Young feminists’ reflection on gender and environmental activism
“There is nothing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.” - Audre Lorde
This March marks the International Women’s Month, a month-long celebration of achievements in the struggle for gender equality in the economic, political and socio-cultural spheres. As we are in the crossroads where issues and advocacies are more interconnected than ever, it is important to see how women’s issues intersect with that of environment, environmental destruction and protection being an encompassing and compelling challenge everyone faces.
I interviewed two feminists who, in one way or another, are engaged with Greenpeace. It is with the efforts of finding that intersection where their personal advocacies of young women’s participation meet with environmental activism.
On fragmented activism
“Activism on gender and environment are not separate,” according to Clementine Novales. She mentioned that most often we have trouble “choosing” one advocacy over the other, which in turn creates confusion on how one identify as an activist. “Am I feminist? Am I Environmentalist? Am I a feminist environmentalist?” Previously, these are some of her dilemmas in her perceived need to choose one over the other.
She was able to resolve this dilemma by recognizing that if she wants justice in this oppressive world, she is not simply talking about environmental justice or gender justice, but of justice that goes full circle. She expounded on this idea by saying that “partial justice is not justice”. When she feels the pain of violence imposed on people based on gender, she feels the pain when the same is imposed on Earth. Her discontent is not limited to “gender” or “environment”. It is all one, she said, and its interconnections are as bright as the sun.
Clementine, through her discussion, mentioned that what seems to be a personal dilemma is actually a reflection of a greater problem. She sensed that “this neoliberal, capitalist, patriarchal economy has molded our minds into fragments- much like how their factories and production lines function – that we think of gender and environment as separate.” This becomes problematic, particularly in the civil society, where we have a tendency to function like corporations where “issues” become products. Products that we need to protect rather than operating through a vision of justice that moves and dance to different forms of oppression. She felt that this fragmentation is a not a way to move against “the system” because the system, she said, works behind principles expressed through negative source of greed, domination and violence. For our vision to render this system unwanted and irrelevant will have to come from a positive, diverse but complete place of empowerment and justice.
She ended the interview with a quote from Peggy Kornegger, “Challenging sexism means challenging all hierarchy- economic, political and personal.” It is not about choosing which activism to work on but understanding that our activism does not live in fragments.
On claiming spaces
In my interview with Anna Dinglasan, she identified herself as a “feminist/women’s rights activist” that practices her activism through teaching. She believes that it is important that young people are able to understand issues (may these be about the environment, gender, peace or social justice) from a critical perspective – that they are able to create links or find the connection between and among issues. She stressed that “one can’t fully understand these things if treated like they all exist in separate, airtight silos”.
Coming from that perspective, Anna noticed that young women have heightened awareness about environmental issues. Thus, she said, very eager and willing to contribute in any way they can. A lot of the avenues presented to young women have been creatively and innovatively thought of, she observed. It becomes easy, fun and cool. She cited marathons, concerts, flashmobs as examples. She added that activism has also been made easier by social media. One click of the mouse, then you’d have supported various environmental campaigns! These various activities help a lot in terms of raising awareness and getting much needed attention.
However, she thinks that it precisely because of the fun and cool nature of these activities that it becomes problematic too. At the end of the day, how cool can violence against women or how hip can flash floods in Mindanao be? They are not cool and hip and she hoped they will never be! But there is a need to sustain young people’s attention and interest.
Through practice she found that one way to provoke people’s interest is to make discussion more personal. Conversation, she said, should be steered towards what matters to the audience. It is a matter of initiating conversations and facilitating discussions so that the issues and problems come out. Alongside this, there is a need to empower them to move and come up with specific actions to address the issues they have defined. She finds that, as an activist and a teacher, it is her responsibility on the one hand, to reassure them that what they say and do counts, no matter how small or trivial they believe these to be; and on the other, remind them to keep thinking critically to assess the impact of their actions.
Good practices and stories must be shared to inspire young women to be informed about environmental advocacy. Most of the time, she noticed that when talking about the environment, the framing is about how women are victims. There is a need to move away from this framework, she said. There are many young women who are active and it is important that their stories are shared. Social media may be used strategically to spread information much faster; and as a site for conversations where experiences and ideas may be shared—across borders, beyond race, class and gender. Most important is never to forget that these conversations however informal or small are a valuable source of information and ideas. It is important to nurture these spaces.
From dilemmas to solutions
My interview with Clementine and Anna started as an effort to find links between two movements. But it led me in an understanding of not just interconnections but of wholeness, the reality that one does not live in a single-issue life. Clementine spoke of a personal dilemma on viewing justice with fragmented eyes while Anna shared the need to re/create spaces for participation. Both see the world as I see it. There are wrongs in this planet and we need to make it right (or do right).
Anna was able to capture the essence of making things right, “Every single day gives us a glimpse of reality, therefore every day is an opportunity to move, to steer action, to provoke, to enrage and to incite (righteous) anger.” Whenever we speak of activism, it is not about issues per se but of a personal commitment to challenge status quo and address injustices. Not just partial injustices, as Clementine would put it, but injustices that cut across issues. It is about us taking that step forward in making sure that we have an equitable, fair and peaceful future.
Clementine Novales is a young woman feminist activist, wandering in and relating with different institutionalized (academe, NGOs and networks) and non-institutionalized forms of activisms, by learning to create, re-learning how to play, and unlearning dis-empowerment; seeking for clues to move towards more empowering, multiple ways to live life.
Anna M. Dinglasan is a feminist and activist. She is currently an associate at the Women and Gender Institute (WAGI), and a part-time lecturer at the College of International Humanitarian and Development Studies, teaching under the International Studies Department, both at Miriam College. She has extensive experience in the field of gender and women’s rights, having previously worked at Isis International Manila and the Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (DAWN). She has co-edited a number of publications including a toolkit on Gender and Climate Change (with Isis International) and the regular journal of WAGI, Quilted Sightings.
She holds a Masters Degree in International Studies from Miriam College, where she also obtained her undergraduate diploma in the same field. On her free time, she enjoys traveling, yoga, photography, baking and crafting. She is inspired by other young women activists she’s had an opportunity to work and converse with.