When 16-year-old Greta Thunberg asked “How dare you?” to adults sitting in New York at the UN Climate Action Summit-and those all over the world, watching her on their screens- I marvelled at the concoction of fieriness and extreme tenderness that informed her desire of protecting the environment against climate change.
As I think about the environment and people who passionately care about it, my mind automatically and without design unfolds a list of women. Women from my immediate surroundings as well as my virtual world. Thunberg, Jane Goodall, Marina Silva, and closer home Vandana Shiva, Aruna Roy, Sunita Narai.
UN Women at COP23
Next month, the annual Conference of the Parties (COP23) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) convenes in Bonn, Germany. According to its website, UN Women will advocate for incorporating gender equality and women’s empowerment in climate change discourse and actions.
At COP22, parties sought a gender action plan to support the implementation of gender-related decisions and mandates. UN Women contributed towards the gender action plan, and plans to help organise and and engage in a number of events at COP 23 to increase the visibility of women in climate action.
My mind flies to 11-year-old Ridhima Pandey, one of 15 other children who joined Greta to sue Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany, and Turkey: countries believed to be causing the most pollution. And then many girlfriends and women on my social media, who have almost turned their world upside-down, and their consumption inside-out, to become more environmentally-sustainable entities.
Is there something here? What is it about women that entrenches them so strongly at the centre of the movement against climate change? That forces them to take violence/against the environment as an offence on their own person? That drives them, so meticulously and laboriously, to take real, solid action in any capacity?
Conditioned Since Birth?
Rashi Joshi, 31, a pilot/airline captain, thinks that the case may be that women are more open to change because of their very conditioning.
“We’re conditioned since birth to change, being told “this is not okay, do that, stop this,” she says. Adding that as women and Indians, or more largely Asians, these instructions are abundant and ensure we’re constantly pliant.
“Perversely, this is what comes back to enable us to make all these changes in our adult lives once we can think for ourselves and shun gendered impositions; but we still know what it’s like to make changes so it’s like a skill we use.”
Joshi’s view suggests that looking after our planet also manifests as a rather ironic giving-back to autocratic powers that be.
Intersectionality at Play?
Feminism is intersectional and expansive- it believes in the passion of standing up for something one perceives as being unjust or unequal. Shambhavi Saxena, 26, writer, believes that the link between the earth’s exploitation and a feminist outrage against it is fluid.
Saxena points out that many cultures see the planet as a mother or a woman, and its plundering is very reminiscent of patriarchal rape culture- “just take from it as much as you can,” she says.
“as a feminist, my relationship with the planet is, at its core, one of respect. I don’t want to be essentialist but I think women- or anybody who has been oppressed- just have a better relationship with our planet. Any solutions are probably going to be by women.”Shambhavi Saxena, 26, writer
Greta’s speech is a landmark moment in history. A puncture in the mindless flow of time, to engulf fully-functioning adults in a flux of alarm, shame, and something akin to an uprising. Saxena says the teenage Swedish activist’s speech was “cathartic” for her. Perhaps echoing a collective conscious she adds, “Everything I do, my re-awakened 16-year-old voice is asking me- ‘is this really sustainable?’ Maybe I had lost that voice in the last few years, but it is back now.”
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Due to the overwhelming nature of the crisis and our current lifestyles, the action is necessary but not necessarily easy. As a pilot, contributing to carbon miles daily, Joshi says the environmental harm often makes her think about quitting her profession. But how does one quit their job in our increasingly expensive world?
Till she finds an answer, Joshi chooses to offset some of the harm to the environment, no matter how small or “unhinged” her actions may seem. “Sometimes, the things I do as my bit for the environment elicit inane questions, and acts such as carrying my own stuff (to reduce buying unnecessarily, especially plastic) make people think I’m a bit ‘unhinged’.
Like many young people of her generation, Joshi keeps looking ahead. “One day, a point will come when I’ll quit and move to the mountains, growing stock in my farm and open a 20-30 seater restaurant and cook seasonal produce. Till then, I’ll keep trying.”
Note: The feature image illustrated by Ria Bhatnagar aka @breathein.breatheoutt on Instagram.