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  • Writer's pictureTamara Makoni

Solutions for climate change must be intersectional


Tamara Makoni speaking at a conference on climate change


I opened my keynote at a recent conference on climate change by quoting an anonymous poem:


‘We are in the same storm, but not in the same boat.

We are going through a time when our perceptions and needs are completely different.

And each one will emerge, in his own way, from that storm.

Some with a tan from their pool. Others with scars on the soul.’


Climate change impacts all of us, but research shows that women are hardest hit. In particular, poor women and girls from global majority* backgrounds in the Global South.


Why? Because, generally speaking, they experience

  • Low access to funds to offset the effects of climate change

  • Low influence over decisions made at local, national and global level

  • Higher dependence on natural resources for their livelihoods and survival

  • Higher risk of physical displacement and the harms associated with this, including gender-based violence


Here we see the intersection of four marginalised identities: poor (socioeconomic status), female (gender), global majority (ethnicity), living in a developing country (residence). This vulnerability to the effects of climate change is not due to gender or any other single identity characteristic: it’s the result of the combination of all of them.


Intersectionality is why some people are weathering the storm in a sailboat. A yacht. A canoe. An inflatable dinghy that already has a leak. 


What does an intersectional solution look like?


As I explained in this article, intersectionality is a framework that 

  • Acknowledges that we all have multiple layers of identity (age, gender, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, mental and physical ability, etc.)

  • Understands that systems of oppression (racism, sexism, etc.) don’t work in isolation

  • Looks at how our identities overlap to form unique and distinct forms of discrimination


Building on this, intersectional solutions place those who experience the most oppression or discrimination at the centre. They use a bottom-up approach, identifying ways to support and empower those most marginalised as its starting point. And it’s not a zero sum game: removing barriers and obstacles benefits everyone who faces them, whether they experience just this type of disadvantage or this plus multiple other types of disadvantage.


A rising tide of inclusion lifts all boats. 


Ultimately it’s about valuing all people


‘We are different ships looking to survive.

Let everyone navigate their route with respect, empathy and

responsibility.’


This is how the poem ends. My work has taught me that inclusion and representation are the way to do just this. 


  • Inclusion: Empower people to use their voices freely to contribute knowledge, and create conditions where every voice is acknowledged and heard.


  • Representation: Involve people in making the decisions and policies that impact their lives. As disability activists say, nothing about us without us


At the conference social entrepreneur Rozina Spinnoy advocated for fostering partnerships locally and globally, providing mentorship and facilitating open dialogues to co-create narratives that reflect the richness of diverse experiences. These are all important ways to actively involve people from impacted communities and ensure their needs and views are represented throughout. 


Tamara Makoni, Pendo Maro, Rozina Spinnoy and Sian Hughes speaking at a conference on climate change

But underpinning all of this is the need to value the lives and contributions of all people in every global community. To be blunt: the needs of poor Black women in the Global South are just as important as those of rich white men in the Global North. But from Davos to COP we see power concentrated within the hands of the few, with little to no representation of those most vulnerable. 


Building on what Rozina said, environmental policy specialist Dr Pendo Maro emphasised that we urgently need to decolonise climate action. To expand our mindset and narratives about who is worthy to be heard; who is considered an expert; whose well-being matters. To create solutions that benefit us all, not just a privileged few.


Thank you to Trianon Scientific Communication for organising this valuable conference and inviting my participation. Also to Pendo and Rozina who gave talks of their own then joined me in a dialogue moderated by Sian Hughes. And, finally, to the many other inspiring speakers and engaged attendees who truly made this an event to remember.


If this topic interests you, follow me on LinkedIn to hear about Intersectional Women, my event series that applies an intersectional lens to topics like microaggressions, accessibility and ageism to explore how women’s experiences converge and differ based on aspects of our identities. Armed with these insights, we can forge paths together towards true inclusion.


Also, read my article 'Intentional about intersectionality: Tackling DE&I from the bottom up' here.


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*’Global majority’ is a collective term for people of African, Asian, Latin American or Indigenous descent, as well as people of dual or multiple heritage. The term acknowledges the fact that people from these groups make up approximately 85% of the global population.


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