Women vs. Men and the environment
I am no hardcore feminist whatsoever. The gender studies I followed 15 years ago in Sweden seemed to me like a fight I could not relate to - but obviously Sweden was also in advance in addressing certain topics like the role of women in politics, the respect of transgender identities or salary inequalities at work.
I grew up in a family where women have taken the lead on a lot of critica topics, but in which daily inequalities (namely who will take care of children, shopping, cooking, washing...) have had their toll on the family harmony itself. I was raised to be an independent woman mentally, morally and physically, but mostly because by default, men will not do their share. Fun, right?
I progressed however in a safe environment and I was lucky enough to avoid the worst a woman can encounter in her life: mental and phsical violence, harrassment, rape. I did experience some issues here and there, but again I consider myself lucky and grateful. I am white, I grew up the Western World, I have received high-level education. I am priviledged, and I know it.
I am sure you will however wonder where I am going with these points.
The topic I want to look into here is eco-feminism, according to which the concepts and ethical mindsets of ecology, environmental consciousness and feminism share a common ground of challenges and potential solutions.
I have come across the concept a few times in the past weeks, and it did make complete sense to me in view of my personal and professional engagements and commitments. Unfortunately the following articles and videos I will share are in French but I am sure the same type of content is available in English and other languages. There are also of course a lot more points that could be discusesed, but these are the ones that have made me raise my eyebrows and nod silently.
The first one refers to everyday life and points out that most green initiatives are often initiated, then led by women at home. Recycling, home-made detergents, zero-waste, vegan cooking, organic shopping etc...Many of these practices are even considered by men as practices that are "too feminine" to be implemented every day. Early studies have also showed that women tend to care more about climate issues than men, which ads up to the original function of care women hold on their hands and shoulders (care for children, care for family, care for the other...).
Such statements make women the happy owners of the "moral charge" on top of the "mental charge" they already "enjoy" on a daily basis.
For me this is even a stronger feeling that I need to be hands-on, as sustainability and environmental management are also part of my professional world.
I feel somehow guilty if I do not separate food waste in its separate bin, and I feel like I need to justify myself buying an Eco-Egg to do the laundry, which is now waiting to be tested in the middle of the stocks of detergent plastic bottles we have in stock.
I am not even talking about limiting the amount of water used for the kids' baths (which could be qualified more as "splashing" rather than bathing), the feeling of betraying the world if I forget my re-usable cup to get a take-away coffee or if the food I buy is covered with plastic packaging. There are a lot of things we do at home to be more responsible as a couple and a family; but if we compare the way daily household tasks are managed and shared, I have to say indeed that I agree with the concept, the struggle and the responsibilities I own (vs. the ones my man does).
Coline is a French blogger I have been following for years, especially as she has been thinking a lot about ecology and sustainability and reconidering her personal choices accordingly.
The second aspect is a lot more general and global: women are the first ones to be hit directly by the negative impacts of climate change in the world.
This article from Slate.fr "Comment l'impératif écologique aliène les femmes" for example makes the link between gender roles and the economic models in developing countries. Women are often in charge of managing food production in rural areas, collecting water from wells, managing the health and education of their children and relatives, while dealing with poor working conditions, with the lack of modern technologies or limited access to financial means. This makes them especially vulnerable and dependent on natural resources which are often lacking (increasing for example the distance to walk to collect water) or polluted (impacting their health).
The last point I wanted to share with you refers to an article from 2015 regarding the gender inequalities that rethinking our urban environment can trigger.
In his article "La ville durable creuse les inégalités" (A sustainable city increases inequalities), the author Yves Raibaud explains that building an eco-friendly city can actually negatively affect women in different manners and increase the social gender gaps:
- first of all, Raibaud emphasizes the majority of men who are part of the planning and deciding committees, which tend then to disregard concerns that are considered women-driven such as the care of children or elderly, health and household management, daily safety...these issues are often put aside while others are prioritized (Raibaud points at the development of smart, hyper-connected cities as an example).
- the latest debates on new forms of urban mobility and urban planning are not favouring women's daily activities. Changing or reducing street lights to promote energy efficiency and energy (and financial) savings, for example, has increased the feelings of insecurity and women are avoiding certain districts or hours to move within a city. The increase in car-free zones can also trigger the same concerns, particularly when car ownership is considered a mean of personal safety, or when car usage is just not avoidable on a daily basis.
Raibaud asks the questions that somehow never made their way in my brain:
"Comment oser dire qu’on a besoin de la voiture pour accompagner les enfants ou qu’on a peur de marcher dans la ville le soir lorsqu’il s’agit de l’avenir de la planète et de l’intérêt général ?"
"How can one dare say that having a car is needed to drive around your children or when one is afraid to walk through the streets at night, when the future of the planet or the public interest are at stake?"
So, here we go again with another environment/sustainability-related topic that is not black nor white. There has to be a compromise and efforts to consult all parties before taking decisions that will affect a gender or a certain community negatively. I also wish I had answers, too. But when I see the struggle it had been to remove plastic cups from our coffee corner at work, only, I can understand that assessing urban planning and urban energy management under the gender lense isn't the easiest to do.