Gender and Environmental Justice

Authored by: Julie Sze

Routledge Handbook of Gender and Environment

Print publication date:  June  2017
Online publication date:  July  2017

Print ISBN: 9780415707749
eBook ISBN: 9781315886572
Adobe ISBN:


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How are gender and environmental justice linked? Answering this question depends, in some part, on what is meant by both of these terms. Gender spans the gamut from sexual identity to sociocultural characteristics associated with masculinity and femininity. Initially, the concept of environmental justice was connected to the movement aimed at contesting and resisting the disproportionately high levels of exposure to toxic pollution that racialized minorities face. It began in the grassroots struggle of American minority groups against environmental racism but has since spread to other parts of the world, from Canada, the UK, and Australia to many parts of Latin America and Africa. The environmental justice frame extends to criticisms of the exclusivity of mainstream environmentalism and serves to recalibrate the very notion of ‘environment’, beyond the idea of pristine nature to the places where people ‘live, work, and play’ (Novotny 2000). Alongside the work of activists, an academic field of research has developed, including work by scholars in disciplines including geography, sociology, planning, political science, and even literature. Although it comes from a diversity of perspectives and deploys a range of different methods, two common goals of this research are to gather empirical evidence to support the claim that poor people tend to live in poor quality environments and to assert the normative position that this situation is unjust (Walker 2012). The existence of environmental injustice is a reminder that people’s experiences of ‘nature’ are shaped by their experiences of social, economic, and political inequalities. Race and class are powerful determinants of environmental health and well-being. From a feminist perspective, it stands to reason that gender also plays a significant part in causing and sustaining environmental injustice. In general, however, the vast majority of environmental justice scholarship does not tend to take gender seriously as a category, despite evidence that men and women are affected differently by toxics (for example) and that women have played a pivotal role in environmental justice movements. But this blindness to gender may be starting to change.

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