The COVID-19 pandemic and the climate crisis are two of the world’s most urgent issues but while they affect everyone, they also disproportionately impact women and those living in poverty. For instance, women have reported an increased number of domestic violence cases since lockdown started, while those in poor communities have higher chances of infection because they’re unable to practise social distancing. These risks are only multiplied by the effects of climate change. Typhoon victims are forced to stay in cramped evacuation centres and the responsibility to care for families still falls on women.
Activists from around the world are now turning their attention to the links between women’s rights, poverty, climate change, and the pandemic, and working towards practical solutions. From a feminist in Fiji to a queer climate activist in Peru, these women are working to rebuild safer, more equal and sustainable communities. Below, they share why it’s crucial to act now.
COVID-19 reiterated the fact that climate change is a threat-multiplier. Just because the entire world is on lockdown, doesn’t mean that climate change or the patriarchy are on lockdown. When Tropical Cyclone Harold hit Vanuatu, Fiji, and Tonga in April 2020, people’s homes were blown away. How can you be physically, socially distancing when you’ve got no home and evacuation centres are crammed?
As always, women were the worst hit in this double crisis situation. They were locked in with their abusers. Access to contraceptives was limited. Women’s care work was overloaded. Once again when a crisis strikes, social inequalities will go up, those who were always marginalised will suffer the most, those who were privileged and safe will continue to be safe.
Solutions have to be two-tiered; targeted at short-term and immediate, but also long-term and sustainable. It can’t be one or the other, we have to figure out a way to make them both work in a way that’s gender-inclusive and socially inclusive.
Anti-racist, anti-capitalist feminist and abolitionist
There’s a connection between violence — whether it be police brutality, or military force — and climate injustices because they stem from the same roots: the white supremacist, cis-het capitalist patriarchy. For me, there’s no distinction between fighting for abolition and fighting for climate justice.
To move away from systems of violence, we have to reimagine a world that centres care. That means divesting from institutions and corporations that are life-threatening, and decolonising hearts and minds. We need degrowth in the northern economies — those that enable the life-threatening conditions — and we need to reinvest in communities, institutions, and organisations that are life-affirming. Wealth and resources must be redistributed in a fundamentally different way.
Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim
Activist from the Indigenous Mbororo community
We have COVID-19 now because we are destroying our environment. For many Indigenous communities, when we talk about the environment, it’s where we come from, who we are. What makes us common as Indigenous Peoples is our dependence on the environment we live in.
Climate justice is not only about stopping greenhouse gases, then we’re done. It is about the social, economic, and political interlinkages. It's about my people’s fight for social justice because the degradation of the environment is creating conflict and inequality.
If we don't fight climate change at the same time as COVID-19, we will have more pandemics that we cannot fight anymore. We can invest in biodiversity, in fighting climate change, and at the same time, human health. With climate change, we cannot wear a mask, go on lockdown, or build a wall to escape. There has to be a radical change.
Maggie H. Mapondera
Activist, communicator, facilitator
The climate crisis is real for so many communities. Sometimes we don't have the language for it, but we can feel it in our bodies, in the land, in the water. When you see tragedies like Cyclone Idai, you see what climate change is doing. Rocks the size of a car were torn out of the ground. When you see land that used to yield so much no longer able to yield, you can see that something is not right.
COVID-19 has really laid bare this terrible system. Even in the midst of this difficult moment, people are still pushing, challenging the system.
Majandra Rodriguez Acha
Climate justice and queer feminist activist
The exploitation of the earth, the exploitation of people, and violence against women are all interconnected. In a binary understanding, the masculine is seen as strong and rational and linked with success and competition, while the feminine — associated with emotions and spirituality — is seen as weak. All these systems are constructions, right? We built them. We can rebuild them. Gender roles are constructed. Men can also be caretakers. We could build new masculinities.
Right-wing capitalist interests can use these crises to push through their own favourable regulations. But activists can do that, too. We can rethink the way we're doing things. Young feminist activists all around the world understand the importance of intuition and emotion. Barriers that were built on conflict and division can be broken down through art and creative expression.
Environmentally, we built this industrial, extractive, hyper consumption-based system. We can build something else. There are so many examples being built already, all around the world. Something different is possible. It's very possible you know? We can build it!
This article is in collaboration with Oxfam’s Climate, Covid and Care: Feminist Journeys project, as part of the #ClimateChangers campaign. Mamata Dash is the Southern Campaigns Lead for Oxfam International.