Currently the country is dealing with the trauma of a Trump presidency. Two things have come to dominate his presidency: his denial of climate change and his refusal to allow refugees, particularly from Syria, into the country. And even though there have been reports on the connection between climate change and the Syrian crisis, such connections have not been reported upon with as much frequency as they should. In fact, outside of some articles I dug up on the internet, they haven’t really been reported on at all.
Neither, of course, is the overwhelming risk of sexual violence Syrian women face as refugees. And not just in the refugee camps, in which it is rampant. But many fled Syria in the first place not just because of the high risk of death, but also because of the threat of rape from forces on both sides.
Rape goes hand and hand with war and refugees. This is absolutely nothing new and is the reason why rape is now considered a war crime and recognized as a tactic of war. Yet even as the news reports that refugees are mainly women and children, they tend to overlook the high risk to women and girls of sexual assault when they are forced to stay in refugee camps or unable to flee Syria at all. This risk is not exclusive to the Syrian conflict. In every modern conflict, women’s bodies and their reproduction are used as a means of leverage in war. The rape of women in Darfur and subsequent marking of them as rape victims is a particularly good example, as often this results in the loss of their husbands and the birth of unwanted children.
As the Cheyenne put it, “A war is not won until the hearts of the women are stomped into the ground.” At least I believe it was the Cheyenne. Regardless of who said it, women’s bodies are a separate front during conflicts.
There is another layer to be added to these clusterfucks of conflicts: climate change. This is not actually new to me. I first read the “Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence” by Christian Parenti back in 2015 (which I highly recommend). Climate change always has been on the foremost of my consciousness, as a human being and as a Feminist. But I hardly see climate change or environmental degradation covered with real effort on ANY Feminist blog. Unless you include DAPL, the only reference to not just the environment but to Native American issues on Liberal Feminist websites.
In all fairness, there may not be an immediate connection between the environment and Feminism. Outside of ecofeminism and the idea of an Earth mother, the environment and Feminism tend to be approached as separate movements. The truth is that worldwide, climate change and environmental degradation are negatively impacting women’s lives in ways specific to being female.
As I mentioned, as conflict rises, so too does the risk of sexual assault to communities of women as a whole. And as climate change raises the risk of conflict, so too does climate change create situations ripe for the sexual assault and sexual exploitation of women.
In Syria, a devastating and prolonged drought destroyed agriculture and caused large migrations of people from the countryside to the city, exacerbating existing civil unrest through mass migration and food shortage (note that I am not ignoring geopolitics but recognizing a particular threat and driver of conlict). The resulting implosion is the Syrian conflict, for which no end seems in sight – and no respite for women fleeing from the threat of sexual assault.
According to the UN Environment Programme, Sudan and South Sudan’s seemingly infinite conflicts have been driven by climate change and environmental degradation – which now threatens the stability of other countries in Africa. This particular part of the world not only has a climate which is impacted by climate change much more severely than ours, but does not have the resources or infrastructure to mitigate such change. As we in the West debate how to phase out fossil fuels as we continue to commute to work in gas guzzlers, people in Sudan and surrounding countries watch as the dessert continues to encroach upon their food and water sources.
It is the same in the desert climate of Mexico. As drought and desertification continue and crop yields decrease, more and more people migrate north – meaning a greater risk of sexual assault to women as they travel through a geography rife with cartel and coyote activity.
This is why climate change NEEDS to be a top concern for Feminists – particularly Western Feminists. Climate change is largely a result of the Western consumerist throw away lifestyle driven by fossil fuels. Even I am guilty as I drive my Honda back and forth to work each day. Of course, my biggest concern living through climate change would be the possibility of finally having to take public transportation to work and cutting back on power. This is because I live in a society with the means to mitigate the negative affects of climate change (only to a certain extent, of course – but still, I certainly have no fear of having to flee my home, and absolutely no fear of drought living in the Mississippi basin).
For intersectional Feminists, climate change is literally at every intersection driving the feminization of poverty worldwide AND the increase in conflicts, and thus sexual violence, we are witnessing daily. There needs to be a more concerted effort of Feminists sites to begin covering issues of climate change and how the impacts of climate change disproportionately affect women. For a start, here a few good sources:
Please tune in for more blogs as I discuss climate change and environmental degradation and their impact on women’s rights and autonomy.