Photo of Constance Okollet by Edward Echwalu
By Savanah Mandeville
“Gender inequalities intersect with climate risks and vulnerabilities. Women’s historic disadvantages — their limited access to resources, restricted rights, and a muted voice in shaping decisions — make them highly vulnerable to climate change.” —Human Development Report 2007/08. Fighting climate change: Human solidarity in a divided world
When Constance Okollet learned that President Donald Trump pulled out of the Paris Climate Agreement, it was the middle of the night in Osukuru, Uganda.
She wept and couldn’t fall asleep for the rest of the night.
It’s women like Okollet who are hit the hardest by climate change. Once-predictable weather patterns allowed Okollet’s village to thrive for generations, but that changed in 2007 when flooding ravaged their crops. The steady rainy and dry seasons her community relied on never returned to normal.
This article is the second part in a series dedicated to anti-capitalist feminism based on the writings of Cinzia Arruzza, Tithi Bhattacharya, and Nancy Fraser in their 2019 manifesto: “Feminism for the 99%.”
The first part, “Anti-Capitalist Feminism: Basic Principles of Feminism for the 99%,” can be found here.
To recap, “Feminism for the 99%” is comprised of 11 theses, each pointing to how and why capitalism is the root cause of the major issues plaguing the world today. Throughout, it discusses how these issues disproportionately affect women around the globe, how it’s largely women leading the charge against capitalism’s abuses of power, and how the next wave of feminism should reject neoliberal ideals in favor of a movement that benefits all women, not just the privileged few.
Today’s focus will be on Thesis 9: “Fighting to reverse capital’s destruction of the earth.”
Feminism for the 99% is Ecosocialist
Ecosocialism is the concept that the best way to fight climate change is to move toward a socialist society. It says capitalist profiteering will never be compatible with the health of the environment.
It’s not radical to claim that mass production and corporate dependence on fossil fuels have contributed to the climate crisis. In fact, just 100 companies are responsible for 71 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. An ecosocialist future doesn’t have to be a tectonic shift — even if all we did was install a government willing to strictly regulate those 100 companies, we could make dramatic leaps and bounds toward saving the planet.
The climate crisis, which is tied to capitalism, worsens women’s oppression. Globally, women make up 80% of climate refugees and displaced populations, and typically in emergencies 70-80% of those needing assistance are women and children, according to the study Gender and the Climate Change Agenda.
“In the global south, [women] constitute the majority of the rural workforce even as they bear responsibility for the lion’s share of social reproductive labor. Because they have the lion’s share of caring for and housing family, women play an outsized part in coping with drought, pollution, and exploitation of land. Likewise, poor women of color in the global north are disproportionately vulnerable, subject to environmental racism, and they constitute the backbone of communities subject to flooding and lead poisoning.” — Feminism for the 99%
In the United States, the Standing Rock protests, Hurricane Katrina, and the Flint water crisis immediately come to mind. Indigenous women led the fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline and bore the brunt of police retaliation. After Katrina, women represented 80% of those left behind in New Orleans, in many cases because they lacked the means to leave. In Flint, low-income women of color, pregnant women, children, and undocumented immigrants are the ones hardest hit by the crisis.
Across the globe, women are pushing back. From Máxima Acuña who went head-to-head against US Newmont Mining Corporation in Peru to women in North India fighting against construction of hydroelectric dams to women like Constance Okollet who mobilized her community and helped farmers adapt to the changing weather, it’s women who are making a serious difference at the grassroots level.
Finally, ecological issues and social reproduction go hand-in-hand. The woman-led fight for sustainability focuses on real world social justice, the wellbeing of communities, future generations, and wildlife. It lies in sharp contrast to capital-led, profit-motivated efforts for sustainability in the form of renewable energy and electric cars. Ecosocialists and Anti-Capitalist Feminists argue that even though some parts of capitalism can advance environmentalism, it’s not enough.
Victor Wallis, ecosocialist author of “Red-Green Revolution: The Politics and Technology of Ecosocialism,” said in this Vice article: “Unless you do away with capitalism, you’ll still have the other companies that are much more influential and bigger in scale, like oil companies. … There is ultimately a clash in the wider scheme of things, even if you have one sector of a capitalist market that responds to people’s concerns about the environment.”
This is why we must reject “green finance projects which dissolve nature into a miasma of quantitative abstraction” in favor of swift, effective action with real lives at the heart of the cause — not profits.
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