By Anushka Pardikar
Climate change is universal and all-encompassing, yet, its effects are unequally distributed in a manner that one section of the society is disproportionately affected by repeated occurrences of climate disasters. The gravity of impact is directly proportional to the ability of individuals and communities to respond to climate risks which is in turn dependent upon social identities, and lived reality.
It is undeniable that climate change and social justice have a mutually reinforcing relationship. As a result, climate disasters not only bring to the fore pre-existing conditions of inequality but also deepen existing stressors among the marginalised community.
Conversations around climate change must factor in this unequal distribution of burden which calls for a renewed understanding of how marginalised communities are differently and specially affected from similar environmental shifts. Therefore, we cannot talk about climate change without talking about privilege, vulnerability, and social justice.
Gender and sexual minorities face distinctive climate change challenges in that, their daily life is an attempt to neutralise the adverse effects of insecure housing, internal displacement, loss of livelihood, poverty and all in the absence of a social security net. Limited access to basic human rights such as the ability to move freely and acquire property often bring about unfavourable outcomes, particularly in the eventuality of climate disasters. In addition to this, their means to respond is acutely restricted as a result of historic and continued social and economic exclusion. This must be contextualised in the backdrop of social realities such as loss of family support and life in ghettos. It is these structural inadequacies that aggravate and often perpetuate cycles of climate change vulnerability among gender and sexual minorities.
In addition to these pre-existing conditions of inequality, gender and sexual minorities typically also struggle even in the aftermath of climate disasters. To quote Matcha Phorn-In, the Executive Director of Sangsan Anakot Yaowachon “If you are invisible in your everyday life, your needs will not be thought of, let alone addressed, in a crisis situation.”
Customarily, humanitarian and relief-assistance programs are predominantly premised upon heteronormative structures which reinforce gender-typical behavior in a manner that intentionally excludes and often ostracises gender and sexual minorities from seeking aid and assistance. In this context, for instance, one of the foremost areas of concern is gender-specific relief programs which, by design, exclude and further marginalise the most vulnerable section of the society in the time of grave need.
Therefore, liberation of sexual and gender minorities is at the heart of securing climate justice. The lens needs to be re-focused to look at aspects of climate change adaptation, humanitarian assistance, and risk reduction in the context the most vulnerable section of the society. Policies need to move away from presumptuous heteronormative premises to ensure that societal stigmas are not perpetuated and do not act as obstacles in times of survival.
Anushka is a lawyer and an incoming LL.M. Candidate at the University of Ottawa, Canada starting Fall 2022. She is a communication intern at TA.
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