Archive for the ‘climate change’ Category
Every week I will post a short biography from The United Nations Who’s Who of Women and the Environment. This week is featuring Mei Ng from China:
From meeting rooms to pollution hotspots, from lobby platform to legislative chambers, from recycling sweatshops to landfills, from congested streets to country parks, from consumer wasteland to green homes, from kindergartens to university lecture halls, from freezing air-conditioned offices to wind farms in southern China, from urbanized Hong Kong to unsustainable villages and drought plagued provinces in developing China, Mei Ng’s green footprint has travelled far and wide. In the last 15 years, her effort to promote awareness and transfer NGO experience has helped to catalyze the budding green movement in China since 1992. Mei Ng’s green message has travelled 26500 km to 15 provinces and touched over 860,000 people.
Mrs. Mei Ng is the Director of Friends of the Earth (Hong Kong). She was elected to the UNEP Global 500 Roll of Honor in 2000. In the same year, she was appointed by the State Environmental Protection Agency as China Environment Envoy. In 2003, Mrs Ng was decorated with the Bronze Bauhinia Star by the Hong Kong SAR Government for her environmental contribution to Hong Kong.
Mrs. Ng has actively participated in environmental policy development and community mobilization. She was appointed to the Advisory Council on the Environment (ACE) since 2001 and invited as an advisor to the Hong Kong Sustainable Industry Council.
Leading a dedicated team to catalyse sustainability thinking, environmental governance and public participation, her priority campaigns include responsible consumption, renewable energy, community participation and sustainable development through women and youth empowerment.
Her millennium vision is to mobilize women folks to safeguard their environmental and quality of life. Turning pig waste-to-energy in China’s arid western region to halt logging and desertification and raising awareness of women factory workers in Southern China’s pollution hotspots, Mei Ng believes in lighting a candle rather than curse darkness.
As a sustainability pathfinder, Mei Ng has been lighting small candles in Hong Kong and China. She believes in Do-It-Yourself Environmentalism in keeping with the spirit of Sustainability.
Since I was away and wasn’t able to keep up with all the great reflections from women on Copenhagen I’ll provide you with a list of just that from the Feminist Peace Network:
Activist Naomi Klein kicked off the Klimaforum, the alternative people’s gathering being held in conjunction with the Copenhagen Climate Change talks by pointing out that the official talks had official corporate sponsors, which says it all when it comes to integrity:
Naomi also had critical words to say about Hopenhagen and its branding extravaganza. “The globe has Siemens logo on the bottom and the whole event is sponsored by Coke. That is a capitalization of hope but Klimaforum09 is where the real hope lies,” she said.
“Klimaforum is not about giving charity to the developing world its about taking responsibility and the industrialized countries cleaning up our own mess,” she concluded.
In a followup article, she writes,
A highlight of my time at COP15 so far was a conversation with the extraordinary Nigerian poet and activist Nnimmo Bassey, chair of Friends of the Earth International. We talked about the fact that some of the toughest activists here still pull their punches when it comes to Obama, even as his climate team works tirelessly to do away with the Kyoto Protocol, replacing it with much weaker piecemeal targets.
If George W. Bush had pulled some of the things Obama has done here, he would have been burned in effigy on the steps of the convention center. With Obama, however, even the most timid actions are greeted as historic breakthroughs, or at least a good start.
“Everyone says: ‘give Obama time,’” Bassey told me. “But when it comes to climate change, there is no more time.” The best analogy, he said, is a soccer game that has gone into overtime. “It’s not even injury time, it’s sudden death. It’s the nick of time, but there is no more extra time.”
Global Sister has an excellent article up called, A Feminist Focus on Climate Change which points to a fascinating study by BRIDGE that looks at linkages between gender and climate change, well worth the read.
UNFPA Executive Director Thoraya Ahmed Obaid has this to say:
“Women should be part of any agreement on climate change — not as an afterthought or because it’s politically correct, but because it’s the right thing to do. Our future as humanity depends on unleashing the full potential of all human beings, and the full capacity of women, to bring about change.”
Women, Water, and Climate Justice—Cameroonian Human Rights Activist Asaha Elizabeth Ufei Leads the Way posted by the NAACP Climate Justice Iniative provides an excellent analysis of how the impact off climate change on water supplies influences women:
As the climate conditions worsen, women are finding it harder to provide food and water for their families. The once reliable and nearby water sources are drying up or contaminated; and the crops aren’t producing enough. So we are faced with questions: How many more miles must women have to walk to provide basic life-sources? What other ways can women sustain their families when the traditional agriculture and craft materials are gone? How many women will have to uproot their families and migrate to other places—that may be hostile to immigrants—because they can longer find food and shelter in their communities? How many more women and girls will be pushed into survival sex work because there are fewer economic opportunities? How many more people who speak up about human rights and organize for change will be severely punished, coerced to leave their countries, or forever silenced?
