BY KARTHIGA RATNAM & ARYSSA YOON
Climate Change. Environmental Degradation. Extinction Emergency. We have all heard the terms. The problem with climate change or the death of nature is that it’s usually tightly integrated with a host of other problems.
We are focusing on the impact of climate change on gender inequality. To understand gender inequality it’s important for us to explore some of the historical reasons.
Gender inequality traditionally is the roles and responsibilities society designates to women. This “definition” though has evolved because gender itself has evolved. But the fundamental problem remains. One group of people are treated differently because of their gender.
But what entails gender inequality? What are the issues? Therein lies our next challenge. Gender inequality encompasses a myriad of problems. Be it the wage gap, or equal opportunity, or right to vote, right to drive, right to own land and property, access to healthcare, and the list goes on.
In an article in Cosmos – The Science of Everything – Dyani Lewis traces signs of gender inequality to about 8000 years ago in Neolithic graves.
The last period of the stone age – neolithic. The neolithic revolution was centered around early agricultural and farming practices, fixed settlements, pottery making etc. The graves from that period found in Spain had cave paintings that illustrated more men than women. What we find fascinating about this is how as soon as human culture evolved into fixed settlements, gender categories were defined. Even the burials were different, male graves with arrowheads and females with pottery or ceramics.
We are reminded of the words of John Wooden, the American basketball coach: It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.
Knowingly or unknowingly the little things that started during the neolithic age, had a cascading effect on gender inequality and perpetuated gender bias. What started with graves and paintings, robbed generations of women of their right to
- An education
- Their own bodies
- Equal Pay
- Open a bank account
How Climate Change is Affecting Gender Inequality
This is just the tip of the iceberg. Enter climate change or the Death of Nature as we at the Wicked 7 Project call it. This month the wicked problem we are addressing is the Death of Nature. Our current objective is to identify factors that contribute to or are impacted by the death of nature.
Gender Inequality is one of the issues that we feel will be severely affected by the death of nature. As we started drawing the cause and effect map for gender inequality, we must confess to being stunned by the data.
Here are some staggering statistics:
- About 80% of people displaced by climate change are women.
- This leads to them being put into often unclean and dangerous evacuation centers, where they are exposed to possible abuse or violence.
- Climate events impact the world’s most vulnerable, with studies showing that women are more likely to be killed by natural disasters than men, although those numbers are reduced when they have an improved social status.
- For example, 3 times as many women than men died in the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami due to gender roles in the region causing men to be more likely able to swim.
- These disasters are also linked with increases in gender-based violence.
- Parkinson D, Farrant B, Duncan A (2015) Women, and children. Climate Change Adaptation for Health and Social Services, eds Walker R, Mason W (CSIRO Publishing, Clayton South, AU), pp 117–139.
Loss of arable land is one of the key factors in climate change. Guess which gender that affects the most?
Here we are reminded of something Liz Plank said in her book For the of Men: New Vision for Mindful Masculinity – “Women have always worked. But the difference is that now women actually get paid for it.”
Next we explore our cause and effect map:
This is our first attempt at identifying the interrelations between the death of nature and gender inequality. Certainly living in cities or more metropolitan locations around the world, these might not seem like pressing concerns. But what if we told you:
- Of the 1.3 billion people living in poverty, 70% are women?
- Women “predominate” food production in the world, but we own less than 20% of the land
- Two thirds of the world’s 744 million illiterate adults are women.
Let us paint you a picture. Imagine you are a woman living in poverty. You have to depend on the food production of your small plot of land to feed your family. Due to climate change the rains don’t come at the prescribed times of the year and your land becomes more and more arable. Suddenly, you have to walk longer distances for fresh water, you have to work harder to farm the land to produce food. You have to find firewood or a means to cook the food. In addition to all this, you also have to worry about the health of your children, your own menstrual hygiene, and a host of other complications that may arise along the way.
Working mothers in the cities too face similar challenges. COVID-19 proved this to us. When jobs were cut it was predominantly women. We had to work from home, look after our kids and maintain the household.
It was so easy for society to fall back on cultural gender roles during a crisis such as COVID-19. The UN has reported that COVID-19 has “set back gender equality by 25 years.”
Can you imagine the scale at which an extinction emergency would affect gender inequality?
Take a look at this diagram below. It shows the connection between gender inequality and climate change:
If anything we feel the pandemic has spotlighted the delicate state of gender inequality. All it took was a work from home order to be issued by governments across the world. Suddenly we see ourselves riveting back to decades old gender stereotypes.
This is why at Wicked 7, we feel gender inequality is intrinsically connected to the Death of Nature. We cannot solve climate change without addressing gender inequality.