By Ngozika Egbuonu, M.A., M.S.
“In the end, all the struggles have the same objective: the defense of life. That is the most important, no matter where we are or what the specific goal of each fight is.” — Ana Sandoval, land defender and co-founder of Communities in Peaceful Resistance “La Puya”, working to resist dangerous mining megaprojects in her community in Guatemala.
You’ve probably seen them: angry video clips of men and women offended by public breastfeeding, endless memes insinuating women in leadership positions are “angry,” “bossy,” or “irrational,” or even my personal favorite, the growing rise of the men’s rights movement, which is built on the premise that men are losing power and status because of feminism. Each of these examples represent aspects of the societal challenges women face daily for simply trying to live their lives or improve the status of them. And the same can be said for our planet’s personified form: Mother Earth. And because she has no earthly voice (pun intended), those who do advocate on her behalf are met with virtually the same ire as feminists and women’s equity advocates and activists.
Now, why is that?
The answer lies in our inherent femininity. You see, much in the same way environmental advocates and activists struggle to defend conservation and reduce pollution, women fighting to protect themselves and future generations are accused of unfounded or dramatized criticisms. This insistence that climate change is either unreal or being exaggerated by overdramatic environmentalists virtually mirrors the anti-feminine statements being expressed publicly. Let’s take a look at a few quotes about climate change and anti-feminism to try and literally illustrate this point.
“We must ask whether these Obama administration policies are worth the lost jobs, lower take-home pay, higher gas and electricity prices, and so on.”— Sen. John Boozman
“The feminist agenda is not about equal rights for women. It is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism, and become lesbians.” — Pat Robertson
“Get rid of some of these crazy regulations that Obamacare puts in … such as a 62-year-old male having to have pregnancy insurance.” — Iowa Rep. Rod Blum
The above statements highlight attempts to equate progressive environmental and gender equity policy changes to attacks on others’ livelihoods and/or cultural traditions. In addition to being frustratingly wrong, these attacks use exaggerated or misinformed stories to distract individuals from critically thinking about legislation or actions that could help improve the quality of life for everyone.
Interestingly enough, researchers at both the United Nations and Oxfam America found that women are more likely to bear the burden of climate change. In America, we know that is the case because economically disadvantaged people are impacted more severely when natural disasters happen and women make up roughly 70 percent of individuals living below the poverty line. A similar case can be found abroad as Voré Gana Seck, executive director of Green Senegal and president of the international nongovernmental coalition Counsel des ONG d’Appui au Developpment notes, “Climate change affects women because they are usually the main food producers of crops like rice, millet, vegetables. Because of no rain, climate change affects them. And girls have to drop out of school because they need to start working for their families.” This reality must force all of us to confront the need for achieving both gender equality and turning back the dial on climate change immediately. It seems that in accomplishing one, we are helping increase the impact of the other and ultimately making the entire world better for it.
These realizations are ultimately why I believe every attempt to devalue Mother Earth’s importance in our survival and existence is a subliminal attack on womanhood. Think of the female womb and its importance in carrying a child to birth. Or even the sustenance her body provides from the womb to toddlerhood and beyond. When people devalue mothers and the incredible effort it takes to carry, birth, and/or raise a child, such as in denying women adequate maternity leave or shaming women for having children (as if to imply that in doing so, they cannot function or be as effective in their careers or positions), they are disrespecting the miracle of life that brought each and every one of us into this world.
Fortunately, there are great examples of how gender inequality has tried but failed to hinder a woman’s success, with my favorite being the life story of the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (RBG). Despite being one of the top students in her class at nearly every institution she stepped foot in, RBG experienced difficulty finding work as a direct result of her gender. This personal connection to gender-based discrimination had to have stirred something deep within RBG. That something I think also played a major part in some of her most treasured opinions.
Recently, Center for Progressive Reform’s (CPR) President, Rob Verchick and several of his colleagues and CPR Board Members recounted their favorite RBG legal decisions and stories. Each person’s testimony beautifully demonstrates why I believe RBG was so adept in understanding the importance of gender equity, as well as the environmental justice both Mother Earth and so many of her inhabitants so desperately need and deserve. RBG could read through the language, science, and noise to understand the most crucial point at the center of the legal battles she decided upon: the defense of life.