Dr Sue Wareham, International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear weapons’ (ICAN) Australian board member discusses whether nuclear power has a place in how we address climate change in this Q&A with IPS:
IPS: Is nuclear power, being carbon-free, the panacea for climate change problems and should it be a substitute for coal-fuelled power stations?
SW: We don’t agree nuclear power is a sensible way forward in response to climate change. Nuclear power cannot address the issue of climate change. There are physical limitations to the number of nuclear power stations that could be built in the next decade or so.
Even if there is further development of nuclear power, it will be far too slow because it takes 10 to 15 years to get a nuclear power plant at a point of producing electricity. We need action faster than that.
Particularly important also is the links with weapons. We know there are definite links between the civilian and military fuel cycles, and that is a particular problem that will remain as long as nuclear power is there.
There is also the problem of nuclear waste to which no country has a solution yet. We regard it as unacceptable that this generation should leave our waste to future generations. The technological and practical reality is that we don’t have any way of separating nuclear waste from the environment.
Our message is that the world really needs to put serious and significant funding into further promotion, development and implementation of renewable energies—solar, wind, geothermal and biofuels, which have been underused and under-resourced.
In this thoughtful piece, Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai discusses what poorer nations need to combat climate change:
Unless the poor countries commit to development, they will continue to be under-developed and they will not be able to improve the quality of life of their people. Yet, any path that continues to encourage growth and use of fossil fuels will generate disquiet. It is for this reason that these poor countries need financial help, capacity building and transfer of not only available, but also affordable technology.
And towards the end of COP15, Maathai presented the People’s Orb to world leaders:
Maathai told politicians that while “They cannot negotiate with the environment they can negotiate with each other.”
Maathai’s call reiterated that of the UN Secretary General’s, who told heads of state attending the opening, “Our job here and now is to seal the deal … a deal that is in our common interest. For three years I have sought to bring world leaders to the table to solve climate change. Now they are coming. Three years of effort have come down to three days of action.”
In her address, Maathai said it was up to the developing world to convince the developed world that the threat of climate change is real, calling on nations to invest in the preservation of forests as a first line of defense against climate change.
Maathai directed the attention of her audience to a metal Orb placed near the head table, saying, “There is an Orb at the end of the table. This orb contains stories, images, voices and messages collected from around the world to create a global mandate for action. It is the sound of the collective spirit which should bring together all the efforts of all major climate campaigns from civil society this year.”
Vandana Shiva speaks to protesters in Copenhagen:
And Democracy NOW’s Amy Goodman reports on Shiva’s thoughts about U.S. responsibility when it comes to financial responsibility for fighting global warming,
Afterward, I asked her to respond to U.S. climate negotiator Jonathan Pershing, who said the Obama administration is willing to pay its fair share, but added that donors “don’t have unlimited largesse to disburse.” Shiva responded, “I think it’s time for the U.S. to stop seeing itself as a donor and recognize itself as a polluter, a polluter who must pay. … This is not about charity. This is about justice.”
Sister Joan Chittister in remarks at Copenhagen,
From where I stand, several strains were clear: Whatever agreements come out of Cop15, enforceability is key. Classism-poor against rich-is a danger. Multilateralism that does not support those nations who stand to be as smothered by the effects of national agreements that deny them economic development as they are by the effects of achieving it through the energy sources of the past will become a major political problem in the future. And, finally, this is only the beginning of a real struggle to resolve it.
“Where there is biodiversity, where there is wealth, where there is culture, that’s where corporate interests flock,”(Norma) Maldonado, deputy head of Ecumenical Services for Christian Development in Central America (SEFCA), an organisation working with women and young people for community development and political effectiveness, told TerraViva.
Special U.N. Advisor on Water, Maude Barlow talking about the water crisis at the Klimaforum:
I won’t be posting for about a week or so because I’m taking a vacation in Sri Lanka…so today I will leave you with a few wonderful links to make up for it
The first I’m a little late in posting..but if you live in a time zone where it is not yet December 10th then please check out this awesome auction supporting the Women Action and Media conference. Among the prizes are a chance to meet with the talented Canadian sister band Tegan and Sara, have the wonderfully poignant Sarah Haskins record your voicemail and have lunch with Jessica from Feministing. All the bids go towards promoting gender justice in the media. I went last year to the conference in Boston and it was a seriously inspiring event with some great discussions taking place.
