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‘What’s gender got to do with climate justice?’

Sharon A Bong

Who would ever think that women would get HIV just by not having access to clean water, quips Su1.

The exchange above, I am pleased to add, was made in response to a role play on the symbiosis of gender justice and climate justice, the final topic of a unit titled, ‘Sexual reproductive health and rights (SRHR) in global contexts’. The key actors representing key stakeholders in the role play are woman, business leader and the government:

Woman: Do you know how far I have to walk just to get cleaner water so that I can feed my family? The river near my village is so dirty because of you! Many, are now ill.

What are you going to do about it?

Business leader :Our factories create jobs for the village men. Women like you are also to blame for polluting the river!

Woman: The river was clean when we used it, when our mothers used it, when our grandmothers used it!

Business leader: Our factories create jobs…

Woman: When we women, with our children walk to the well in the next village, there are men even boys who give us problems. We are forced to pay for the small pail of water. Yesterday, my neighbour was raped. Now we are all afraid to go back.

What are you going to do about it?

Government rep: I promise you woman – if I win the next local election – I will build you a well in your village. We the government will also ensure that every woman and girl, man and boy receives free SRHR services, especially HIV testing. In the meantime, do your best to protect yourselves.  

The factories will have to continue their business.

The role play above illustrates the gender-inclusive approach reflected in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that are the bases of the “2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”.2 These 17 SDGs synergise not only climate justice (e.g. no poverty, zero hunger, clean water and sanitation, affordable and clean energy, sustainable cities and communities, responsible consumption and production and climate action) but also gender justice (SDG 5). This synergy intersects with other “isms” (reduced inequalities, SDG10) and in doing so, recognizes that the partnership of multi-sectoral interventions are needed precisely because men and women are differently and disproportionately affected by systemic gender inequalities and gender inequities (e.g. in terms of accessing good health and well-being; quality education; decent work and economic growth; industry, innovation and infrastructure; and peace, justice and strong institutions).

In moving from that secular blueprint for sustainable development to the papal encyclical Laudato Si, exhorting the same, one finds a disappointing lack of gender inclusiveness. Whilst LS reinstates climate justice in the form of “differentiated responsibilities” among nation-states (LS, 52), it elides gender injustices. The underlying assumption of such a gender blind approach is that there is a non-differentiated impact, i.e. where “preferential treatment for the poorest” is called upon, there is no distinction made between “our brothers and sisters” (LS, 158) nor other differences that matter inter- and intra-groups, for instance, age, class, caste, ethnicity, religious affiliation, sexual identify, etc. This myopia elides hard-won victories made not only by ecofeminist theologians but also activists by whose inter-generational visions and praxis, gender justice, for the past three decades (since the 1992 Rio Earth Summit) has become indispensable in any global and local discourse on climate justice.

1 Pseudonyms used.
2 United Nations. (2015). Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, A/RES/70/1. Retrieved from: