The agenda for the COP21 lists 22 steps towards agreement. Discussing “gender and climate change” is number 17. Women represent the majority of the world’s poor and agricultural workers and many are responsible for fetching water. Dramatic shifts in climate and food production are therefore primed to disproportionately harm women. Furthermore, women fight economic, social, and physical discrimination that also limit their ability to adapt to climate change.
Yet, on December 7th, Mary Robinson, former UN human rights chief and president of Ireland, lamented, “This [the UN conference] is a very male world. When it is a male world, you have male priorities,” and asserted, “women in developing countries are among the most vulnerable to climate change.” Her frustrated words indicate that there may be no legal text on gender equity coming out of the COP21 negotiations.
While I was listening to a panel discussion on indigenous and women’s rights at the Global Landscapes Forum in Paris, the man sitting next to me whispered, “Why should we care, if we’ll all be dead soon anyways?” alluding to the idea that if global warming goes unmitigated, humans may go extinct. I shushed the man to hear the speaker, but, as I have heard this argument used repeatedly to dismiss calls for human rights, I will reply now:
In fighting against climate change, you are fighting for the future of humankind. The next question, then, is what kind of future are you fighting for? We live in a beautiful world that is also riddled with atrocity, disparity, and exploitation.
Rape, racism, and domestic violence are global epidemics, so is poverty at the hand of the elite. I must ask, whose future are you fighting for when you rally to limit emissions, but not to stop the avoidable deaths that are occurring now at the hand of starvation, lack of health care, and violence? Are you okay with saving your own kind, and nobody else?
I know it is impossible to take on every injustice. We all have our own cause. Still, at the very least, I invite you to recognize the importance of human rights. Why should we save ourselves if we’ll only continue to disparage the earth and each other?
Published on 11 December 2015 at the OEP blog.