And now on to some news from Copenhagen:
From Yes! Magazine, a 3 step plan on how to ensure climate justice and end the stalemate between the Global North and Global South
Naomi Klein, an activist and writer for The Nation rejects Hopenhagen
The horrible Danish Text Leak that would take power away from the UN, double the allowance of emissions for rich countries, and put the funds allocated for poor countries in need of clean technology and adaptation to climate change in the hands of the World Bank and IMF
Al Gore in an interview with Slate asks this question to climate change skeptics: “What in the hell do they think is causing it?”
And of course, Danish Prime Minister Rasmussen’s quote heard around the world to turn Copenhagen into Hopenhagen.
The poorest billion people on the planet contribute only 3% of the global carbon footprint. Those same billion people will also bear the brunt of climate change. Those people tend to be farmers, and they tend to be women.
The UN Population Fund has issued a new state of the world’s population report about the impact of global climate change on women, stating that “Drought and erratic rainfall force women to work harder to secure food, water and energy for their homes…Girls drop out of school to help their mothers with these tasks. This cycle of deprivation, poverty and inequality undermines the social capital needed to deal effectively with climate change.”
In response to the stunning inequality of the impact of climate change, UNFPA calls for measures to improves the lives of women and mitigate the impact of climate change. That includes supporting education for women and girls, expanding access to reproductive health services, and doing better research on gender and population dynamics in climate change. It’s small stuff compared to the magnitude of the problem of climate change. Better, though, than nothing.
This is ridiculous. Carin Froehlich of Perkasie Pennsylvania is fighting with her neighbors for the right to hang her laundry outside. She’s not the only one either. While there are no laws against hanging her clothes, neighbors have sent anonymous notes stating that her clothes line makes the town look like trailer trash, and also that no one wants to see her “unmentionables.” Froehlich, who is now writing a book on this phenomenon, insists she leaves her underwear inside to dry. Sadly, Froehlich is not the only one struggling for the “right to hang”. People all across America are picking the same fight.
Project Laundry List, the group that represents those individuals fighting with their town, says the benefits of hanging clothes outside of drying are numerable.
Their interests are represented by Project Laundry List, a group that argues people can save money and reduce carbon emissions by not using their electric or gas dryers, according to the group’s executive director, Alexander Lee.
Widespread adoption of clotheslines could significantly reduce U.S. energy consumption, argued Lee, who said dryer use accounts for about 6 percent of U.S. residential electricity use.
Florida, Utah, Maine, Vermont, Colorado, and Hawaii have passed laws restricting the rights of local authorities to stop residents using clotheslines. Another five states are considering similar measures, said Lee, 35, a former lawyer who quit to run the non-profit group.
Froehlich maintains that hanging her clothes saves her $83 a month and makes the point that if her husband has the right to own a gun, she should have the right to hang her laundry.
Well said, Carin.
By Kathambi Kinoti
This article is the third in a four-part series that explores the gendered impact of climate change. The first article discussed how women are impacted by climate change, while the second examined how women address climate change. This third article looks at how some women’s organizations are engaging with the process leading up to and during the UN Conference on Climate Change to be held in Copenhagen in December 2009.
The Earth Summit, which was held in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro, established United Nation’s Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) which came into force two years later. While the UNFCCC is aspirational, its Kyoto protocol which came into force in 2005, goes further in setting binding targets for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2012.
Since the Earth Summit, parties to the UNFCCC meet every year to negotiate targets for mitigating climate change. This year’s talks will be held in Copenhagen, Denmark in December, and are particularly critical to ensuring that a comprehensive international climate change mitigation framework is in place by 2012.
Neither the UNFCCC nor Kyoto recognise the gender dimensions of climate change, and women’s organizations have been working hard in the lead-up to Copenhagen to ensure that the conference’s outcome document is gender responsive. One of the organizations at the forefront of this work is the Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO). Cate Owren, who co-ordinates WEDO’s gender and climate change work, spoke with AWID about the participation of women in the Copenhagen conference and their hopes for the outcomes.
AWID: What has WEDO been doing in preparation for the Copenhagen conference?
