International Women’s Day (IWD) falls on March 8th and it is officially celebrated by 27 countries as a national holiday. On this day, we honour women’s rights, recognise the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women across the world and reflect on existing struggles.
The United Nations has observed IWD since 1975, but its history can be traced back to the early 1900s, with action by women in the United States and Russia. According to UN Women, an entity working for gender equality and female empowerment, the theme for IWD 2022 is “Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow”. It acknowledges the contribution of girls and women who lead the way in climate change adaptation, mitigation, and response, in order to build a more sustainable future for all.
On this special occasion, Her Campus Nanyang Tech interviewed Woo Qiyun, better known as @theweirdandwild for her accessible eco infographics on social media.
I reckoned that this year’s theme would be especially meaningful for you, since you’re part of Women in Sustainability & Environment (WISE). In a recent interview, you brought to attention the interconnected nature of social concerns.
Could you share some thoughts on how gender equality promotes sustainable development, in relation to intersectionality?
To me, a sustainable future is one that has no place for inequality, violence and injustice.
We cannot have a sustainable future if we don’t address gender equality, especially in areas where women are on the front lines and in climate-sensitive livelihoods such as agriculture. This might look like unequal access to rights, land tenures and being situated in vulnerable positions of abuse. Moreover, worsening effects on their livelihoods as a result of climate change could drive greater inequalities, and this is prominent in the Global South.
(Writer’s note: According to an article, there are clear links between debt and climate vulnerability. Physical and economic damages caused by climate change not only undermine the capacities of these countries in repaying existing debt, but also hinder investments in adaption and resilience through worsening debt sustainability.)
When women or any marginalised communities are unrepresented at board meetings and decision-making tables, their voices remain unheard. This also means that problems on the ground are often left unaddressed, and are exacerbated by climate change and its effects, as mentioned earlier. As seen from the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, these vulnerabilities are linked to social inequality and the lack of inclusive governance.
Patriarchal capitalist systems that hurt our planet and resources, are also the very forces that locate women in extremely vulnerable or unequal statuses in society and I believe that this is what ecofeminism is fundamentally driving at.
In order to address these issues, we need transformational change. We can’t have more sustainable communities if we don’t address gender equality in these areas. Without diversity and inclusion, our solutions will never be truly solving the world’s problems. Hence, the sustainable world that I envision is one where we center care and transform communities to fight for equality and to tackle injustices, and only then, can societies really thrive.
How then, can women support other women in their organizations?
I think it’s important for women to support other women because there is definitely strength in numbers, and it is very difficult for a single person to go against large systems, and/or to call out inequalities. In any community, there needs to be a level of collective action in order for voices to be heard and if you’re in a privileged position, you should ensure that you’re creating space for other women to access equal opportunities, and for difficult conversations that challenge patriarchal norms and unaddressed biases.
I think it’s also important to question whether women are making space for other women to rise. Diversity, equity and inclusion are big terms that are thrown around by almost every company and I often wonder if gender diversity on the board level trickles down to other working levels. Are women ceding space for other women to thrive and are we supporting each other by providing help or solidarity in bad times?
Being able to develop that support network is key and it requires a lot of organic interaction, but once we realise that we can help each other do better, and uplift each other in times of adversity or unequal treatment, that’s when we build power to rise.
According to research by Ogilvy Earth, the “feminization of the green movement really holds men back when it comes to visible green behavior, like using reusable grocery bags.” From your experience, are women indeed more likely to take action for climate justice than men and by extension, does this ‘eco gender gap’ exist in Singapore?
If so, could you address some of the common bias about those that engage in green behavior? If not, could you name a few of your inspirations (both men and women)?
I haven’t done much research, but I do think about the feminization of the green movement, and specifically, how our campaigns are being worded and presented. Are there unconscious biases that are less thought out and are therefore, present in our communications material, or even environment-friendly merchandise?
Campaigns such as the ones encouraging the use of tote bags instead of plastic are mainly targeted towards female shoppers at the supermarket, and I’ve also seen how products are marketed with a certain color palette, or designs that may be preferred by a certain gender. These lead me to further reflect on how we are driving our conversations and how we can make them more inclusive.
Climate change has also impacted our mental healths through eco-anxiety, which is generally defined as the feeling of excessive fear, or worry about the future.
I understand that you’ve co-written an article on this phenomenon. What does eco-anxiety look like for you and how do you cope with it? Is it related to the pressures of the ‘eco gender gap’?
Note that eco-anxiety exists as a normal and rational fear towards something that is looming and dangerous. It is similar to the anxiety that we feel when something like a pandemic hits – realities are uncertain, and yet we are certain about its negative outcomes. In that sense, I think that eco-anxiety is felt by many people, especially youths because we expect to live through the worst of it. This is not to say that climate change isn’t happening now, as we do experience irregular weather, amplified disasters and food shortages. Hence, I wouldn’t be surprised that every other demographic is worried about the environment and its impacts on cost of living, quality of life and physical and mental health. Eco-anxiety can and will be felt by everybody in one way or another.
How do you create balance career, personal life and passions?
It is definitely difficult to balance passion and motivation. I don’t think anyone has it figured out really, but I have tried to find alignment in my life, career and passion projects. I think that alignment in values is key as it allows me to better understand my intentions, even when I’m doing different things in various aspects of my life.
Building communities and finding like-minded friends also really motivate me such that whenever I’m working on a project or dealing with certain issues in advocating for climate action professionally, or on The Weird and Wild, I know that there are people who will always be there for me, even if they fail, and that keeps my fire burning.
On International Women’s Day, what’s one important message you want to send out to the upcoming generation of female leaders? And is there anything else you’d like to add?
Here’s a message that I want to relay to everyone, not just female-identifying people: Let’s work together to build more caring and inclusive futures for all. We all have a part to play in unpacking certain biases we have of one another and we need to be open to these difficult conversations. I may not get it right on trying to be inclusive, but I’m constantly learning new things every other day. Being kind and aligned to building more caring futures will definitely go a long way in empowering all of us to thrive in the respective fields and communities that we’re in.
We would like to thank Woo Qiyun for her time and efforts. Keep up the good work and Happy International Women’s Day!