by Jesse Sanes
There are countless social areas and/or topics within which the interest’s of women, their reproductive freedoms, and the health of our environment all overlap. And in these overlaps, it is impossible for any rational person to blame those least responsible for the social problems and ills that impact their lives most. Climate change, for instance, is but one of those areas and/or topics.
Women are often in a position of primary responsibility for children and the elderly. Having access to reproductive health services, in terms of adaptation, makes women better able to respond in extreme weather events as well meet the challenges of daily hardships such as getting food and water in rural areas or baring increased costs for commodities.
Climate justice also means standing in solidarity with reproductive justice organizations like Women with a Vision to fight laws that label women arrested for prostitution “sex offenders” in the system which in case of an extreme weather event like another hurricane, they would be forced to evacuate to a special shelter for sex offenders, and this shelter has no separate safe spaces for women.
Greater economic freedoms, those that come with privileged positions in society, have ensured that white men can participate in environmental advocacy through the history of the environmental movement. With reproductive freedoms, rights and health services ensured, women are better able to access the same arenas of ecological activism. It is opportunities such as these that have afforded the global environmental movement brilliant visionaries history such as Peggy Shepard, Vandana Shiva, and Wangari Muta Maathai just to name a few. I would like this approach to take a front seat in explanations why reproductive rights and health services should be safe and accessible all over the world.
These are very different imperatives for providing reproductive health services than what overpopulationists argue for. The imperative here is ensuring reproductive health services for women who with greater freedom to choose, when, where and how to have children and how many children to have, will be better able to live life. This is climate justice in that so many women’s lives are disproportionately marked by the hardships that climate change brings. Also, this imperative that is much more closely encompassed by tenants of reproductive justice such as those that SisterSong offer like, “it is a the obligation of society to ensure that the conditions are suitable for implementing [the human right to make personal decisions about one’s life].”
There are some incredible, and incredibly important, connections being made between reproductive justice and environmental justice by groups in both movements. These connections are not going to happen by blaming overpopulation- and therefore the people most disproportionately affected- for climate change.
Groups advocating for slower rates of population growth as the way to reduce environmental impact need to take accountability for a holding open the window that allows anti-immigrant agenda and even white-supremacists to crawl into progressive climate movements. This is true today and has been true historically. For example, Sierrans for US Population Stabilization attempted to take over the Sierra Club board in order to push for a position of zero net immigration to the US. It was only the tireless fight Sierra Club members, leadership and outside activists put up that eventually countered “Sierrans for US Population Stabilization” and left the club with a neutral stance on immigration.
And, hopefully, these groups and can look to some productive connections between reproductive and environmental justice: not “overpopulation.”