CATE OWREN: WEDO has been working on climate change for several years now in a variety of capacities: by conducting research and analysis, broadening and strengthening our network of women’s organizations around the world, and engaging in targeted advocacy at the national and global levels, WEDO seeks to raise awareness about the gendered dimensions of climate change, advocate for gender, and make project implementation more effective for both women and men. In 2007 at the Bali Conference of Parties, WEDO co-founded – together with UNDP, IUCN and UNEP – The Global Gender and Climate Alliance (GGCA) . Now comprised of 38 UN and civil society institutions, the GGCA works toward a mission of ensuring that all climate change policies, decision-making processes and finance mechanisms are gender-responsive.
AWID: What concerns do women have firstly about climate change in general, and secondly about the content and process of the Copenhagen conference in particular?
CO: Women are caretakers and managers of natural resources around the world, so stress to or changes in the natural environment have a direct impact upon women and their families and wider communities. Women still make up the large majority of the world’s poorest, as well, which puts them at great risk. There are countless ways in which women, unfortunately, remain in the “most vulnerable” category. But what is far more critical right now – especially in the lead up to and outcome of Copenhagen – is that women’s capacity to act and contribute to climate change solutions at all levels is fostered and ensured. Women are innovators, teachers, caregivers, leaders, organizers, providers, and more. Their experience and expertise must inform all aspects of climate change decision-making and implementation.
AWID: What advocacy opportunities exist for women’s organizations within the Copenhagen process?
CO: Civil society participation has strengthened and expanded in the past few years – certainly in alignment with increasing global recognition of the gravity of climate change as a major crisis of our time. Women have participated in numerous ways and this year a major achievement was made: the Gender and Women Constituency was given provisional status. Finally, women and gender equality observer organizations have a formal opportunity to work together to input into the process.
For WEDO, and as part of the GGCA, we work with member institutions to work meaningfully with Parties to secure effective places for gender text in thenegotiating documents.
AWID: What outcomes do you hope for from Copenhagen?
CO: First and foremost, we are hoping for a strong, comprehensive agreement. Ideally, gender equality language would be reflected in each area: Shared Vision, Adaptation, Mitigation, Technology, Capacity Building, and Finance. Throughout this year, gender language has been in each of these areas! But as negotiations continue, language is streamlined, and the specific references have fallen out in most places. We are hoping that the momentum will not be lost and that a gender-sensitive strong outcome is indeed possible. We continue to work with our partners and with governments to find ways to make this happen.
A gem from the feministing community:
By Annushay Hossain
I grew up knowing my country was drowning. My childhood memories are full of flashing images of annual monsoon rains making rivers out of our roads, lakes out of our rice paddy fields, washing away farmers’ harvests, pushing the rural population into our already overpopulated capital city. Of course the yearly floods alternated with even greater natural disasters- cyclones, tornadoes, you name it growing up I saw it. The rumor in the playground was that in twenty years Bangladesh would be completely underwater.
Today that statement is no longer a rumor, but very much a reality. According to the UK ‘s Guardian publication, Bangladesh makes up not even 10% of the land mass of South Asia , but over 90% of the region’s water passes through it. Experts state that Bangladesh ‘s shifting and intensifying weather patterns are making a bad situation worse. The case of Bangladesh shows us that climate change is real, and is already impacting populations and ecosystems around the world.
But the case of Bangladesh shows us something more: That it’s the world’s poor who will feel the impact of this change the hardest. And who exactly are the poor? Women, who make up approximately 65% of the world’s poorest populations.
Because of the traditional domestic responsibilities which fall on women and girls, experts state that climate change is having a disproportionate affect them. Women are the primary caretakers of families, primary managers of everything from food production to water management in their households. As UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund) puts it, women are the ones who cook, clean, and farm for their families, in addition to providing health care and hygiene. Women are not only on the “frontlines” of climate change, but their work and relationship with the environment is so intimate that their experience with it changing is often just as personal.
Let’s look at the issue of water for example, a natural resource especially sensitive to climate change, and one that traditionally women are the managers of in their households. According to UNIFEM (United Nations Development Fund for Women), women and girls on average travel 10-15 kilometers, spending up to 8 hours a day gathering water for their families. Droughts caused by climate change are shrinking up and eliminating existing water supplies, making the distance to walk even longer. Because of the distances women and girls have to walk to fetch water for their families, millions of girls around the world are unable to go to school. Imagine that. The average person would never make the connection between accessing water and girls’ education. Yet it exists.
