By Paula Werdnik
“Caring for climate, caring for earth, and caring for people should be at the centre of economic value, not at the margins.” – Wendy Harcourt
Radboud University holds the International Women’s Day every year with the focus pertaining to a certain theme. This year the theme was ‘Gender Dimensions in Climate Change’. The event was held online due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, yet it was a success nonetheless!
The digital event was held online via Zoom on the 8th of March 2021 and was organized by Radboud Gender & Diversity Studies. Radboud invited Professor Wendy Harcourt to speak at the event. She is a professor of Gender, Diversity, and Sustainable Development at the International Institute of Social Studies of the Erasmus University in The Hague. She has published numerous works within the field of feminist political ecology, gender and development, and critical development studies and won the Feminist Studies and Women’s Association Prize in 2010 for her monograph Body Politics in Development.
The online event included 175 participants of all ages. While most participants were watching from the Netherlands, there were also several participants from the UK, Germany, Sweden, Cambodia, Taiwan and Australia. After a brief introduction by the hosts, Professor Harcourt gave her lecture. The event continued with a follow-up presentation by Irene Dankelman. After the presentations there was time for questions and comments, and participants engaged in an active and lively discussion. After the event there was a digital information market in which student-led organizations such as Women on the Timeline, Radboud University Network on Migrant Inclusion, Radboud Centre for Sustainability Challenges, The Roze Week, Raffia Magazine and Rona Jualla-Van Oudenhoven all shared the work of their respective organizations.
The lecture given by Professor Harcourt gave was complex and inspirational. The key theme that stood out the most to me was ‘centering the concept of care’. Professor Harcourt asserted caring for people and caring for climate are inextricably intertwined, and conveyed a need to re-think the neoliberal green economy as it is now. As she stressed in both her lecture, as well as in a written excerpt on the Radboud event page, it is importance to take into account the care-work that is typically performed by women of/or marginalized communities. This care-work is usually done for free and within the private sphere and it is this care work that keeps our systems and societies running. There is a need to acknowledge all forms of labour in a meaningful way.
Professor Harcourt also noted that in order to address climate change there is a need to shift our perspective to take into account colonial pasts, the present and the future. We need to adopt a more inclusive and global viewpoint, not just a Eurocentric or Western one. She stated that the neoliberal green economy relies on marketing and technological efficiency and does not focus enough on themes such as gender, empowerment and inclusion. Power relations and inequalities based on gender, race, ethnicity, class and physical ability need to be considered.
One incredibly potent line in the lecture that captured my attention and seemed to encapsulate this overarching theme was, “who are the consuming and who are the consumed?” Professor Harcourt stressed the importance of reimagining our approach to climate change by focusing more on principles of “cooperation, sharing, reciprocity, and intersectional environmental justice.” There is a need to seek other ways of knowledge and ways of living when approaching the climate change issue. There is no universal blueprint for environmentalism, but rather there should be focus on the emotions, identities and rights of people in the process. The answer is not a top-down approach based on marketing, science and technology but should be done through a more inclusive and interdisciplinary approach.
Professor Harcourt suggested the example of looking at art as another form of understanding the effects of climate change. Listening to the experiences of women and marginalized communities who have been affected by climate change, and understanding how communities may express this through art, is another form of knowledge.
Overall, the event gave some insightful food for thought and a spark of hope!
The event discussions also gave rise to ideas of how to further help women’s rights and the fight against climate change. Some suggestions were to consider voting for women leaders in order to support women in government, as well as considering political parties who have concrete action plans for climate change. This is especially important as the Dutch elections are coming up on the 17th of March 2021. Other ways to create change might be participating (online or live) in protests such as the Klimaatalarm (Climate Alarm) that took place on the 14th of March or similar future events.