chores, men subconsciously choose to perform fewer environmentally friendly actions in order to protect their masculinity. This choice is having massive consequences on the state of the planet. And the sad thing is, this is the responsibility of a society that has raised men to believe that they shouldn’t demonstrate any empathy, compassion, or feminine traits.

This is a point that we make constantly here at Mirza; we need men on board to truly attain gender equality. We need men to make sacrifices, to contribute more in the home sphere, and to help recycle. MenEngage Alliance agrees, “Boys and men must be seen as part of the solution to achieve gender-informed climate justice, as they are in different capacities in the fields of gender-based violence prevention, unpaid care work, sexual and reproductive health and rights, and peace and security.” But this cannot happen if we don’t start giving men the permission to be empathetic.

Originally published at https://www.heymirza.com on September 25, 2020.

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