Intersectionality is concerned with the presence of and dynamics between different social categories of difference (gender, race, class, sexuality, ability, etc.), and with how they affect an individual’s relationship to power. Scholars across a number of disciplines have begun to use intersectionality for analysing climate change issues, but the theoretical and methodological links between intersectionality and climate justice have not been explored in comparable detail.
This international online event brought together three critical scholars and over 250 attendees from across the globe with an interest in climate justice and intersectionality. The event explored common threads between the two concepts, proposed research questions, and exchanged our learning and teaching experiences. The focus of both climate justice and intersectionality on challenging and renegotiating individual and systemic inequality and oppression provides exciting opportunities for collaboration and knowledge exchange in the areas of both research and practice. Below, you can read some key points from the presentations, or click here to view a recording of the event.
As part of my role as a Research Fellow at the Centre for Climate Justice, I lead our research track on climate justice & intersectionality, and as part of this work I investigate how climate justice scholarship, advocacy and activism can benefit from an intersectionality lens. Many scholars have identified the intersection between these two concepts as an under-investigated area of research. In my talk, I provided initial findings of a review of relevant literature, and found both theoretical and methodological links between intersectionality and climate justice. At the theoretical or conceptual level, both traditions focus on the most marginalized in society and the power relations causing their marginalization. Relatedly, they both advocate human emancipation, social justice and the end of all kinds of oppression. They also question the hegemonic norms, institutions and knowledges, including those on our relationship with nature. At the methodological level, while neither climate justice nor intersectionality have a clearly defined methodology, they both tend to use qualitative and participatory research methods, including case-study research, ethnography, storytelling and building oral histories. Yet, these links remain underexplored, and will form part of further conceptual and empirical research at the Centre.
Dr Martina Angela Caretta, Assistant Professor from West Virginia University, presented a case study on the connections between climate change, water insecurity, conflict, and migration from the standpoint of climate justice and intersectionality (namely focused on gender and age). Dr Caretta explained how as much as 75% of natural disasters are water-related, but the pertinent question raised under a climate justice and intersectionality lens is ‘who’ suffers the most from water insecurity? She then described how livelihoods can be jeopardized by water insecurity, particularly for subsistence farmers in the Global South, which can in turn lead to gender-specific coping strategies such as migration.
Dr Caretta also made the point that while migration can be an adaptation strategy, it can also demonstrate the limits of adaptation. This is because gender and age influence adaptation outcomes, e.g. the loss of livelihoods can manifest in worsened nutrition for women, or male unemployment that often leads to violence against women and children. Yet, the likelihood for migration depends on positionality and cultural background with differing outcomes depending on the country. That said, Dr Caretta explained outmigration is often dominated by men, which can lead to women taking on more responsibility for managing resources at the household level while remaining excluded from institutional forums on resource management. On the other hand, if women do migrate, they face different challenges than men when integrating into a new community. The research by Dr Caretta was a sobering demonstration of the link between water security, vulnerability and migration and the influence of gender and age on this process.
Dr Farhana Sultana, Associate Professor at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University, gave an in-depth talk on how gender, class and the North-South divide feature strongly in the debate surrounding intersectionality and climate justice. Dr Sultana described the responsibility of researchers to be contextually mindful, such as recognising people from the Global South have been writing about and dying from climate change for a long time, in contract to the dominant view in the Global North that climate change is a recent or future issue. On the issue of gender inequality, she went on to describe how climate change-induced water insecurity can compound gender inequalities where women and girls are responsible for household water provision, and that climate-related challenges of water access can be further compounded by social and economic factors affecting women and girls. In addition, Dr Sultana stated access to water is affected by race and class as different have different privileges, including between different groups of men and boys working in water provision.
As such, Dr Sultana’s research on water security and politics in the Global South demonstrated why it is important to understand local vulnerabilities and power dynamics. She noted that gender inequality is not static but varies in different contexts and over space and time. This dynamic between gender, class, race and other axes is visible both in the Global South and the Global North, in the latter case particularly in racialised and Indigenous communities. Dr Sultana recommended researchers read up and learn from methodologies used by feminist, Indigenous, post-/decolonial and critical race theory scholars, and specifically learn from feminist insights on positionality, critical self-reflexivity, inter-subjectivity, reciprocity, ethics of care, accountability, inclusivity, co-production of knowledge and critical practices. The talk by Dr Sultana made a strong case for how these different methodological approaches are vital for intersectional and climate justice research, and hold the potential for research to be meaningful, ethical and useful to those affected by climate change impacts.
This online event was a fantastic opportunity to bring together scholars with expertise on both intersectionality and climate justice and share their work on this topic, as well as engage with other academics to really show the importance of this area of research. Ultimately, my goal is to jointly develop an emancipatory research agenda around these ideas with other critical scholars. If you are interested in forming part of this conversation, you can click here to contribute your insights and ideas.
Dr Michael Mikulewicz
Recording of the event can be found by clicking here.