By Sophia Masciarelli (‘22) and Lauren Berryman (‘21), Content Development Assistants

As the global climate crisis continues to unfold, various impacts will be felt by populations around the world. However, it is estimated that the climate change emergency is and will continue to disproportionately impact women – specifically, women of color – and those who live in the Global South. 

This is due to a few deeply entangled issues. First, women are more likely to live in extreme poverty than men, according to a report by Oxfam International. Women also are the primary food producers and water collectors around the world. Many of their efforts to maintain livelihoods are closely tied to the environment and natural resources. 

The Urgency of Climate Feminism

As the climate crisis escalates, women will be severely impacted by floods, droughts and other events. Closely linked is the fact that women are less financially equipped to cope in disaster scenarios, which is expected to continue to increase, according to the London School of Economics and Political Science

Far too often, women are predominantly viewed as victims of climate impacts  rather than capable agents of change within their own communities. The reality is that through effective cross-community participation and collaboration women are some of the most powerful change agents. One such change agent is Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson.

The Office of Sustainability and Women’s Center are co-sponsoring a virtual conversation with Dr. Johnson on Wednesday, March 24 at 7 p.m EST. Dr. Johnson is an inspiring voice advocating for environmental justice. In addition to working as a distinguished marine biologist, she is the founder of Urban Ocean Lab, a think tank for preserving coastal cities, and co-founder of the All We Can Save Project

This project brings women climate leaders together, elevating their voices in the fight against climate change. The goal is to allow women access into climate decision-making and leadership positions. Dr. Johnson and Dr. Katharine Wilkinson, the project’s co-founders, call for a more feminine climate leadership “rooted in compassion, connection, creativity and collaboration.” 

Effective strategies of empowerment, specifically designed with an ecofeminist perspective, not only increase resilience and adaptability to environmental stresses but also rewrite the narrative for both women and the environment in peril. 

“Any solution to the climate crisis must center gender justice with the most marginalized and nonbinary people at the forefront,” said Dr. Wilkinson in All We Can Save.

Most broadly, ecofeminism represents a plurality of perspectives. According to Ecofeminism: Women, Animals, Nature, it also “calls on an end to all forms of oppression, arguing that no attempt to liberate women will be successful without an equal attempt to liberate nature.” Ecofeminism encourages holistic considerations rather than surface-level examinations and “one-size-fits-all” solutions.

A nature-focused and gendered approach to the existing challenges provides women with an increased sense of ownership, control and shared prosperity over their land and livelihoods.

“Intersectional climate feminism recognizes the extractive, violent system of patriarchy that contributes to the exploitation of our environment and natural resources for profit,” said Dr. Johnson in All We Can Save. “[It also contributes to] the fact that certain people bear disproportionate impacts of these interconnected systemic issues.”

Climate Feminism: “To Change Everything, We Need Everyone” – A Conversation with Dr. Johnson

Dr. Johnson’s keynote will address the intersection of environmental issues with gender and race. These important conversations are essential in both understanding the complexities of and mobilizing action around issues such as climate feminism. 

In the weeks leading up to the conversation, the event sponsors are hosting five All We Can Save reading circles with 70 student, faculty and staff participants. This community of people will discuss climate feminism and dive into broader issues pertaining to climate and women’s leadership. The reading circles and the virtual conversation are intended to celebrate both Women’s History Month and Earth Month.

The virtual conversation with Dr. Johnson will be moderated by Dr. Rowie Kirby-Straker, assistant teaching professor in Wake Forest University’s department of communication. 

“To have the opportunity to talk to Dr. Johnson about her experiences engendering action, her work in building community around climate solutions, her leadership in climate justice and her story as a champion of climate feminism will be a great honor,” said Dr. Kirby-Straker.

The focus of the conversation is “to change everything, we need everyone.” Women and people of color are too often left out of the climate conversation. It is imperative that these voices not only be heard but also elevated to help reverse the detrimental effects of climate change. 

Dr. Kirby-Straker encourages people to attend this event because the climate crisis is inextricably linked with the other important issues. “Addressing the pandemic, pressures on democratic processes, systemic racism, gender inequality and inequities in every sector of society needs a comprehensive approach,” she said. “I am confident that Dr. Johnson’s talk will resonate with anyone who wants to see positive change in society on any issue.”

Ultimately, the environmental and gendered challenges faced in our world are so embedded in one another that unpacking the driving structures behind them — and eventually working to overcome them — becomes a two-toned yet singular mission. The threats to women in vulnerable communities due to climate change extend across many aspects of livelihood. But despite these compounding effects, women remain some of the most powerful change agents in the face of the climate crisis.

Adrienne Rich, another powerful change agent as well as an inspiring poet, wrote, “My heart is moved by all I cannot save: / so much has been destroyed // I have to cast my lot with those / who age after age, perversely, // with no extraordinary power, / reconstitute the world.” This poem opens All We Can Save and also inspired the title of the book.

To learn more about climate feminism, RSVP here for Dr. Johnson’s Climate Feminism: “To Change Everything, We Need Everyone” virtual conversation.