Men tend to dominate political policy and climate change spaces, so it is promising to see two female leaders Mia Mottley, the Prime Minister of Barbados, and Sheik Hasina, prime minister of Bangladesh, as the voices leading change for their respective countries global South.
Both women are active figures working to bridge the political gender gap with climate action and highlight the vital intersection between gender equality and the climate crisis on the global political stage and at the decentralised community levels.
The so-called progressive cabinets of the UK are haunted by the lack of female diversity and perspective. The 2020 campaigners She Changes Climate who call for equal gender representation in climate talks, revealed that men took up 10 of the 12 UK leadership team positions during the COP26 conference in Glasgow this month. This erasure of women is pivotal as research has shown how vital the thinking and actions undertaken by women to confront the climate crisis is for their countries and communities.
Both Mottley and Hasina have been outspoken in the media following COP26. They have publicly criticised the failures and hypocrisies of other global leaders in making decisive and fair decisions to address climate change. Hasina knows that her people and her country are at the mercy of the emissions from other nations, and she brings this urgency and honesty to her public communications, whilst her government’s climate prosperity plan formed under the Vulnerable Economies group V20 should be an inspiration to developed countries as legislation that calls for collective responsibility and collaboration.
However, it was Mottley’s speech at COP26 that gave me goosebumps. I felt her love for her country and the realities of what it means when she said 1.5c “is measured in lives and livelihoods in our community.” She gave me a new word association for what it means to be on the frontline of a climate war, and we are not fighting invisible and unknown temperatures or storms. We are fighting the invisible borders of nations and states that allow the lives of some to be deemed less worthy than others.
Hasina and Mottley are more than female leaders; they represent women across diverse developing nations at the forefront of the climate crisis. Hasina has seen the warming ice fields in North Bangladesh destabilise the homes of millions of people. Across the Caribbean, Mottley knows the cost of drought, tropical storms, heatwave, heavy rainfall, hurricanes & catastrophic wildfires mean for her country. Yet, despite their countries being disproportionally smaller and poorer, they speak out with courage and eloquence onto the closed ears of more prosperous nations whose individualistic populism allows them to pretend to drive change whilst wasting time that no one has to spare. Human displacement and loss of life will hit the personal worlds of politicians, sisters, wives and mothers like Hasina and Mottley living in these vulnerable areas before they impact those hiding in the hypocritical glasshouses of the global North. Ironically, women have always been categorised as too emotional for politics when in reality, the fear and grief that the climate crisis imposes upon us all is emotional. We live in a time of collective trauma as we recover from the Covid-19 pandemic. Still, for Hasina and Mottley’s people, the devastation to their lands and livelihoods are different emotional experiences. If it has ever been the time for politics to meet emotions, it’s now because our shared humanity depends on it.
Female parliamentarians like Hasina and Mottley are fighting for stringent climate change policies for their countries on the frontline. Whether or not gender determines attitudes towards climate issues which has been a hot topic recently with women supposedly being more concerned and ready to take action, they show us that whilst we’ve been told to believe in their disempowerment through tales of little women and minor countries, they give us strength to imagine better futures.