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Gender Violence And The Environment

Gender Violence And The Environment

 

Patriarchy — the hierarchical social system of power relations in which men dominate over women that has defined human interactions in many societies for thousands of years — is contributing to the destruction of our environment.

It’s a blindingly obvious insight, I know, and the fact that I’m a man doesn’t excuse the fact that it took me many years to realize it as such. But living in a privileged position frequently makes it more difficult to see the unpleasant truths which form the foundations of that privilege.

Now when I say that patriarchy is, at least in part, to blame for our civilization’s ecological woes, I’m not even talking about the fact that it’s mostly men, in their predominant position as owners, bosses and prime movers of industry, who are erasing our planet’s forests, consuming its non-renewable resources and polluting its soils, waters and atmosphere. No, I have in mind a deeper, more intimate connection between human gender relations and the natural environment. Let me try to explain by looking at some concrete examples.

The world’s burgeoning human population, which continues to grow by nearly 80 million people each year and is projected to reach 9 to 10 billion by 2045, places huge and increasingly destructive stresses on the environment. By definition, patriarchal societies like ours undermine the ability of many women to control their reproductive capacity and fertility. According to Yvette Abrahams of the South African Commission for Gender Equality, “women […] cannot choose to have children because they want to. They have children because they have to, […] providing men with heirs and capitalism with labour.” While this observation is particularly true for developing countries like South Africa, where I live, it applies with varying degrees of severity everywhere else as well. When women have control over their own bodies and lives and when they have more choices, says Abrahams, “they tend to chose to have fewer but healthier children.”

Women and girls also frequently get short-changed when it comes to education. The majority of children around the world who are not in school are female. They are traditionally expected to make substantial contributions to their families from an early age, working to raise extra money, grow food, collect water and firewood and care for younger, frail or elderly relatives, and are less likely to be sent to school than boys. Early motherhood and marriage also tend to keep many young women from attaining basic or further education.

But one of the most effective ways of reducing high poverty and fertility rates – two major causes of large family sizes and population growth – is to provide adequate education for boys and girls. Research has shown that women who are empowered by education tend to have fewer children.

Perhaps the most brutal calculus in the gender-nature connection involves the relationship between physical gender-based violence and ecological degradation as a result of population growth. Put bluntly: what is the ecological footprint of rape?

In South Africa, a country with shockingly high rape statistics, Abrahams estimates that “something like 24-30% of children born are conceived through gender based violence, and that a majority of children born are not planned or responsibly chosen.”

I’m sure many of you can think of several other ways in which patriarchal gender relations have a direct and detrimental impact on the environment. It seems obvious to me that in today’s world, fighting against patriarchy and for equality and justice between men and women is a way of working towards a greener and more sustainable society. Or do you think this is all just simplistic hogwash?

—-
Andreas is a book shop manager and freelance writer in Cape Town, South Africa. Follow him on Twitter: @Andreas_Spath

 

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38 comments

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10:34AM PDT on Jul 25, 2011

PERSONS SHOULD HAVE EDUCATION IN ATHLETICISM - AND EDUCATION IN MIND CONTROL - THEIR OWN.

BIG BIG MEN ON THE RANGE WRANGLING A CALF - WOW! FEMALES ARE SAID TO HAVE MORE STRENGTH PER POUND OF MUSCLE MASS. EVEN THAT TRUTH COULD BE PUT TO BETTER USE - SAY FIRE FIGHTING. IF IT IS THE PRIZE THAT YOU SEEK. THINK MORE LOGICALLY. THE TRUE PRIZE IS A BETTER LIFE FOR ALL THOSE AROUND YOU, INCLUDING YOU - TO WHICH YOU ARE APART AND YOU DO MAKE YOUR ENVIRONMENT - ILL OR SAFE. ENTERTAINERS DERIVING AND REDIRECTING THEMSELF - IS ULTIMATE STRENGTH - NOT IN NUMBERS BUT, INDIVIDUALLY. YOU GO GIRL - A GUY!

11:26PM PDT on Jul 24, 2011

stop this incessant breeding! (also, i think it's funny that this care2 cause thingy has a weird "art school" photo to accompany it.)

10:07PM PDT on Jul 23, 2011

Yup- beat up women, destroy the environment- macho fantasy world...

12:47PM PDT on Jul 23, 2011

"We have learned to fly the air like birds and swim the sea like fish, but we have not yet learned the simple art of living together as brothers." (Martin Luther King)

10:56AM PDT on Jul 23, 2011

You're absolutely right, Monica. Not all women are consumption-crazy. Not all women are virtuous. Not all men are oppressors. Not all men are fair-minded. And so on. It's the blame-the-men generalizations which run though most Care2 commentary that bothers me.

10:25AM PDT on Jul 23, 2011

Now Fred! Be fair!

I won't wear a diamond (in fact i wear very little jewelry), I'd freeze before I'd wear fur, and all a huge house is, is more rooms to heat (and clean). so no, thanks. Not all women are like that...some DO choose to live simply so others may simply live!

9:57AM PDT on Jul 23, 2011

You know what's funny? Whenever we talk about something good in humanity, herstory is rewritten to show that women had been full and active participants, but that their contributions were omitted by male historians. But, when we talk about something bad in humanity, herstory claims that women had nothing to do with it and were on the sidelines begging men to stop.

("Please, don't give me a big diamond! I can't bear to think of what mining does to the environment!" "Please, don't give me a beautiful house and fancy furniture! I can't bear to think of forests being clear-cut!" "Please, don't give me a fur coat! I can't bear to think of animals being trapped or going extinct!")

9:56AM PDT on Jul 23, 2011

Well Fred, when it comes to family law, you have a point. And I wish my brother had full custody of his daughter. He's an awesome Dad. His ex has no business raising an kid, for many reasons, but as you say, courts favor the mom.

We sure could use some reforms in that.

9:49AM PDT on Jul 23, 2011

Monica, I don't think your examples prove that this is a "patriarchal society." There are just as many examples that indicate we are matriarchal. For example, citizenship is matriarchal. (If you go to another country and have a child, that child is an American citizen, but if I go to another country and have a child, my child is not.) And, the government defines "family" as "mother and her children." Her relationship is direct and automatic. But, a father's relationship to his own children is indirect, and can only be secured by marrying the mother or by overcoming (matriarchal) biases in family court. Indeed, read the comments on the Care2 article where a mother lost custody because of her medical condition (which happens to fathers all the time). The comments made it clear that we think of children as belonging to mothers!

My son was the most valuable thing in the world to me, and he "belonged" to his mom. How matriarchal is that!?! Society is so much more complicated than prevailing Care2 dogma pretends it is.

9:26AM PDT on Jul 23, 2011

@Bernadette
"There is no such thing as patriarchy in our society."

OK, sure. That's why black MEN could vote in the late 1800s, but WOMEN couldn't vote till the 20s. That's why a woman takes the man's name when she marries. That's why men are considered "head of the household". That's why women make less than men for the exact same work. That's why most CEOs and politicians are men. And so on.

You were kidding, right? Please say you were kidding.

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Lindsay Spangler Lindsay Spangler is a Web Editor and Producer for Care2 Causes. A recent UCLA graduate, she lives in... more
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