I’m still not sure if it really happened or if I was all just a dream. A very, very good LONG dream. . . Did I really take the stage at a TED conference? Did I really give a talk about ecofeminism that inspired several of my friends, new friends and over 1,000 audience members?
“What is ecofeminism? Well, that depends on who you ask. I just learned about it last week.”
The lights are so bright I can’t make out any faces in the audience. For all I know, they were all planning on sleeping through it. But then, the unmistakable sound of laughter. A sign of success. So I proceed. I don’t really hear the words coming out of my own mouth because the whole thing feels so surreal.
They were a patient audience as I quickly maneuvered them through a topic that was so vast, the 8 minutes I had were barely enough to explore one facet of it. They allowed me to make them laugh, gasp, and think really hard. My talk was delivered in two languages, English and Korean. I wonder what I sounded like in Korean? When I finished, no one stood but me; but the crowd’s round of applause was one full of approval and respect.
I had arrived.
It’s true, I spoke at the TEDxItaewon conference yesterday. The theme was Nature+ and I was one of two participants selected for the TEDxYou stage. We both were picked from a pool of 79 applicants. My topic was on ‘ecofeminism’ and I would like to share my essay with you here. Once a video is posted, I will be sure to update it here as well. Yeah, that’s right. Video. Which will be on the same website as Al Gore. Eeeee eee eeee
Anyeonghasseo, Jessica imnida. [bow]
That’s all my Korean. . . [hahaha]
Before I came to Korea I don’t think I would have ever considered myself a feminist. To be quite honest, it was a dirty word in my mind’s eye that provoked images I just couldn’t relate to.
Their messages were always too extreme for me to understand. Then again, I grew up in a place where a standard set of women’s rights was already present. Luckily, my grandmothers before me made it possible to perform everyday activities like drive, vote, speak my mind.
It wasn’t until I came to Korea where I felt this habit of free thinking and independence were less acceptable. Women here are objectified much more explicitly in advertisements on billboards and busses.
And of course, I’ll never forget my amazement the first night I went out and realized the streets were lined with business cards like these.
This past March, I was fortunate enough to earn employment in the coveted role as a professor at a women’s university. For most English teachers in Korea, this is the mecca. No more germs, dealing with temper tantrums, or being attacked at the knees.
Instead, my students would now be a wonderful group of young women who were 19-21 years old.
I made it a point to never treat them like or ever call them ‘girls’. They are women. In a society that still panders to men and a culture that has not yet seen a sexual evolution, I felt it was my job to empower them, not just in English but in life. That’s when I realized what feminism was really about: empowering women to lead happy, safe and productive lives full of possibility.
Although I didn’t consider myself a feminist before coming to Korea, I was definitely an environmentalist- or as my boyfriend calls me, a hippie. To be fair, he usually calls me that when I am frantically running around the apartment turning off lights and unplugging unused appliances or scolding him for using too many paper napkins at the dinner table.
About 5 years ago, I gave up my car opting to use public transportation as my first major step in becoming more environmentally conscious. One of the reasons I was excited by the prospect of living in Korea was the Seoul metro and bus system.
As much as I grumble from time to time for the lack of seating or the crowded standing commute, it’s really amazing to me that it has the ability to take you from the airport into the heart of the city in under 2 hours for no more than $2. This is something that should inspire ANY city planner and makes any hippie, like me, swoon.
It wasn’t until recently that I discovered the concept of eco-feminism. When I told one of my male co-workers that I would speaking about it at this conference he asked me, “What is eco-feminism anyway? Does that mean we just save the female polar bears?”
Upon first glance, feminism and environmentalism seem like two entirely different ideologies; but, as I discovered, they are mutually reinforcing.
While the threat of climate change has been recognized as a global priority issue, the truth is that this threat is not gender-neutral. Climate change disproportionately affects women.
You may have heard of The Birkenhead Drill protocol, better known as:
“Women and children first.”
Sounds nice; but in a recent study by Swedish economists it is more like: “Women and children are the first to die.”
Two researchers in Stockholm looked at 18 different shipwrecks and found hardly any evidence of men insisting women and children go first.
The numbers revealed that women made it to shore an abysmal 27 percent of the time only slightly more successful than the tragic 15 percent of children.
Just like in a shipwreck, when it comes to harsh weather conditions, women are the most vulnerable.
Drought is not typically viewed as a possible cause for rape unless you are a woman living in Darfur.
In Darfur, it women’s responsibility to gather water for their families.
As I’m sure you are aware, drought and water shortages are now part of everyday life in this region. It is speculated that these droughts are most likely caused by, what else, climate change. These droughts mean women must travel farther to find water and in doing so put themselves at a higher risk of violence, such as rape. It was reported in a book about Sexual Violence in Darfur that 82 percent of almost 500 women treated for rape were attacked while performing daily activities such as gathering water. The fact that 500 women were raped is astounding, to comprehend that 82 out of 100 women were raped while they were simply trying to stay hydrated is sickening.
Women are no safer in other types of natural disasters. Imagine being a muslim woman who is prohibited from leaving her home without a male escort.
Without a man at home, you are forced to stay in your house during a mudslide. The house structure is weak and may collapse; but you can’t leave and risk being seen in public alone. This very scenario played out recently in China.
In the past few weeks, the country has faced major rainstorms including the heaviest downpour in Beijing in 60 years.
As a result of the storms,mudslides in the northwestern city of Xinjiang [shin-jahn] killed at least 16 people. The city is home to Uighurs [wee-guhz], a mainly muslim ethnic minority in China. Most of the victims of the accident were mine workers; however half of the residents killed were women pulled out from under collapsed houses.
So I ask you again, what does eco-feminism mean?
Ecofeminism can mean different things to different people. Today, it is a term that I hope enlightens and motivates you. If you were already an environmentalist, be challenged to be a better feminist. If you were already a feminist, be challenged to be a better environmentalist. Realize that our real work in lowering the risks for women around the world is not just increasing equality between men and women; but it is also ensuring we don’t make their situation worse by allowing climate change to put them at higher risks.