It's time to share my own experience, to highlight the exploitation of gender, climate, and capitalism

The intersecting systems of capitalism, imperialism, and the patriarchy, not only perpetuate the objectification of women and gender minorities, but also propel us into multiple crises, such as the environmental and climate crisis. 

Content warning: The article contains a paragraph that recounts the author’s experience of sexual assault.

In an appalling betrayal, my ex-partner, also involved in environmental justice spaces, raped me. I remember being in and out of consciousness, vaguely aware of the events as he forcibly took control of my body. Despite my attempts to wake myself up, to say no, and to implore him to stop, he callously persisted in violating me, robbing me of my agency. The aftermath left me feeling powerless, severed from my core, and profoundly unsafe within my own body.

The journey to acknowledge, comprehend, and process this traumatic event spanned years, and its impacts still reverberate within me today. Even within the spaces dedicated to justice and the pursuit of a better world, the influence of oppressive systems can persist and we can unconsciously replicate the very systems we are in the process of dismantling.

The intersecting systems of capitalism, imperialism, and the patriarchy, not only perpetuate the objectification of women and gender minorities but also propel us into multiple crises, such as the environmental and climate crisis. 

The intersection of the climate crisis with gender and class injustice is not coincidental. Multiple studies show how women and gender minorities, especially those from the working class or those economically marginalised, are among the most vulnerable to the climate crisis. However, it's not just the impacts of the climate crisis that exacerbate the impacts of gender injustice, but also the culture of extraction and exploitation that is deeply embedded in historical injustices.

These injustices permeate even within the climate justice movement. It was in my own experiences of objectification and harassment that I truly started to understand and grasp the interwoven nature of objectification of people, exploitation of the working class, and the treatment of nature as a mere resource. 

Indigenous rights and climate activist Eriel Deranger eloquently stated in a webinar I once attended, “Climate change started when the white man came. The imbalance began at the start of colonisation; colonisation of our lands, our minds, our economies, and our gender systems. Recovery from the climate crisis requires a rebalance.” This emphasises the necessity of a holistic approach to address the interconnected challenges we face.

The colonisation of our bodies mirrors the colonisation of our lands, reflecting exploitation, abuse, and dehumanisation that permeates both human and environmental domains. The way colonialism and imperialism take people and land to pillage and exploit as if they have ownership over them, capitalism continues to do with workers and nature to accumulate profit by any means, and patriarchy with women and gender minorities. All this has led to the rise of emissions, and the disregard for the physical limits of the planet which has led us to the environmental crisis, and the multiple socio-economic crises we face today.

The violation of my agency and objectification and domination of my body is one example and a manifestation of the broader patterns of exploitation ingrained in patriarchal, capitalist, and imperialist structures. It mirrors historical and ongoing violations and militarisation endured by marginalised communities who continue to fight back, echoing the colonisers' disregard for people and land, capitalist exploitation of labor, and the extractive mindset toward nature at the expense of all, as seen with our world leaders’ refusal to take substantive action against the fossil fuel industry that is burning us all.

Under the current oppressive system, they attempt to reduce us to commodities – deemed disposable after use. This realisation has solidified and grown increasingly evident over time, deepening as I delved into the struggles of my community and those shared by people worldwide.

It began with the pervasive fear that crept into me as I grew up, hearing countless accounts of sexual harassment and rape of women. This included experiences from our friends, cousins, mothers, and grandmothers. The tragic murder of Jennifer Laude, a Filipina transwoman drowned by a United States Marine in 2014 and later pardoned by the Philippine president in 2020, exemplifies this harsh reality.

When it comes to some multinational corporations, conversations with workers in 2019 revealed heartbreaking accounts of pregnant colleagues suffering miscarriages due to relentless exploitation by such companies, among other workers’ rights violations, and the tragic deaths and harassment of numerous union organisers over the years.

Delivering deeper into the struggles and resistance of Indigenous Peoples everywhere made this realisation even clearer, especially learning of the settler-colonisers of so-called Canada forcibly sterilising Indigenous women. Another stark example lies in the escalating climate crisis and how the fossil fuel industry has propagated lies and funded climate denialism for decades. This consistent delay in climate action comes at the expense of people of colour and marginalised communities worldwide. The ongoing atrocities in Palestine are another clear example of how this system views the invented “other” as disposable. The fascist government, supported financially by other imperialist states, perpetrates crimes against humanity as they seize and desecrate land, leaving both people and the environment ravaged. 

It all stems from the same insatiable greed and pursuit of capital and power that underpin these systems. The richest white men have imposed layers of privilege onto the world to maintain their power. Emma Dabiri, in her book Disobedient Bodies, discusses how working-class men, particularly men of colour, are granted a false sense of power over women to divert their attention from their relative powerlessness and conditions of their exploitation — a manipulation that perpetuates the cycle of objectification done to them by the rich capitalists.

To sustain patriarchy, capitalism, and colonialism, the rich white elite strategically propagated the notion of separation among different groups. They had to create the idea of an “other,” either women, gender minorities, people of colour, the working class, the Global South, nature, and more that could be turned into an object to conquer. They did this to keep us apart and weaker – to try to stop us from realising that we are stronger together and that our liberations are bound to each other. 

Reclaiming agency over our bodies, our lands, and our relationship with nature necessitates a collective rebalancing — a collective unlearning and a reevaluation of our relationship with nature, an acknowledgment of the agency and autonomy of women, gender minorities, people of colour, and the working class, and a collective commitment to dismantling oppressive structures. We must dismantle the systems that have enabled the layers of privilege and power that have been imposed upon the world.

We must champion the rights of women and gender minorities, stop the extractive nature of our economy – starting with the fossil fuel industry –, decolonise and fight alongside those fighting for liberation for their peoples, and ensure that workers and the marginalised lead us into a better world.  As we do all this, we must also do our best to already live in the ways of the gentle world and future that we’re in the process of building. To do this, we do not need to look far. We only need to turn our attention to the very same communities being oppressed and exploited — here we can witness the greatest resistance and pockets of the future that we are building. 

We must collectively challenge and transform the oppressive systems that bind us to build a world that is not only sustainable, but fundamentally just – for the liberation of all.

Footnote: Thank you to friends and community like Adriana Calderon, Aizel Lim, Clover Hogan, Light, panels I’ve been on about the intersections of these issues, and more, that held space for conversations and shared ideas that helped lead to my understanding and formulation of these thoughts and to build the courage to talk about this.