Hypatia — Carolyn Sachs Interview


C. Shaheen Moosa: Tell us about yourself.


Carolyn Sachs: My name’s Carolyn Sachs, and I’m a professor of rural sociology and women’s studies—I’m the department head of women’s studies—at Penn State, and I’ve done quite a bit of research and also policy making related to women in agriculture, gender and environment, and also gender and climate change.


CSM: Why do we need to be attentive to gender when thinking about climate change?


CS: Yeah, many people don’t think of gender and climate change as going together, they tend to think of climate change as something that’s studied on a much broader, grander scale by scientists and it doesn’t relate to gender at all, but those of us who work in the field of gender and environment or gender and agriculture understand that, as climate change happens, it has differential impacts on men and women because of the different lives they lead, because of their different responsibilities, and the different ways that they’re involved in policy related to these issues. So for the most part, women’s voices aren’t heard in policies relating to gender and climate change, but they can be very much affected by issues such as flooding, draught, and increased temperature, less access to water. And their voices and their experiences aren’t well understood enough to be incorporated into the climate change debates.


CSM: Why do you think it is important for feminists (and/or feminist philosophers) to engage with the topic of climate change?


CS: Yes, I do think feminists should be engaged with the topic of climate change. I mean, similarly climate scientists aren’t engaged with gender and climate change, but many feminists aren’t particularly paying attention to climate change issues. And I think that some of these issues are going to be crucially important for the lives that women lead, for theories about feminist theory, and that we really need to pay more attention to these environmental issues. I’ve been struck for a long time how, in many other countries, not in the U.S., but in Europe and also in many developing countries such as India and South Africa, feminists there are very attuned to these issues. But in the U.S., there hasn’t been as much attention to gender and climate change by mainstream feminist organizations, so we’re really hoping through the work that we do and through the interest of new, young scholars that there’s going to be a growing interest in this area.


CSM: How does your work—academic, policy-based, or activism—address the issues raised by climate change (within an interdisciplinary discussion)?


CS: Most of my work has focused on women and agriculture, and I’ve done a lot of research and also development projects in many regions of the world, including the U.S., but also in different southern African countries and in South Asia and a bit in Latin America, always focusing on improving the ability of women farmers to increase their production and deal with food security issues in their households and in their communities. And one of the things that I’ve been particularly concerned about over the years is, with climate change, what we see is women’s ability to produce food for their families and to secure food security for their communities is likely to be compromised. So more recently I’ve gotten involved in several projects looking at gender and climate change and worked with the Food and Agricultural Organization of the U.N. to do a model study of how climate change issues were affecting women and had gender implications in Andhra Pradesh in India. And so we did a study that included surveys, interviews, participant observation, use of meteorological data to try to set up a template for how to look at, within agricultural communities around the world, gender issues are related to climate change and agriculture.


Yeah, one of the things I’ve seen also working with women farmers in the U.S…. it’s now a very empowering move where women are stepping up to be farmers. And one of the things that we’ve found in all of our recent work is that women farmers are particularly interested in sustainable agriculture and trying to improve the environmental quality of the environment and food issues. So at a time where some of their production is going to be threatened by climate change, what we see is a lot of their work that they’re doing is very much based in sustainable agricultural practices, which have been shown to be more resilient in the face of climate change.


CSM: What steps should be taken to address the issues raised by gender and climate change, immediately or long term?


CS: The first thing that I believe is that more scholars and also more activists and more feminists need to take climate change as the front and center issue of what we’re working on. This is going to have huge impacts on every aspect of their lives. I’m particularly interested in agriculture and environmental issues, but it doesn’t matter what you’re interested in, this is going to impact so many people’s lives throughout the world for years to come. Feminist voices need to be a part of this, and I think there’s a great deal of research that needs to be done. There hasn’t been very much research, it’s just starting out, and one of the things that we see in our research is the importance of looking at intersectionality issues in terms of race, class, gender, ethnicity related to climate change issues. So that’s certainly a major thing that needs to be done. Also, there has been some work of policy making at the international level, at the U.N. level, of having feminist voices be part of the policy debate, but, frankly, they’ve been pretty much at the margin. So I think that feminists need to take this as a more serious issue, but that the climate change scientists and policy makers also need to incorporate gender issues more centrally in climate change efforts.

Transcribed by Bailey LePage.