Empower women to build a sustainable future

We should not lose sight of the fact that, in its first celebration, women did not only carry issues particular to them but even those that affect society at large. We should not only fight for the environment. We must also fight against gender oppression and other forms of oppression. By coordinating these fights, we are able to mutually support each other.

When I was much younger, I was under the impression that women and men are already treated as equals. Long gone were the days when women were not allowed to vote, pursue an education, seek employment, and own property. I’m the only girl among us four siblings, and my family never made me feel that I am less than my brothers. I barely felt any distinction in how my parents treated me and how they treated my brothers, and on the rare occasions that I did, I think it’s just because I’m the youngest. The most that I felt the difference was that I had a stipulated time when I had to arrive home compared to its lack for my brothers when they were the same age. I just understood this as their concern for my safety. Other than that, they made me feel that, just by putting in the work, I could achieve anything that I wanted.

As I got older and experienced more things outside our home’s security, I came to learn that discrimination based on sex still exists through my experiences and others. Initially, I thought these were isolated incidents and involved only a small number of people who were stuck in the past and could not let go of their antiquated ways of thinking. Sadly, it’s not as simple as that. While discrimination may not be as blatant as before when basic human rights explicitly excluded women, society still carries presumptions that perpetuate gender inequality. These remain pervasively incorporated in our long-standing institutions.

The fight for gender equality continues. Beyond just being a time to celebrate women’s individual successes, Women’s Day and Women’s Month should be taken as an opportunity for us to remember the struggles of the women who came before us who made the better world we live in possible. It is also an opportunity to recommit ourselves to the fight for gender equality and its added challenges as posed by our time.

“Uphold and Unlock”. Artwork by Denise Nicole Tolentino

Roots of Women’s Day

In recognition and commemoration of Filipino women’s struggle for national freedom, civil liberty, equality, and human rights, President Corazon Aquino, through Proclamation No. 224 s. 1988, then declared March 8 as Women’s Rights and International Peace Day. The proclamation also cited as a reason for its adoption of the United Nations’ declaration of an International Women’s Day.

International Women’s Day, as declared by the United Nations, is said to have its origin traceable to the weeks-long rallies held in the United States in 1908, where women garment workers went on strike and demanded shorter hours, better pay, safer shops and unions, and the right to vote. At the time, there was a great lack of government regulation on employment, and labor law was far from what it is today. On the first anniversary of the garment workers’ strike, the Socialist Party of America declared February 28, 1909, as Women’s Day. In 1910, the International Socialist Women’s Conference proposed and approved the adoption of International Women’s Day. In 1911, multiple countries honored the day, and it is considered the beginning of its celebration. In 1913, when Russian working-class women held a mass strike for “Bread and Peace” due to the rising food prices and deteriorating living conditions, International Women’s Day was celebrated on March 8 for the first time.

This history reminds us that it is a day of protest. It calls upon us to remember the work done and acknowledge the work being done by women in the fight for equality. It also makes us understand that women are agents of change and are not passive subjects who had their rights acknowledged merely because of a change of heart of our society’s decision-makers.

Climate action for and by women

The history of the women’s movement has made one thing clear: women are always double oppressed in every issue imaginable in society. Today, as the world faces unprecedented warming of the planet, women are bound to feel the effects doubly. Climate change is bringing about rising sea levels, increasing temperatures, and extreme weather conditions. It is widely recognized that the climate crisis does not affect people equally, and developing countries such as the Philippines are at its frontlines. The climate crisis exacerbates existing patterns of discrimination, and women bear the brunt of its impacts.

Women are more likely to be exposed to disaster-induced risks and losses related to their livelihood, especially due to their limited control over decisions governing their lives. With gender-based economic inequality persisting, women are at a higher risk of poverty and are more likely to live in inadequate housing in areas vulnerable to climate-related events. They also face a heightened risk of gender-based violence during and following disasters. Because there is gender inequality, women face barriers to basic education and employment, further leaving them voiceless in advocating for climate change solutions. Our organization holds that climate action should be based on science and justice. It is thus important to listen to women’s voices and take into account the gender perspective to truly respond to the impacts of the climate crisis.

Climate science has established how climate change came about, but work continues as we attempt to find solutions that take into account people’s involvement. More than just changing technologies to curb carbon emissions, the response should be transformative and actively contribute to empowerment. We need to identify the factors that perpetuate inequality and exploitation of natural resources and critically think about how we can change them to protect people’s rights and the environment. We need to better grasp the actual risks of climate change, contextualized by the experience and knowledge of those affected, to formulate policies relevant to them and truly respond to their needs.

Thus, women should not be regarded as a passive, vulnerable group that only needs our protection. We must recognize the crucial role they already play in protecting natural resources and their important contributions to disaster risk reduction, post-disaster management, and climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies. Projects by the government and organizations that aim to respond to climate change impacts should involve women on the ground in its consultation process and implementation. Involving women and allowing them to be active participants in policy decision-making processes is of fundamental importance to climate policies’ success and effectiveness.

This Women’s Month, we should not lose sight of the fact that, in its first celebration, women did not only carry issues particular to them but even those that affect society at large. As climate activists, we should not only fight for the environment. We must also fight against gender oppression and other forms of oppression. By coordinating these fights, we can mutually support each other. We strengthen the overall effort in ending the intertwined structures of oppression and in building a better world.

The Author

Joanne Lim is a 350 Pilipinas volunteer and a law student at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City. She is also a member of the Gender Issues and Children’s Rights Desk of the UP Paralegal Volunteers’ Organization.

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. Public registration is now open.

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