As the gendered impact of climate change becomes increasingly palpable, my question is- where are the feminist voices? Why are more women’s rights advocates and activists not picking up and rallying around this issue vigorously? Everyday you see articles in the news, but where is the real action? More importantly, where is the outrage? Just yesterday I read an article in the LA Times talking about how the newest kind of refugee is not from war, but from of climate change. They are called “climate refugees” and the LA Times states that almost 10million people around the world have been forced to leave their homes for “reasons ranging from rising (or falling) sea levels, lack of rain, and desertification.”
Back home in Bangladesh , the list of innovative ideas to combat and more importantly, adapt to climate change is endless. International aid organizations are working with local NGOs to build “floating villages,” clinics on boats, and help women educate their communities about securing flood and cyclone shelters.
But there has to be more. Women may be in the frontlines of climate change, but they are not only its victims. Their personal and intimate experience of the harsh impacts of climate change means that within them lies very real solutions to combat it. If the voices from the women’s rights movement don’t pick up this issue, loudly, clearly and unanimously, climate change will not only drown out countries, but the agents of change, women, with it. And that is simply not an option.
It is the responsibility of the women’s movement, both here in the US and abroad, to make the issue of our altering environment, our issue, otherwise everybody loses. Climate change is a human rights issue, but its very obvious gendered impacts make it a women’s rights issue.
Missed part 1? Check it out here
Since long before the issue garnered adequate concern on the world stage, women have been resisting, mitigating and even reversing the impacts of climate change, primarily at the local level. Moreover, not only do women tend to care for the environment, but they do so in a way that reflects how it is connected to the economy and livelihoods, health and social well-being.
This is the second article in a four-part series that explores the gendered impacts of climate change.
The first article discussed how women are impacted by climate change. Stay tuned in the coming months for part three, which explores how women are organizing in preparation for the December 2009 United Nations Conference on Climate Change; and part four, which discusses how the outcomes of the conference might impact women’s rights.
By Masum Momaya
Climate Change is now on the minds and lips of many people in local and international policy spaces. Yet, many women in large part due to their social roles as caretakers and their livelihoods as farmers, have been observing and mitigating the impact of climate change for generations. Today, they continue to care for the environment in their day-to-day interactions with it and also bring their experiences to legal and policymaking spaces at local, national, regional and international levels.
Because many live so intimately with the land and are often responsible for food, fuel, shelter, water and medicine in their families, women’s understanding of the climate change transcends science, statistics and physical changes to include the socioeconomic dimensions. Specifically, women have long been feeling the effects of agricultural policies dominated by corporate interests; the plunder and extraction of natural resource by governments and the private sector for profit; the oppression of indigenous peoples and their knowledge of biodiversity; the health impact of air, water and food pollutants; and the inadequacy of market-driven solutions in halting carbon emissions.
In Kenya, Wangari Maathai and the women of the Green Belt Movement have been planting trees and conserving water to replenish the rapid deforestation. What started out as a movement to simply replace trees that had been cut with seedlings has expanded to include a movement for peace, as Maathai herself found that environmental problems were a symptom and by-product of bad governance and widespread marginalization of women. The act of planting trees initially brought women together to exchange ideas and tap their knowledge of the environment. Yet, it eventually led them to work for peace and accountability, with some running for local and national positions. In this movement and various others worldwide, the destruction of the environment has politicized women and they have been at the forefront of an integrated analysis of and approach towards halting climate change.
In India, monocropping, or the strategy of planting one crop en masse for higher yields, and the increased used of harsh pesticides has eroded the soil. Large agribusiness corporations have developed and pushed the use of genetically modified seeds for these weaker soils, which have required harsher, more expensive pesticides and not necessarily yielded fruitful harvest. In desperation, such corporations have stolen seeds from local farmers, attempting to patent the seeds using intellectual property laws.  Women of the Navdanya movement in these farming communities have been selecting and saving strong seeds as a means of survival and resistance to large agribusiness and a means of maintaining indigenous biodiversity, and they are now fighting the patenting of their seeds in courts.
In Nigeria, partnerships between government officials and corporations have facilitated large-scale drilling and extraction of oil, releasing copious poisonous vapors and robbing local Nigerians of benefiting from or sharing in profits. Instead, local workers face low wages and hazardous working conditions while the surroundings environs are devastated. Using shaming tactics and strength in numbers, women in Nigeria have organized to either shut down the drilling or forced corporations to change their environmental and labor practices, ensuring that both people and the environment are protected.