One of the subjects that bothers me the most when I hear men or even other women complain about feminism and the fight for gender equality is the gender pay gap. The fact that women still have to fight for equal pay when doing the exact same job as their male counterparts should be enough to upset any decent person. Primarily because gender pay inequality not only hurts the women being unfairly paid, it hurts anyone else who relies on her income for stability or support.
My first thought immediately goes to single mothers or even women, like RBG, who have to take on the role of both parents due to a crisis (or several) or sudden onset of illness, as was in RBG’s case when she had to be the foundation for her family during her husband’s first battle with cancer. Imagine the feeling of already struggling on one paycheck, but then on top of that, you aren’t even getting the full paycheck owed for the work you’ve done, and the only reason for that discrepancy in pay is your gender? For me, this example is one of the clearest ways of explaining the importance of gender equality to folks who still don’t seem to get it.
Gender equality is not about putting men down, creating a narrative of male inferiority or trying to attack American cultural norms. In fact, I would argue that it is attempting to do the opposite. Gender equality, much like racial equality and equity, is helping to affirm each individual’s strength and talent by challenging all of us to work harder and be better. Championing gender equality is forcing us to update what we think of as the “American way” of doing things. Maybe the American way is leading by example and properly appreciating the talents that both men and women bring to life’s table.
As the eloquent Eleanor Roosevelt stated, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” For those of you who still view the fight for gender equality as an attack on masculinity and manhood, I encourage you to consider looking at it as a way for men and women to recognize that there is always room for growth and trying things a different way. In doing so, we can begin finding new opportunities to do more and be more than we are today.
I think it is also worth noting the importance of adequately appreciating and acknowledging the work and experiences of all women. From child rearing to practicing law or medicine, teaching to nursing, each and every woman’s positively impactful efforts must be celebrated and valued for both its short term and far-reaching implications.
In a much similar way, we must celebrate and value our Mother Earth for both her immediate and future contributions to all of our lives. From her diverse terrains to bountiful natural resources, from her unique native flora and fauna to her resilience in the face of natural and human-made disasters, Mother Earth has shown us all more than enough strength and beauty. Unfortunately, for those wonders to be shared and appreciated generations beyond our own, we all have to come to a collective agreement: we must listen to the science.
Just as you don’t want me attempting to stand in for an eye surgeon with my limited medical experience and squeamishness around anything blood related, we don’t want politicians or climate deniers to drown out the conversation when the evidence and the research to prove climate change exists are all available.
We are at a crossroads, friends. Climate change is happening and for many of us in the DC Metro area, you should be thinking more about how this will impact all of our ways of life. Where will you purchase groceries? Will the groceries you want be available and at an affordable price? Think about the food banks and food pantries, the farmers and farm workers. How does climate denial impact them? If science doesn’t resonate with you, then listen to the people already being impacted. We all have a part to play to save our communities and this planet. I hope you’ll join me and my fellow colleagues at DC EcoWomen by sharing the stories of climate change happening in our local and regional communities, as well as voting for policies that affirm your commitment to environmental advocacy and stewardship.
As the lead pastor of the church I attend, National Community Church (based right here in DC), Dr. Mark Batterson once said, “I reserve the right to get smarter.” With everything being thrown at us right now with regards to the election, climate change, and the fight for social justice both here and abroad, I think it’s safe to agree that we could all benefit from getting smarter, and doing so fast.
Ngozika Egbuonu is a professional fundraiser and content creator with more than ten years of experience working in communications roles for a variety of industries. Currently, she lives in Upper Marlboro with her husband, Gerald, and serves as the Community Engagement Manager at Network for Good. Ngozika is passionate about uplifting female voices, achieving racial equity, and fighting climate change. When she’s not writing, you can find her hiking trails throughout the DMV or posting tons of photos of her new bunny, Thurgood.