Towards an Ecofeminist Just Transition

The world is facing many inter-connected crises. The one we hear about the most is the climate crisis, the earth is at a CO2 level not seen in 3 million years and our continent Africa will face the brunt of the crisis. But as we lament the climate crisis, we must not forget all the other crises we are confronting. We are facing an energy crisis; the numbers from mid 2017 show that over 60% of the people of Africa did not have access to electricity. We are facing a biodiversity crisis, a crisis of unemployment, a crisis of inequality as the world has never seen before.

As business elites made their way to Davos for the World Economic Forum in January 2018, Oxfam released a report stating that the richest 1% of people on the planet own 82% of the wealth of the planet. From March 2016 to March 2017, the number of billionaires increased by one every two days! Talk about gross domestic product. Oxfam reports that in four days a fashion industry CEO makes the same money as a Bangladeshi woman garment worker will earn in her whole lifetime. Women earn less than men and occupy the lowest-paid and most insecure jobs. This is nothing if not a crisis of planetary proportions.

Why do we need to look at inter-connected crises? Can’t we just deal with the climate crisis now and then deal with the others? The basis of climate justice is that we must deal with inter-connected crises all at once, because if we only try to confront the climate crisis, we will only exacerbate other crises. The basis of climate justice is that in dealing with the climate crisis we must also alleviate the other crises. Climate change is a symptom and a cause of the dysfunction of the system.

So we need a transition, but the transition has to be just, it has to be fair. We need to construct a different world. As Arundhati Roy wrote in her book ‘War Talk’ 15 years ago, “another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”

What is womens’ role in this system and in the resistance? Why does Roy refer to ‘another world’ as feminine? Similarly, why do the Latin American movements call the earth as ‘madre tierra’ (mother Earth)? This notion is based on the understanding that there is a dependency between human beings and nature, and that we must live on this earth in conjunction with nature and not against nature. Ecofeminism also asserts that capitalism exploits both women and nature, hence those oppressions need to be resisted together.

Capitalism organizes the world into the public sphere and the private sphere, based on the sexual division of labour. Men usually dominate the public sphere, the market, where money is handled and economic decisions are made. This is also the sphere where all the planet-killing decisions are made, such as fossil fuel exploitation, damming rivers, genetically modifying crops, etc. Women are often relegated to the private sphere of the home, where the reproduction of labour happens. This also includes most of the low paid, precarious jobs that women often hold. The way we understand it, the issue is not the division of labour per se, but the different values attributed to different tasks. The public sphere mostly dominated by men is considered important while the private sphere mostly dominated by women is considered inferior.

I believe that capitalism’s exploitative ways are based on exploiting the unpaid care labour of women. Capitalism needs and uses the free labour of women to take care of workers when they come home from the factory, to nurse the coal miners when black lung disease puts them on their deathbeds, to literally give birth to the next generation of workers for capital to exploit.

This does not mean that women do not occupy exploitative roles. We see some women in the public sphere, often making decisions that can be the same or worse for the planet or for vulnerable people. We also see some women being protected by the patriarchy. That’s when we remember that not only is capitalism entrenched along with patriarchy, it is also entrenched along with racism, classism, neocolonialism, the fossil fuel extractivist economy, etc. We need to dismantle all these oppressive systems, not just one or two of them, but all of them, because they reinforce each other. The way our societies are currently structured, the mutual reinforcement between these oppressions is what is destroying the planet and many of her most marginalized people. We need to understand the way structures operate, not individual examples, because these prop up and reinforce each other.

So women must be part of the resistance to this system which has left us reeling from these inter-connected crises. We must move from a world of competition to a world of cooperation and care. Care work should not only be womens’ work, it should be everyone’s work. We must change the culture and values of this current system. As stated beautifully by an organization called Movement Generation in their Just Transition publication called ‘From Banks and Tanks to Cooperation and Caring’, “in humble cooperation with the rest of the living world, we must rip out concrete and build soil; we must undam rivers and cap oil wells like our lives depend on it.”

Because our lives literally depend on it. This is a small step towards what an ecofeminist just transition can look like.

 

 

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