In Bolivia, women played instrumental roles in community-based struggles against privatization of water provisions in Cochabamba. Faced with a government who decided to turn over the country’s water supply to be managed by large, multinational corporations, who in turn charged exorbitant, prohibitive prices for water, citizens rallied to create water associations and cooperatives, build water storage tanks, construct distribution networks, and drill wells, using limited resources. Acutely aware of the need for water for nutrition, disease eradication, sanitation, hygiene and farming, women worldwide are fighting the impacts of water privatization.
At the local level, many women lawyers are invoking legal systems to fight against environmental destruction and climate change. For example, Olya Melen has taken the Ukrainian government to task for allowing large cargo ships to dredge a canal across the Danube Delta wetlands, harming its biodiversity. In Papua New Guinea, Anne Kajir has been fighting for land rights on behalf of indigenous landowners who have seen massive logging in their rainforest. And in Kazakhstan, Kaisha Atakhanova has organized a movement to lobby against her country’s importing of nuclear waste, which has threatened to add to already high occurrences of genetic mutations, cancer and irradiated food resulting from decades of existing nuclear emissions.
At the national level, women form an increasing number of the ranks of Green Parties, which are advancing multi-issue social agendas, especially in Europe. In addition to pushing for environmental concerns to be at the forefront of policymaking agendas, many Green Parties are also concerned with grassroots democracy, sustainable development, nonviolence, women’s rights, indigenous rights and social justice – and many parties’ platforms are set and championed by women leaders in Parliaments.
Women’s rights groups and some researchers in various countries are also lobbying governments to include access to contraception and comprehensive reproductive health services in their agendas and funding to address climate change. A recent study concludes that universal access to reproductive health could be one of the most cost effective ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Also, according to RH Reality Check, an online publication committed to advancing sexual and reproductive health and rights, “rapid population growth can exacerbate existing vulnerability to the impacts of climate change.” The publication explains, for example, that “population growth rates in highly vulnerable low elevation coastal zones in Bangladesh and China are nearly twice as high as national averages; and in Ethiopia, the combination of rapid population growth and climate-induced declines in agricultural production will heighten food insecurity.”  Nevertheless, advocates must be cautious that women are not coerced as population control targets in their efforts to curb climate change. At the international level, women’s rights groups have been documenting and raising awareness about the gendered impact of climate change and also building the capacity of local organizations and regional networks to integrate an analysis of and advocacy around climate change integrate into the other issues they address via resource manuals, trainings and convenings.
Women’s rights organizations have also been increasingly participating in high-level climate change discussions, including questioning the dominance of market-driven solutions such as carbon trading to curb emissions. For example, Yifat Susskind of MADRE, an international women’s human rights organization, has explained that carbon trading “allows companies with high carbon emissions to fund projects that supposedly absorb carbon in exchange for their continued pollution. [This] does not address the root cause of climate change, which is unsustainable use of resources. It simply enables the continued emission of carbon. In a perverse way, [it] creates an incentive for carbon pollution by turning emissions into a tradable commodity.” 
Amidst a geopolitical landscape populated with powerful and marginalized stakeholders and influenced by complex political and private sector agendas, the upcoming United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Copenhagen will provide yet another space in which to influence global policy and campaign for gender equality to be brought about in concert with environmental protection.
Learn more about Women’s Strategies to Address Climate Change:
Usually when I post about women and water, I am talking about third world women. But we can’t forget that there is also a water crisis going on in America. Bijoyeta Das reports for We News on the conception of the Women Water Walkers in 2003 and also the global day of climate activism where over 4.400 events in 172 countries have been planned for Oct. 24 to draw attention to the need to cut greenhouse emissions.
(WOMENSENEWS)–Their lips wind-burned, feet blistered, shoes worn out. They keep walking.Sometimes they walk as much as 54 miles in a single day, taking turns carrying eight liters of water in a copper pail and an eagle staff, a six-feet long carved staff with eagle feathers attached, which serves as a flag for Native Americans. At night, they rest in the houses of their supporters or in lodging arranged by a casino. Some nights they camp out in the bitter cold.
For six springs, Mother Earth Water Walkers have walked nearly a month to circle one of the Great Lakes in North America.
Since 2003, they have walked the shorelines of Lake Huron, Lake Ontario, Lake Erie and twice around Lake Michigan.
This year they walked up one coast of the St. Lawrence River, starting at Kingston, Ontario, on April 13 and down the other. They ended on May 1 at Riviere-la-Madeleine, Quebec.
Two Anishinawbe women lead the annual event, which started as a Women Water Walk on a cold wet Easter day in 2003 in Odanah, Wisc.
