by Aneesa Khan
What does it mean to be a person on the frontlines of a microcosm whose climate is undergoing a dramatic metamorphosis for the worst? It often means a loss of home, land, identity, security, and human rights. But, what does it mean if this person also never truly owned the land they worked on or the home they lived in, what if their identity was continuously oppressed, what if their sense of security was highly dependent on the actions of others, and what if they were never fully allowed to have the human rights they deserved? In short – what does it mean to be some of the most vulnerable amongst the most vulnerable?
Systemic disadvantages possessed by women deeply translate into the predicament of climate change. Amongst those at the eye of this anthropogenic storm, they are the ones who feel the impacts the hardest in an assortment of ways. Historically, natural disasters have always killed more women than men, and they continue to do so. Rising temperatures lead to an increase in vector-borne and water-borne diseases (due to more transmission occurring in higher rainfall and increased reproduction of vectors in warmer conditions). These affect pregnant women the most since they are the most susceptible to disease. Additionally, when climate-related disputes over affected resources arise, women are the most likely to be sidelined along with an increased amount of domestic and community-linked violence against them.
Women on the frontlines who toil in our agricultural and food systems are one of the most harrowing examples of the way the framework of our existence is rigged to disfavor them. They produce more than half the food in their countries, however they have a massive lack of ownership over the land they cultivate on and hence greatly lack the ability to exercise their rights or make decisions. According to ActionAid, only 2% of individually-owned land is possessed by women.
Climate change alters our food production dramatically – increases in global temperatures lead to unstable rainfall patterns, reduction in the soil’s ability to retain moisture, and in the end: awful harvests. These impacts threaten food security and food sovereignty like never before and in addition to that, they threaten the lives and livelihoods of women who have their hands deep in the land, and their dependents.
When climate change is the encumbrance to farmers and food systems, then what could aggravate the situation more than climate “solutions” that overturn the stability of food production further? Unfortunately, under the current UNFCCC process, the solutions being proposed do exactly that. Carbon capture and storage, carbon markets that depend on the preservation of trees, biofuels, etc. are just a few that not only keep us heading towards a catastrophic warming over 2 degrees celsius, but they also lead to unjustifiable impacts on vulnerable people whose lives depend on agriculture.
Since all of these false solutions need land to be a reality, one of their side-effects is the act of land grabbing. GRAIN and La Via Campesina define land grabbing (or large-scale land acquisition to those who are trying to pussyfoot around the “radical” and “harsh” nomenclature) as “the acquisition (lease, concession, outright purchase) by corporations or states, of large areas of farmland (>10,000 ha), in another country and on a long-term basis.” It is impossible to even be stunned anymore by the incompetency of those propagating these solutions – climate change is causing a loss of land and work and the response is to essentially steal or buy (without permission) land from the people whose agriculture is already being adversely affected. Due to their lack of ownership over land (and other reasons mentioned previously), this constant positive feedback loop of injustice leads to women being at a higher risk of losing their land which results in food insecurity and acute poverty.
With yesterday being Gender Day at COP21 and Agriculture Day drawing to a close, one must consider the following: Colonization and systemic sexism have been repeating themselves through land, rights, lives, and livelihoods being seized once again by rich and powerful actors in a world where women keep getting poorer and hungrier. The issue of land grabbing spans across nations due to climate solutions promoted by ideologies and countries from the Global North that refuse to take responsibility for the warming they have caused. It is essential to see the correlation between gender, food and agriculture, the false solutions being proposed, and the way our world has been set up to be painfully unfair. More than ever it is imperative to stand in solidarity with women as they revolt against these oppressions. As justice groups, we are all the wretched of the earth, but does that mean much if we cannot be allies while the same earth is ripped away from the most affected?
I would like to end this by sharing a poem I wrote about this very issue complemented by beautiful artwork from Marina Flevotomas from Friends of the Earth. This was a part of her collaborative project called Women of the World for Climate Justice where we worked with many wonderful and strong women. Check out more of her brilliant designs at www.pulpoart.com.