Misogynoir and Climate Change: How Disaster Relief Fails Black Women
| By Bani Amor
When we compound the realities of women’s disproportionate risks during disasters and Black people’s disproportionate environmental challenges, we can see how misogynoir functions in times of eco-crises.
As ecosocial disasters brought about by climate change and discriminatory planning occur at an accelerated rate, targeting the most marginalized among us, the institutions charged with supplying aid to those in need still tend to ignore how multiple oppressions work to keep the most vulnerable—especially Black women—the least attended to. While the biggest players in the disaster relief field usually follow an apolitical script in their work, some groups provide data and follow through on how ecosocial disasters disproportionately affect women. Few of them mention race. And none, that I could find, focus on the specific burdens and needs of Black women during these times.
Ignoring how the power dynamics of institutionalized oppression work to keep those at the bottom of the hierarchy lacking in access to their day-to-day needs is a violence; doing so during an environmental crisis is a form of massacre. When queer Black feminist scholar Dr. Moya Bailey coined the term “misogynoir” a few years ago, she did so in the context of Black women’s depictions in American pop culture.
But the term has expanded to apply to the many layers of anti-Blackness and misogyny that Black women face throughout the world in all contexts. Particularly in the Global South and the “third worlds” that exist within our so-called “first world,” Black women are the folks most affected by the intersections of climate change and disaster capitalism. As sea levels rise and the chasm in global inequality rapidly broadens, we who are not Black women, who depend on them for so much as a society, continue to fail them so blatantly.
I have learned...to greet enemies disguised as friends and new neighbors I never wanted.
When we compound the realities of women’s disproportionate risks during disasters and Black people’s disproportionate environmental challenges, we can see how misogynoir functions in times of eco-crises. It’s not hard to figure out why disaster relief and development groups fail to address the needs of Black women in the aftermath of unnatural disasters: They rarely acknowledge race, and most who work in the field are white Westerners. Women and trans people are more exposed to sex- and gender-based violence (SGBV) during and after these disasters, but the issue is treated as an afterthought, if it’s considered at all. While some data is available on how violence against women spikes during conflicts and disasters in high-income countries, the same research is not compiled in developing countries, which tend to suffer greater losses due to climate change.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies states that “those responding to disasters are not aware that GBV may increase in disasters, and are neither looking nor preparing for it. Lack of data on the prevalence of GBV during disasters contributes to this lack of awareness.”
Much as liberals and conservatives alike whine about people like Bailey inventing new terms, it is in naming these silenced violences that they can then be addressed. And if breaking silences is at the heart of the work of ending violence against women, then we can’t afford to pretend that Black women aren’t a part of that equation. After all, misogynoir is a participatory project.
It is the overwhelming savior-coated whiteness (or, rather, non-Blackness) and male dominance in relief work that erases how anti-Blackness and misogyny function together in the aftermath of disasters. Former international development worker France Francois explained to me how this gaze affects relief work, saying, “When people speak about gender in development, it is never broken down into racial or ethnic groups to deal with barriers specific to them, since most people working in development are white Westerners; they assume that being a woman is the only or greatest challenge one can face.” Francois contends that in her five years of working in a prominent development agency doing relief work in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, no research was conducted on the needs of Black women. “Even when gender was part of the analysis, it was often looked at through a Western lens that brought cookie-cutter solutions to complex gender dynamics, rendering the Haitian women themselves as silent observers in their own quest for equality.”
You must know, it is for your divinity that you are persecuted. For your power, are you eschewed.
This article is one in a four-part series on climate change.