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Regarding gender equality, the UN’s fifth Sustainable Development Goal, there is a long way to go to reach their target of empowering all women and girls globally. In this report, I will consider some ways in which women are subjected to distributive, procedural and recognition injustice in their day-to-day lives. With the climate crisis worsening, existing inequalities across the globe are widening. Thus, the world’s poorest, many of whom are women, are suffering the most.
Introducing different types of injustice
Distributive injustice is the unequal distribution of environmental ‘goods’ and ‘bads’ in the world. Environmental ‘goods’ refer to resources, such as renewable energy infrastructure, whereas environmental ‘bads’ refer to things which harm us and the environment such as pollution. Currently, there is much distributive injustice in the world. For example, developing countries in the Global South are facing an increased frequency of natural disasters but do not have the money to invest in protective resources, such as flooding barriers. Procedural injustice is the inequality of opportunities to engage in decision making. Finally, recognition injustice is when the role or value of a social group is disregarded, disrespected or ignored.1
How can this be applied to gender inequality?
Much research has concluded that women are disproportionately impacted by climate change, meaning they suffer from distributive injustice. This is due to women having many socio-economic disadvantages in the world. For example, women make up 70% of the world’s poor.2 A case study about Bangladesh draws connections between gender and climate change. In a 1991 cyclone in Bangladesh, 90% of the deaths were female victims.3 This is partly because women have more responsibilities in the home, such as childcare. Due to these responsibilities, many women will ignore warnings to evacuate and instead risk their lives by waiting at home for relatives to return, to look after them. Furthermore, in times of food shortages, they will often sacrifice their own food for the wellbeing of their children. Women then die more easily than men in natural disasters because they are less well-nourished and physical weaker. Hence, women’s socio-economic roles make them less adaptable to the environmental ‘bads’ they face.
It is very difficult to change cultural norms which have existed for hundreds of years, such as women being primary caregivers and homemakers. However, NGOs in the Global North could give financial aid to support women so that environmental ‘bads’ do not impact them more than their male counterparts. For example, if towns in Bangladesh had more funding for childcare provisions, women would have more money to collect enough food for themselves and their children. By improving the nourishment and general health of women, they could have better chances of survival in cyclones and other extreme weather events caused by climate change.
Procedural injustice is an issue that women face everywhere. Even in countries like the UK where strong democratic institutions are in place, women are underrepresented in the political sphere. For example, women only make up 36% of local authority councillors in England.5 Women are often overlooked for positions of higher power because of negative gender stereotypes that cause unconscious biases in the workplace. This means that women have fewer opportunities to contribute to political action involving women’s issues, giving the false impression that women’s issues are not significant. However, the World Economic Forum have advocated the importance of “empathy and inclusiveness” women bring to the workplace.6 By this logic, it makes sense to involve more women in policy making, particularly when considering the sustainable development goals.
To reduce procedural injustice in the UK, Antoinette Vermilye has founded a campaign called ‘She Changes Climate’, which advocates for more female representation in climate change committees that are involved in major decision making. At the G7 summit in 2021, only one woman was amongst the decision makers.7 Vermilye’s campaign urges men and women to write letters to the current UK COP26 President, Alok Sharma, urging him to entrust more women in leadership roles. I believe, therefore, that putting pressure on people in power to ensure gender equality amongst their staff is an effective way to reduce procedural injustice.
Finally, women face recognition injustice in many facets of society. For example, in the region of San Luis Acatlán in Mexico, women are frequently victims of sexual abuse and rape, yet are ignored by the Office of Public Prosecution. Indigenous women are particularly vulnerable due to language barriers between them and the Mexican authorities. This, combined with the fear that corrupt officials could inflict harm upon their families, means that women stop filing reports of crimes committed against them. Some feminist researchers have found that community-led initiatives can help reduce recognition injustice. For example, women justice defenders in Mexico started a programme of funding legal protection for indigenous women who are often ignored by corrupt authorities. The justice defenders provided translators and empowered indigenous women by educating them on the moral justifications of their community-based self-defence. The programme also helped indigenous women create a Community Police Force. These initiatives would be effective in reducing injustice in the long term because they give women knowledge that can be passed down through different generations. Also, the Community Police Force can ensure that women are listened to and protected from the immediate threats from corrupt officials.
Gender Equality is extremely important within the realm of Sustainable Development. In my report I have discussed the ways in which women experience different forms of injustice in Asia, Africa, South America and even here in the UK. I believe that by putting pressure on political leaders, funding education and childcare provisions in the Global South and listening to the voices of Indigenous women, the Global North can help to reduce injustice and in term promote gender equality. By improving the safety, wealth and opportunities of women across the globe, they should not have to bear the burden of climate change more than anyone else.
Aedy, A. She Changes Climate, She Changes Climate, Available at: https://www.shechangesclimate.org/ (Accessed: 22 March 2022)
Devas, N., and Grant, U., (2003) ‘Local government decision‐making—citizen participation and local accountability: some evidence from Kenya and Uganda’, Public Administration and Development, v23, n4.
Frazer-Carroll, M., (2019), On environmentalism, whiteness and activist superstars, Gal-Dem, , Available at: http://gal-dem.com/on-individualism-whiteness-and-activist-superstars/ (Accessed: 20 March 2022)
MacGregor, S. (2010), Gender and Climate Change: From Impacts to Discourses, Journal of the Indian Ocean Region, v6, n2.
Gender, Climate Change and Health, World Health Organisation (2014)
History (2019), Bangladesh Cyclone of 1991, Available at: https://www.history.com/topics/natural-disasters-and-environment/bangladesh-cyclone-of-1991 (Accessed: 19 March 2022)
‘Executive Summary’ OECD* (2014) Women, Government and Policy Making in OECD Countries: Fostering Diversity for Inclusive Growth, OECD Publishing [link]
Sierra, M., Women Defenders and the Fight for Gender Justice in Indigenous Territories.’ in Indigenous Women and Violence: Feminist Activist Research in Heightened States of Injustice, (University of Arizona Press, 2021) Available at: https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctv1ghv4mj.8. (Accessed on: 19 March 2022)
Taylor. A, (2019), Bad ancestors: does the climate crisis violate the rights of those yet to be born?, The Guardian, Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/oct/01/bad-ancestors-climate-crisis-democracy (Accessed on 18 March 2022)
UK Parliament, House of Commons Library. Available at: https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/research-briefings/sn01250/#:~:text=International%20comparisons,parliament%20as%20of%20February%202022. (Accessed: 17 March 2022)
Sinha, V., (2019), We can solve climate change if we involve women, World Economic Forum, Available at: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/09/why-women-cannot-be-spectators-in-the-climate-change-battle/ (Accessed: 21 March 2022.)