Let’s listen to more diverse voices on sustainability

08 Oct 2019

Let’s listen to more diverse voices on sustainability

Inclusion and diversity need to be an integral part of the sustainability debate, because marginalised voices aren’t being heard right now.

We won’t solve the world’s climate and sustainability problems by leaving them to predominantly white, middle-aged, straight, male leaders. Yet, as of mid-2019, the UN recorded just 23 female world leaders currently serving as Head of State or Head of Government.

That’s less than 10% of the total number of global leaders. The rest, of course, is male.

Also, to date, there have been only five openly LGBTQ+ individuals who have served as a national head of government.

It is our collective responsibility to hear the voices of all groups involved in the climate debate, however under-represented and marginalised they may be.

Women impacted more by the climate crisis

The first word should go to Wendy Becktold, story editor at Sierra Club, the most enduring and influential grassroots US environmental organisation. It has more than 3.5 million members and supporters.

Becktold states: “Women are disproportionately affected by climate change, partly because its impacts are felt more by the poor, and the majority of people living in poverty are female. For example, 60% of those subsisting on less than a dollar a day in sub-Saharan Africa are women.”

Women farmers reduce hunger

Becktold’s point is often overlooked within the overarching climate change narrative. Yet the role of women in this unfolding eco drama cannot be overstated.

She adds: “Women are also more likely than men to be managing food production for their family. In poorer parts of the world, they produce 60 to 80% of food crops. Giving women farmers the same resources that male farmers receive (for example, the ability to take out small business loans) would improve yields and could reduce the number of hungry people globally by 150 million.

Higher yields not only buffer people against the effects of climate change, but they also help combat it by easing pressure on natural resources and decreasing deforestation.”

Bridget Burns, of the Women’s Environment and Development Organization, echoed this point at a forum held last autumn at the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco:

“We have decades of research showing that investing in women’s human rights, including access to education and sexual and reproductive rights, is a significant part of how we can combat climate change.”

“We need to stop seeing this as an add-on to effective climate action and actually as central to it.”

Jane Griffith, Partner and National Diversity Leader of Odgers Berndtson Canada, is unequivocal when it comes to understanding the role women play within the climate change debate:

“Attributes commonly associated with female leaders include self-reflection, considering issues from a more holistic approach, and an openness to question whether the [climate change] advice they are being provided is biased or just plain bad advice.”

Listening to LGBTQ+ and disability voices

Others directly affected by and involved in the climate change and sustainability debate include the LGBTQ+ and disability communities.

Writing for grist.org earlier this year, activists Aletta Brady, Anthony Torres and Phillip Brown collectively declared: “As queer and trans climate justice advocates, our fight is deeply personal. Our communities, friends and chosen families are particularly vulnerable as rapid changes in climate leads to more natural disasters, environmental instability, and scarcity.”

They add: “If we are to truly meet the twin crises of inequity and climate change, we need the climate movement and the queer liberation movement to center our siblings who are fighting on the frontlines. Organizations that are serious about climate solutions for all must lift up queer and trans people and the work that we’re already doing to build power and solutions that safeguard us from environmental, familial, and state violence.”

Another voice that must be included in this conversation are groups representing those with disabilities.

Marsha L. Saxton and Alex Ghenis, writing in the journal Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Equality and Diversity declared: “This population is increasingly appearing on lists of ‘vulnerable’ among many other groups in the social justice framework. Public policy has begun to include the voices of persons with disabilities among the planning constituencies. Yet the needs of this constituency are poorly understood regarding which measures could realistically enable survival in environmentally compromised circumstances. 

Diverse, complex needs and circumstances

“This very diverse group comprises approximately 10 to 15% of the global population, and within all other sub-populations, a figure that will likely increase with climate change impact.

“Discriminatory attitudes and policies tend to simplify this multiple intersectional population to ‘people with special needs’. This simplification ignores the diverse, complex needs and circumstances of individuals with disabilities, for those with visual, hearing, and mobility impairments, and so on, as well as their various socio-economic cross-constituencies such as gender, ethnicity, age, etc. In this context, focus on climate change and disability is disturbingly rare.”

Odgers Berndtson’s Jane Griffith concurs: “While the voices of multiple constituencies are starting to be heard, there is always room for improvement. Diverse communities, whether that be the LGBTQ+ community, people with disabilities or women, have been historically and systemically underrepresented. We need to actively work to include all these voices, Starting right now.”

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