Building the Sept. 17 climate march: Climate and social reproduction


As fire storms, droughts, killing winds, and inundations redefine the experience of daily life around the globe, the burden falling on women, birthing people, and other care givers, i.e., those assigned by society to the main tasks of social reproduction, has proven to be extreme and disproportionate. In moments of warming induced disaster or displacement, the tasks of caring for the home, children, and the elderly, which are distributed unequally in capitalist society, grow dramatically.

In semicolonial countries, where women are responsible for 60-80% of food production and the backbone of small-scale and subsistence farming and livestock rearing, extreme weather induced by emissions from the advanced capitalist countries and predatory imperialist smart-agricultural schemes have brought new displacement and degradation. Exposés of imperialist-funded developmentalist programs in Africa, cloaked as climate solutions, have shown how they are also tied to coercive contraception campaigns and population-control schemes that attack reproductive freedom.

On the other hand, the right to bear healthy children is severely compromised by the failures of capitalist governments to provide emergency relief from extreme heat. Studies show that exposure to the new heat is associated with an increased risk of hospitalization for pregnant people, more preterm births and stillbirths, and more catastrophes, especially for Black women—who are deeply affected by racism in medical care to begin with. Thus, women in both the advanced capitalist and the semicolonial worlds are facing new dangers.

Weather-related disasters are not the only contexts in which gender discrimination plays out. Extreme extractivism is also a key source of displacement. Women forced to migrate from regions made dangerous by the man camps of the fossil fuel and “green capitalist” mineral industries suffer special risks of sexual violence on the road. In short, due to the oppression of women and non-conforming gendered people in all capitalist societies, the impact of the crisis is gendered on a continuum of pain that is the most severe in the oppressed nations but still important to our strategy in the advanced capitalist world.

As ecosocialists struggle for a revolutionary response to the climate crisis, we must begin by foregrounding the special impacts of warming on women because of their unpaid work in social reproduction, their foundational place in food production, and their socially induced vulnerability to violence. And we must fight to see that our unions and movement organizations do the same. This should  include popularizing the understanding that not all gendered solutions to the climate crisis are equal. The solutions promoted by the large imperialist-run organizations are, more often than not, contributing to the problems rather than mitigating them.

The context for these schemes includes the imperialist drive to increase extreme extractivism and predatory large-scale industrial agricultural schemes due to the global crisis of the capitalist economies. Despite the huge amount of profit being made by big business, the big players are simultaneously facing a general decline in the rate of profit. They are privileging the pillaging of entire regions in a great steal of the riches of nature with super-exploited labor and selling it as a boon to economic “development.”

In South Africa, for example, UN women’s think tanks advocate achieving women’s liberation by their incorporation as miners without questioning the resulting gendered shape of their experiences of sexual harassment; unequal wages; the triple day of wage labor, unpaid food production, and domestic responsibilities; and the accompanying destruction of traditional sources of subsistence and resilience.

In a 2018 study, “Beyond Extractivism: Feminist Alternatives for a Socially and Gender Just Development in Africa,” Zo Randriamaro points out that “large-scale mining negatively impacts rural women’s land rights and their access and control over and use of natural resources.” In many rural contexts, the study points out, since women oversee food production for consumption and household income, they are most affected by the land expropriations for mining. They are rarely compensated with land of the same quality, and the pollution of soil and water that they originally accessed increases the time they must spend to provide from substitute sources. Often compensation for land goes to a male head of household, further reducing female autonomy and safety.

Similar problems exist in imperialist developmentalist schemes in agriculture. Amanda Shaw and Kalpana Wilson, writing in A Journal of Feminist Geography (2017), have challenged the philanthropic efforts of the Bill Gates Foundation, which in Africa has mixed populationist measures with the false solution termed “climate-smart agriculture.” Female small farmers are rendered suitable for transformation to farm workers on large foreign-owned industrial farms via coercive injectable contraceptive programs divorced from larger health initiatives. Shaw and Wilson term the whole process “necro-populationism.” The authors of Other USAID programs tie coercive contraception to aid packages for agricultural development.

A close examination of the situation suggests that a key task for ecosocialists is to popularize a deep understanding of the gendered impact of warming and the false green tech solutions being promoted by the U.S. elite. We must build a working-class organizing base that promotes leadership by those who have radicalized due to their experience of climate chaos. Our movement can only be strengthened by an orientation to the working and farming women who have already lived a climate disaster in which their care work exploded in intensity and who today fight to resettle. They are central to planning the socialist future.

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