International Women’s Day is a celebration of the empowerment, bravery, and feminism that is intergenerational, intercommunal, interracial, intersectional, and global.
The world’s environment, our local havens and communities, and the ground and resources available to us are political issues that have always significantly affected women and femmes of color. These issues of our environmental safety, health, access to resources, and our relation to nature are inherently feminist issues regardless of how we label them.
In addressing how colonization and structural violence affects the exploitation of resources and land, how pollution and toxins are dumped, and how access to tools of survival are politicized - we must recognize that these issues have always been fought by feminists of color. The global efforts, labor, and work that is currently being done by women and femmes of color is often ignored, but should be celebrated and centered due to the levels of everyday violence women and femmes are suffering environmentally.
Flint’s Water Crisis Awakens Awareness
One of the biggest issues we face as women, femmes, and girls of color is the lack of resources or means for survival. The Flint, Michigan Water Crisis has proven to be an intersectional feminist issue from the evident economic injustice, the lack of access and concern for undocumented immigrants, and the predominant anti-Blackness surrounding the lack of rapid response.
According to the National Women’s Law Center, “42 percent of the Flint residents live below the poverty line—and data shows that women of color, single mothers and elderly women living alone are disproportionately poor.” In addition, 57 percent of the Flint residents are Black. From the #BlackLivesMatter founders releasing statements of solidarity with Flint, to the amazing work of Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha who pressured Michigan state officials to concede and admit that the state was poisoning children with high levels of lead in the water - any injustice surrounding the issues of resources, water, and survival for poor women, femmes, and children of color are feminist issues.
Sustainability is often posed as a myth within low income communities of color due to the violent exploitation and lack of economic investment through political agents or public policy. Majora Carter, an urban planner and Black environmental feminist based in the South Bronx of New York, created Sustainable South Bronx to revitalize infrastructure. Carter did a TED Talk entitled “Greening the Ghetto” in which challenged the issues of urban policy surrounding poor and low income communities of color.
She has not only created and pushed for new, in depth research on economic sustainability and urban development but has offered new ways to discover economic opportunities in communities are often overlooked or exploited. Majora’s work and organization represents how being Black and surviving structural violence in your local communities can help cultivate environmental empowerment and sustainability elsewhere.
Latin America’s Indigenous Women at the Forefront of Resistance
Often Indigenous communities are highly coveted, targeted, and exploited for land distribution and natural resources. Berta Cáceres, a powerhouse in environmental feminism and the protection of Indigenous people, has led and implemented grassroots campaigning against the violence and colonization of Honduras. In 1993, Berta founded the National Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) to protect Lenca communities from the stripping of their resources. Cáceres was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2015 for her tireless efforts to protect the Indigenous land and people of Honduras. The organization described her work, “In a country with growing socioeconomic inequality and human rights violations, Berta Cáceres rallied the indigenous Lenca people of Honduras and waged a grassroots campaign that successfully pressured the world’s largest dam builder to pull out of the Agua Zarca Dam.”
Honduras Indigenous Leader Berta Caceres | Goldman prize
Cáceres was assassinated on March 3rd because of the threat her work and passion represented to those in structural power. Cáceres’ dedication to Indigenous and environmental protection was viewed as a threat to capitalism, colonization, and white supremacist global violence. Her work and legacy will continue, but her murder proves the Indigenous feminist work she dedicated herself to was so important and so powerful that physical violence was enacted to stop her. Violence has always been threatened against women, femmes, and girls of color who actively challenge the injustice surrounding them.
In Latin America, rural and indigenous women are considered among the most vulnerable groups, especially to the violence and exploitation of resources within their local communities and climate change. The Latin Times notes, “In Latin America, global warming has already made its mark with corals being bleached by warm temperatures, glaciers melting, cities becoming vulnerable to rising sea levels, and more.”
The organization Latin American Mining Monitoring Program seeks to address issues surrounding rural and Indigenous women navigating the violent social changes of resource exploitation and climate disaster. According to their campaign, “LAMMP and ULAM support women defenders and their organisations in Ecuador, Peru, Guatemala, Mexico, Bolivia and Venezuela. Together, they have produced in-depth analyses documenting the severity and the extent of attacks these women suffer for simply defending basic human rights: attacks that reveal the multitude of ways states and corporations undermine women’s efforts to remedy injustices, and the endemic impunity and lack of accountability for these powerful actors.” Our workplace and our homes being targets for environmental violence speaks to the unfortunate reality that women and femmes of color are fighting for safety in almost every aspect of our lives.
Climate Change and Conservation are “Women’s Issues” Too
Historical land sites and natural wonders are often at risk due to the exploitation and globalization of capitalist white supremacist violence. Dr. Vandana Shiva, an Indian scientist invested in fighting anti-globalization, is currently one of the most prominent leading environmental feminist activists working on campaigns to save the Himalayas and Everest glaciers, based in South Asia. In addition, Dr. Shiva is dedicated to creating water democracies and justice for farmers. From creating a community seed bank to researching and creating reports on climate information - Dr. Shiva is challenging the systems of economic injustice, colonization, and exploitation of poor farmers based in South Asia. Dr. Shiva has helped shape pathways to assist global farmers and rural located women of color that are often at risk and significantly impacted by social and climate change.
Globally, young girls and femmes are affected violently and sequentially from environmental issues and natural disasters. Plan International’s Weathering the Storm Report reported that impact of climate change has a significantly negative effect on young and adolescent girls. The specific risks include dying more than their counterparts in natural disasters, experiencing more forced marriages, higher rates of sexual violence, and having their education opportunities reduced.
In addition, women and femmes of color and low income families are overrepresented in professions that are exposed to toxic chemicals. The role women and femmes of color often play as caretakers and providers for their family from family planning, obtaining safe products and foods for the home, to healthcare access - we are constantly creating or seeking means of protection and well-being for our partners, children, families, and communities. Our communities are often wrought with pollution, landfills, toxins, and dumped waste due to injustice surrounding poor and indigenous lands and neighborhoods. Our fight has always been existent within our homes, our bodies, and our land.
Environmental feminism and campaigns to challenge the gender violence that exists within an environmental context globally are imperative to the protection of women, femmes, and girls of color - especially poor, low income, indigenous, and rural located. From Flint to the South Bronx, to the Indigenous women and femmes of Latin America - around the world, women and femmes of color are fighting for survival, safety, and protection of their land, people, and selves.
International Women’s Day means not only recognizing the mainstream, white feminism that often drowns the public platform - but also means recognizing that feminists of color are out here surviving in ways that are often ignored or unrecognized.
Our personal is political because the violence pitted against us is often life threatening. The work of feminists of color to protect our environment and our communities always requires the cost of our labor, energy, and time because it is not convenient, it is our everyday lives.
Ashleigh Shackelford is a queer Black fat femme writer, artist, and cultural producer. Ashleigh is a contributing writer at For Harriet, a community organizer at Black Future, and the creator of a body positivity organization Free Figure Revolution. She is currently working on her M.A. in Africana Studies at Morgan State University.