Climate justice must include gender justice

Our calls for climate justice and for the protection of the environment are real and legitimate and should be listened to and valued and not reduced to mere tools. The climate crisis is real and it is here. It disproportionately impacts women.

“[The rebel army] ‘now uses sexily clad recruiters, i.e., young girls in short-shorts, in enticing youths, particularly young men, to take up such innocent sounding issues as protection of the environment. That serves as the hook to unsuspecting young people to team building activities that are the brink of the trap for integration into the rebel army.”

This is a direct quote from a lieutenant-general of the Philippine Army. This is how the Philippine government views young girls in the climate movement.

This rotten, backwards, macho-feudal way of thinking is not only present in the Army but even in our very own president. After a briefing during the aftermath of the massive typhoons that hit the Philippines last year, President Duterte even had the gall to make sexist jokes with one of the officials and say that the official spent too much time with women, and that made him age faster. In the same briefing, when talking about someone who died because of COVID-19, Duterte said that that man died because he did not have enough women. How can a man preside over a country when he so blatantly disregards half of the population?

Clearly, our leaders today are human embodiments of misogyny. When our so-called leaders exemplify such sexist, backwards behaviour, it emboldens this rotten, repressive, hateful culture in its citizens as well.

In the same season of the typhoons last year, as activists and critics looked for answers, we were met with the President’s attack dogs – his online troll army mimicking his sexist and oppressive remarks. They’ve flooded my own social media posts with comments: “Just by looking at her, you know she’s smelly.” “Why don’t you be president then?” “Famewhore.” “What can a 70+-year-old do with a typhoon. Are you stupid? You should have voted for a rescuer if you want the president to be present during a calamity.” “Think first because you look stupid. Fuck you, stupid.” “A big fuck you to you, and a bigger fuck you to you, your family, your siblings, and especially to you.”

More of the misogyny above is mirrored in the comments. “Those part of the armed rebel communist group have no right to ask for help from the government, especially those who like to wear short shorts.” “She wore short shorts, how stupid.” “You guys call yourselves activists? What have you done to help those impacted by typhoon Vamco aside from flexing and complaining on Twitter? You’re all talk and trying to make yourselves look good.” “And Mitzi”, they ask, “what terrorist group are you part of? Let’s ask the Philippine Army, Lt. Gen. Parlade, and the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict.”

I would be lying if I said these comments didn’t faze me. It’s scary to be called a terrorist knowing that with the new Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 here in my country, even just suspicion of planning the vaguely-defined terrorist acts stated in the law — such as calling for system change — can be met with surveillance, warrantless arrests, and even extrajudicial assassination. The Philippines is the second most dangerous country in the world for environmental defenders and activists, and that is because of the system of oppression and silencing that our government has perfected. It angers me that my calls for environmental protection are belittled and tossed aside. I should not be called a terrorist just for wearing short shorts. I should not be seen as a mere tool to entice young men. I am more than that. I am an activist, not a terrorist.

“Duty Over Pain”. Artwork by Denise Nicole Tolentino

Women shouldn’t be treated as objects to entice young men. Our calls for climate justice and the environment’s protection are real and legitimate and should be listened to and valued and not reduced to mere tools. The climate crisis is real, and it is here. It disproportionately impacts women. We see this in how 80% of people displaced by climate calamities are women and how women face greater health problems in terms of hygiene and are more vulnerable to abuse in evacuation centers. We saw this in 2013 when typhoon Yolanda, one of the world’s strongest typhoons, devastated our country, and young girls were forced into sex work and prostitution because of the economic burdens everyone suffered in the aftermath of the typhoon. In the Philippines, we see how the majority of our women are from the peasant sector: our farmers and fisherfolk. Our peasant women are not only more vulnerable to the climate crisis but are also those who fight back the hardest.

I took one step into activism, not fully understanding the fears and risks that came with it. I remember the exact moment that I realized that I needed to join the people’s struggle. In 2017, a Lumad Indigenous leader told us about how they were being displaced, harassed, militarized, and killed — all for protecting the forests, their home, our environment. He then, very casually, shrugged, chuckled, and then said in the simplest possible way, “that’s why we have no choice but to fight back.” This shattered my world view. He wasn’t even trying to convince us — to him, it was logical; it made sense to be an activist.

We live in a scary world. Climate activists are being silenced for telling people that our house is on fire and we need to do something about it. Climate activists are called terrorists for wanting a safer present and a green future. The situation is so much worse for so many others at the frontlines: our farmers, fisherfolk, and Indigenous peoples. There is a fear that comes naturally with our environmental defenders and activists’ rising deaths, not just in the Philippines but globally. In my three years of activism, I still haven’t fully understood this fear, just that with every case of online harassment, warrantless arrests, terror-tagging, or extrajudicial killing, it only continues to grow. But with every blow of injustice, our resolve also gets stronger. It becomes clearer and clearer that we have no choice but to fight back — it’s only logical. We must continue to walk the path of activism despite the threats — no, because of the threats to our lives and liberty. This is the life we choose.

I choose this and push forward because I know I am not alone in this fight. Young girls are not alone in this fight. We only join the struggle of those who have been fighting before us, our environmental defenders — the people. We come together as one nation and with the youth worldwide to fight for a safer present and a green and sustainable future and for a future that is just and leaves no one behind, especially women. The fight for climate justice includes gender justice; it includes the fight for women’s liberation. The fight for women’s liberation will only be complete when all people are free.

The Author

Mitzi Jonelle Tan is a climate justice activist based in Metro Manila, Philippines. She is the convenor and international spokesperson of Youth Advocates for Climate Action Philippines (YACAP), the Fridays For Future (FFF) of the Philippines. She is also active in FFF International, advocating for climate justice and making sure that the voices of Most Affected Peoples and Areas (MAPA)’s strikers are heard, amplified, and given space. She first became an activist in 2017 after integrating with Indigenous leaders of her country, which pushed her to realize that collective action and system change is what we need for a just and greener society.

The Artist

Denise Nicole Tolentino is a freelance writer and illustrator. She uses her work to tell stories, inject humor, and push ideas that help make the world greener, safer, and fairer for everyone. She shares most of her works on instagram.com/drawnbydenise

Learn more about gender justice and feminist solutions at the upcoming Global Just Recovery Gathering on April 9-11, 2021. There are workshops that you can participate in and learn from amazing climate and social justice leaders from around the world. Pre-register now.

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