Along the way, many Native American men and women join them.
The goal is to raise awareness that water is essential and sacred.
Call to Lower Greenhouse Emissions
The United Nations Climate Change Conference is scheduled for December in Copenhagen, Denmark. World leaders are expected to clinch a comprehensive global treaty to cut carbon dioxide emissions.
Tomorrow, Oct. 24, over 4,400 events–called climate actions–are being planned in 172 countries to stir public awareness and urge leaders to commit to policies that will lower global levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide to 350 parts per million. That’s the level that James Hansen, a scientist with the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, has identified as needed to sustain human civilization. The current level, according to a dynamically updating monitor on 350.org, the grassroots group organizing Saturday’s events, is 387.
Along with building the buzz online and through posters, the campaign uses off-the-wall strategies, such as baking cookies at 350 degrees F and stringing up 350 socks and pieces of underwear.
The group’s leaders include Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the 1984 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for his work against apartheid; Liz Thompson, an environmental leader for small island developing states, such as Barbados; and Vandana Shiva, an Indian activist for agricultural practices reform and adherent to the alter-globalization movement. The lead organizer is Bill McKibben, a Vermont writer who authored the first book about the dangers of climate change 20 years ago.
But the Water Walkers are not part of this or any media blitz. You won’t find them on Twitter or Facebook.
“We walk the talk,” said Josephine Mandamin, 67, a native of Thunder Bay, Ontario, and founder of the Mother Earth Water Walks, in a phone interview this week. “We don’t have to be on the media and television. You just walk with the water and the people get the message.”
Great Lakes Landscape Changed
The human population of the Great Lakes basin is approximately 42 million, according to a report “State of the Great Lakes,” which was prepared by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, and Environment Canada. Increases in population and urbanization have changed the landscape of the Great Lakes, which in turn may result in an increase in erosion, sediment transport and degradation of water quality in the tributaries and the near-shore areas. Between 1992 and 2001, 2.5 percent (2 million acres) of the Great Lakes basin was subjected to change in land use, according to the 2009 report.
“Some conditions of the Great Lakes are improving while others are deteriorating,” said Phillippa Cannon, a spokesperson for the EPA. One of the current programs of the EPA’s Great Lakes National Office is to clean up contaminated sediments from the most polluted parts, she said.
But when you ask Mandamin about human-made climate change and the havoc scientists say it is wreaking, she says Mother Earth is doing what she can by “cleaning herself” in the form of fires, floods and landslides.
Mandamin described herself as a grandmother “looking after the water for the next generation for the unborn.”
“In every nation, any country, any First Nations that I have heard, women were the carriers of the water, from the wells to the house,” she said.
According to the “State of the Great Lakes” report, the climate in the Great Lakes region is shifting. Winters are shorter, annual average temperature warmer and rain and snow are heavier. The air and water temperatures are increasing, while the lake ice cover is decreasing.
Cannon said that Congress is considering the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, in which the president has proposed $475 million to address the problems in the Great Lakes. “That would certainly make a big difference towards continuing the work of cleaning up the Great Lakes,” she said.
Inspiration for First Walk
The idea for the Water Walks welled up in 2002, from the Sundance Ceremony in Pipestone, Minn., where the Grand Chief E. Benton-Banaise-Bawdwayadun of the Anishinawbe reminded the women of a prophecy made about 10 years ago by an Anishinawbe elder:
“In about 30 years, if we humans continue with our negligence, an ounce of drinking water will cost the same as an ounce of gold.”
The leader also talked about how traditionally women have been the carriers of water and that it is believed that one day women would walk all of the Great Lakes.
That prompted Mandamin to initiate the first Women Water Walk.
In 2003, after a send-off ceremony and feast of moose stew, fish, wild rice and Bannok– a traditional native bread prepared by pan-frying–women from different clans came together to pace the 350 miles of the Lake Superior coastline.
For the last couple of years men have realized their duties, too, and are walking beside the women on the spring treks.
Since 2006, men hold the symbolic eagle staff to give strength during the walks; however, women continue to carry the pail of water. “There was a uniting of the minds for the water, with the water and because of the water,” Mandamin said.
Walking All Day
Gary Fourstar, one of the founders of this event, said the female-dominated group led another 10-day walk for the water, starting at the headwaters of the Tiber River in Italy and ending at the Vatican in 2007. More than 80 people, including Native American elders, participated in the walk.
