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Left: Protesters march through Durban, South Africa on December 3rd, 2011 during COP17. (Flickr/Oxfam International) Right: Journalist Femi Oke moderates the "Voices from the Climate Front Lines" at the UN Climate Summit in New York City on September 23rd, 2014. (Flickr/UN Women)

Perspective: Fighting Climate Change Is Also About Fighting Misogynoir


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From the U.S., where it was shown that Black mothers and infants are at higher risk of health-related issues because of global warming, to Malawi where the number of child brides increases with climate disturbances, by way of the “feminization of poverty” in the Caribbean which makes Black women more vulnerable when faced with climate shocks: there are countless examples of the disproportionated effects of climate change on Black women across the world. That is because this demographic has the particularity to face the unfortunately widespread burden of sexism combined with the specific effects of either (neo)colonialism or racism targeting both Afro-descending and African folks.

Their consequent vulnerability is aggravated by crises that consolidate with multifactorial pre-existing social inequalities. Sadly, climate change is just one pressing issue, among many others, that our world is currently facing. The excessive exploitation and waste of natural resources against a backdrop of historically unconstrained capitalism led to this climate imbalance. But who “possesses” (or at least lives on) the lands of these resources? Who extracts them on the field? Who processes the raw materials in the factories? Who is at the frontline when climate-related catastrophes occur? Add to that the unstable social place of women that have less access to financial independence, less access to proper care plus less freedom of movement and of life choices, and you basically have the main reasons why climate change hits Black women the hardest.

As said by American freelance writer Gloria Oladipo, Black women “‘save’ others to save ourselves.” So, similarly to their fights against other pressing social issues mentioned in the introduction, Black women are highly invested in the stoppage of climate change both in Occident and in so-called third-world countries. However, despite their oh-so-necessary contributions that are directly influenced by their unique experience with climate change, these activists tend to be less mediatized and less considered. Jasmine Davenport (formerly Sanders), executive director of Our Climate, a Washington D.C.-based youth advocacy organization, emphasizes the fact that indeed “it’s not that diverse individuals weren’t around, but rather that we have been passed on, used and burnt out and/or not acknowledged.”

A significant example of this non-acknowledgment was the mediatic erasure of Ugandan climate justice activist Vanessa Nakate by the Associated Press (AP). Back in January 2020, she took part in a press conference in Davos with other known young climate activists. However, when the AP covered the event, they illustrated their article with a cropped picture that only highlighted the four white activists next to Vanessa. While AP quickly produced a statement expressing their regret, Vanessa was skeptical: in an interview with the Guardian, she pointed out that instead of un-cropping the photo in question, the AP simply replaced the photo with one where she was in the middle after public outcry, which meant they had made a choice to select a photo erasing her in the first place. And indeed, way beyond the AP controversy, Vanessa, unfortunately, gets less exposure than her white counterparts.

If Black women have some of the keys to tackling this crisis, then we need to make sure that they are rightfully considered in society.

This phenomenon is not specific to the fight against climate change and is the consequence of misogynoir, a term coined by Moya Bailey, an associate professor at Northwestern University that defines the specific discrimination Black women face because of the combined effects of racism and sexism as briefly evocated earlier. Therefore, understanding and healing its causes may contribute to partly dealing with the climate issue. If Black women have some of the keys to tackling this crisis, then we need to make sure that they are rightfully considered in society. As analyzed by Dr. Francena Turner, an Adjunct Lecturer in History at Fayetteville State University, a public historically Black university in North Carolina, United States, we could define three processes that lead to the systematic erasure of Black women’s contributions: