Posts Tagged ‘feminism’

posted by | on , , , , , | Comments Off on A Shared Struggle: The Parallels Between the Plight of Women and that of Mother Earth

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.

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By Tamara Toles O’Laughlin

As a DC EcoWoman, I am a member of a community of women that inspire and encourage each other to do the work necessary to create a healthy and equitable society. Like many of you, I wear several hats inside and outside of the DC EcoWomen community – analyst, policy wonk, jargon translator, and general problem solver. Each of us brings our experience, understanding, and perspective into the spaces we inhabit, the spheres we influence, and which actions we elect not to take.

This blog post concerns a grey area; between our thoughts and actions, where the frameworks, lenses or viewpoints we apply to difficult questions determine the trajectory of our involvement in creating solutions. This precious mental space is where the greatest challenges to any community lay.

I consider how these structures interact, and discuss their impact on the ways we show up as members of coalitions involved in environmental work.

What is intersectionality?

Intersectionality1The concept of intersectionality was introduced to the collective consciousness some thirty years ago in a thunderous paper by Kimberlé Crenshaw. She advanced a cohesive theory that articulated the energy and effect of legal and political invisibility for women of color. She gave a name to the angst of not being seen and made it a cognizable body of work on identity and its connection to power structures.

Of Crenshaw’s articulations, the two definitions I find most helpful for understanding intersectionality are:

  1. it is a process of recognizing what was formerly perceived as isolated and individual as social and systemic, and
  2. it is a way to register the fact that there are multiple grounds of identity when considering how the social world is constructed.

Crenshaw looks at intersectionality as it applies to systems that interact with women’s bodies, define their political rights and cultural roles. I warn you, Crenshaw’s paper is heavy stuff, and it hurts to read because it breaks down some of the most personal parts of public life and the ways we are socialized to avoid complication for the sake of expediency.

As a shorthand, I like to think of intersectionality as an act of intention, a purposeful application of the whole self to dynamic problems. If we endeavor to employ it, we have the chance to dismantle silos of class, race, education, belief, sex, gender, culture, and age in favor of a more realistic accounting of our investment in resolving harms and identifying problems.

Why apply an intersectional lens?

To avoid silos.

As EcoWomen we combine our talents, interests and perspectives to address large scale problems that include climate change, environmental justice and equity, conservation of natural resources, oceans, sustainable agriculture, ecology and the built environment, among others. We do this in our personal and professional lives, and in order to be successful we should avoid intellectual and emotional silos that limit our ability to use the power of combination to develop multifaceted approaches.

As proponents of change, we work against staid systems in order to develop sustainable answers to the questions of our time. We do this in a context of social transformation, and increasing knowledge of our destructive and redemptive power and ability.

An intersectional lens welcomes the breadth of our present working identities as women, and more, and avoids direct or indirect exclusion. It is an aide to conscious development of considerate problem analysis and solutions that increase our capacity as a body, enhancing our total range, representation and reflective power, which in turn enhances the quality of actions that result.

What does intersectionality look like?

Intersectionality2Intersectionality looks like full expression, critical thinking applied to challenges. It looks like the recognition that systems of benefits, resources, privilege, and oppression overlap and that multiple public identities yield to situational arrangement. It looks like dynamic feminism followed up by consistent action towards those ends.

In green spaces, intersectionality looks like environmental campaigns, policy, and programs rooted in inclusion rather than marginalization. It looks like associations based on the premises that the standard is an enhanced alliance of individuals, groups, and cohorts working within intercultural and intracultural spaces as peers and partners. It avoids the implication that there is an inherent value or supremacy in the knowledge, assets or position of one group over another.

Intersectional frameworks aim to develop the capacity of all voices to address real time issues of resource allocation, the distribution of burdens, benefits and responsibilities for externalities. We all have a stake in the outcome and as such we must all have a voice.

Practically speaking, intersectionality looks like women who are free to show up as their full selves (as a member of a particular culture, gender, race, class or ethnicity etc.) without fear of owning up to the overlapping nature of their identity. It looks like a coalition of women who function as members of several systems operating simultaneously.

For me, intersectionality means showing up as a New Yorker, an African American, a woman with a specific legal, environmental and political education, of a certain age, and urban sensibility with the understanding that it’s all good because it’s all here, present and accounted for.

What actions should we take to avoid silos?

  • Develop policies that reflect our intention to fully function even when that means we come to it from differing places and perspectives with opposing means and ends.
  • Intentionally seek out alignment across program areas and silos into shared power structures for richer political engagement.
  • View our feminism as a multi-dimensional practice and ask questions as often as we seek to provide answers with a mindfulness of our multiple identities.

Why should you care about intersectionality?

Intersectionality3Because we are a community of EcoWomen who come from other communities. And as such we are in the business of fashioning sustainable solutions to big problems.

Greater intersectionality makes sense for our work since it precedes more responsive policies, timely organizational priorities, and more effective strategies; because it presents problems to be solved with more accuracy, sets the stage for access to more view points, and widens the scope of the challenge.

If we are going to try and change the world, we should do it as ourselves. We should stop playing nice, greens and start getting real.

For more resources on this topic check out this backgrounder as a primer.

Tamara is an environmental advocate focused on civil society and justice issues. She holds degrees from The City College, City University of New York and two advanced degrees from Vermont Law School. Her hobbies include reading boring books about politics and neuroscience, writing diatribes about what she reads, travelling, and yoga.