The goal of the water walk is to spur people to give thanks for their water and to realize that water is alive and needs protection, said Debora Fourstar, president of the Many Horses Foundation and married to Gary Fourstar.
She said the Western world has lost respect and connection with nature.
Bijoyeta Das is a multimedia journalist based in Boston.
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The Feminist Peace Network put out a great post for Climate Change Blog Action Day on how climate change, specifically in the form of natural disasters, affects women.
In conjunction with the Climate Change Blog Action Day, I want to focus in particular on the gendered impact of climate change. Nowhere is this more obvious than after natural disasters, when women and children are particularly vulnerable, a point illustrated all too well in the post earlier this week on the horrific situation for pregnant women in refugee camps in the Philippines in the aftermath of Typhoon Parma.
Gendered harms are also a consideration in understanding why utilizing population control is not a solution to Global Warming.
In the Different Takes Climate Change Series Winter 2009 issue, Betsy Hartmann lists 10 reasons why the linkage of population control and global warming is problematic. Note in particular points 3 and 4 below regarding reproductive and gender justice. She writes,
Climate change is clearly one of the most urgent problems of our time. It is also a highly contested policy arena with different actors from all sides of the political spectrum struggling to get a piece of the action. The population control lobby is no exception. Today, a number of mainstream population and environment groups are claiming that population growth is a major cause of climate change and that lower birth rates are the solution. This view threatens to undermine a progressive climate justice agenda that seeks both to curtail greenhouse gas emissions and to reduce economic, social, gender and racial inequalities. It also poses a danger to reproductive rights.
1. The numbers don’t add up. The industrialized countries, with only 20 percent of the world’s population, are responsible for 80 percent of the accumulated carbon dioxide build-up in the atmosphere. The U.S. is the worst offender. In 2002 the U.S. was responsible for 20 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per person, compared to only 0.2 tons in Bangladesh, 0.3 in Kenya and 3.9 in Mexico.
2. Blame games target the wrong people.Wealthy countries, corporations and consumers are getting off the hook. The challenge of climate change presents an opportunity for affluent Americans to rethink their wasteful lifestyles and get on board with a transition to a just and green economy. The problem is not ‘those people over there’ — it is us, right here.
3. Population control programs erode reproductive rights. Viewing family planning as a means to solve the climate crisis will set back progress on the delivery of safe, voluntary and ethical reproductive health services. That’s because there’s a big difference between family planning programs designed primarily to reduce birth rates and those premised on reproductive rights as an end that is worthy in itself.
4. Population control is no substitute for gender justice.
5. Linking population and the environment bolsters anti-immigrant agendas. By attributing environmental degradation to population growth, population and environment groups play into the hands of conservative anti- immigrant forces. In the greening of hate, anti- immigrant groups strategically deploy population arguments to gain support among environmentalists.
6. Fear-based stereotypes of overpopulation contribute to the militarization of climate change.
7. Population stereotypes victimize the displaced.
8. Population alarmism encourages apocalyptic thinking and distracts us from
the search for practical solutions to the climate crisis.
9. Shifting the blame for the climate crisis to the Global South prevents international solidarity.
10. Inserting population into the climate change debate divides the environmental movement at a time when we should be coming together. The implicit and explicit race, class and gender biases of population control are detrimental to building an inclusive movement for climate justice. This narrow worldview also blocks a deeper understanding of the economic and political forces that both drive climate change and prevent effective solutions.
In her conclusion, Hartmann writes,
Climate justice, not population control, is the starting point from which we can begin to build the kind of national and international solidarity that is needed to address climate change. The world is waiting. we are way behind, and there is no time to lose.
In framing this as an issue for which the solution is solidarity, not control, Hartmann crucially addresses the point that the human made causes of global warming and climate change are, at their root because of our attempts to control our physical world using a power over paradigm which inevitably means that those and that over which power is asserted become powerless. In contrast, solidarity implies the utilization of power by connection which is a far more sustainable model for transformative change and empowerment. Hartmann’s work exemplifies the kind of matridynamic paradigm shift that is an absolutely crucial requirement for responsibly addressing the issue of climate change.
Addenda: The latest issue of Sister Song’s Collective Voices is devoted to Environmental Justice and has several excellent pieces regarding reproductive justice, gender and climate change. Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice also has a report, Looking Both Ways: Women’s Lives at the Crossroads of Reproductive Justice and Climate Justice which should be considered essential reading in understanding why the holistic linking of these issues is so crucial.
Please also see my post on Reclaiming Medusa, A Plea For The Planet.