A Woman’s Place Is In The Climate Movement


OPINION: While those in the positions of power able to slow its advance are mostly men, the impacts of anthropogenic climate change will disproportionately impact women. It’s time to take our place in the movement, writes Liz Conor.

This year International Women’s Day fell on an unseasonably hot day in Melbourne.

The projections of climate scientists have us enduring days like this 100 times more often due to anthropogenic disruptions to our climate systems. So what does this have to do with women?

Women comprise 70 per cent of the world’s impoverished and climate change will exacerbate poverty.

Drought, flood, storms, desalination, ocean acidification, these all threaten the livelihoods of women. But because a woman’s work is rarely paid, because women globally earn 30-80 per cent of what men earn for their labour, because women make up two thirds of the world’s illiterate, it is women who depend more upon natural resources to secure food and fuel for cooking.

The two million deaths due to burning bio-mass fuels indoors every year are overwhelmingly women and children.

Women are more vulnerable to the destruction of their homes because, as 70 per cent of the world’s poor, their homes tend to be made of cheaper materials which are less able to weather storm surges and hurricanes.

When women and girls lose shelter, they are more vulnerable to sexual assault. When resources wars displace women and girls, they are more exposed to trafficking.

It is women who will walk further for water and girls who will be taken out of education to cover those extra miles as water scarcity hits their communities.

To add insult to very likely injury, because women remain underrepresented in governance (we make up 19 per cent of parliamentarians globally) climate mitigation and adaptation policies, not to mention trade agreements like the TPP, are heedlessly gender-blind.

New Matilda columnist Liz Conor, in Paris as a Climate Angel to protest inaction on climate change.
New Matilda columnist Liz Conor, in Paris as a Climate Angel to protest inaction on climate change.

Because of ongoing constraints on women’s mobility and their responsibility for small children, the sick and elderly, they are less able to protect themselves in an extreme weather event, less able to swim, climb and run.

And yet when women take up leadership roles in climate mitigation they play a vital, more effective role than men because they are more likely to share information related to community wellbeing, choose less polluting energy sources and adapt more easily to environmental changes when their family’s survival is at stake.

That is why when we talk about a just transition away from fossil fuels, we cannot disregard gender-parity in any climate negotiations, or policy frameworks, or trade agreements.

Last December world leaders, mostly men, gathered in Paris to reach what was undoubtedly an historic agreement to limit global warming to two degrees Celsius. They actually listened to the pleas of Pacific Islanders among others, who implored that their homes, the grounding for their Indigenous heritage, would be lost if we exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius.

But last week we passed a rise of two degrees Celsius above normal temperatures across the northern hemisphere.

This is not good. Let me rephrase. This is not good enough. Certain people are responsible. Let’s start with our own PM, the latest in the gimcrack carousel of Australian political leaders bloviating on climate, only to trade away our genuine fears and hopes in factional, backroom deals.

Thus Malcolm Turnbull, after strutting about on the world stage, within barely one week of his return, approved the second coal point terminal at Abbot Point.

As is well understood this facility will export coal from the biggest coal mine in the Southern Hemisphere, the proposed Adani Carmichael mine. It will pump up more carbon into our choking atmosphere than New Zealand, to then export through channels dredged in our world heritage Great Barrier Reef.

Well there’s the rub, because India has declared its intention to not only transition to renewables but to become independent from coal imports and China too is rapidly transitioning away from fossil fuels. The price of coal is tanking: it has been declared in “structural decline”.

Meanwhile Turnbull pays off his Faustian leadership pacts by slashing 100 climate science jobs from the CSIRO just as we step off the precipice of a two degree rise in temperature across the North Hemisphere, just as their expertise and insights are most needed.

Women as mothers, as grandmothers, as young women wondering whether they can inflict an uninhabitable world on the babes they hope to bear, we all stand together with the environmentalist Berta Caceres, coordinator of the Indigenous People’s Council of Honduras who lost her life to the struggle when she was murdered only last week.

We see it is life and death now. We see as women how we uniquely stand in the firing line. We know from centuries of struggle for gender parity the time has arrived for us to put our bodies in the way. We heed the lessons of the suffragettes, of the abolitionists, of the unionists, of the Indigenous, of the Queer Liberationists. Unless we get in the way, obstruct, lock on, sit in, blockade, the mostly-men will go on propping up the carbon conglomerates who already willfully, flagrantly and negligently asphyxiate the mostly-women world’s impoverished.

We are not in safe hands. These mostly-men must be stopped. Dead in their tracks.

But should it already be too late, should the clear and present danger they pose to the children in our lives be exacted over their soft little bodies, we will come after them and hold them each to account.

Men like Turnbull, Abbott, and Hunt and their coal baron mates and the media barons who deliberately keep from us the facts of climate change we were entitled to know, they will look back on George Pell’s sangfroid sophistry and take notes from his, ‘no one told me, I didn’t realise’. And they will hope to God there will be a refuge some place on this earth as fortified as the Vatican he’s hiding out in. If women are this angry now, hell will hath no fury.


Liz Conor is a columnist at New Matilda and an ARC Future Fellow at La Trobe University. She is the author of Skin Deep: Settler Impressions of Aboriginal Women, [UWAP, 2016] and The Spectacular Modern Woman: Feminine Visibility in the 1920s [Indiana University Press, 2004]. She is editor of Aboriginal History and has published widely in academic and mainstream press on gender, race and representation.