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Will a feminist fossil-fuel-free future lead us to sustainable development? By Shobha Shukla

The inter-governmental meeting of the High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) on sustainable development is being held during 10-19 July 2017, to review the progress made by nations around some of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which governments have already committed to achieve by 2030. As we all know, climate justice is integral to sustainable development, yet we see governments pursuing development models that are actually pushing us backwards not only on climate justice but also on sustainable development.

Shobha Shukla, Managing Editor of CNS (Citizen News Service), was recently in conversation with Kate Lappin, the firebrand Regional Coordinator of Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD), an organisation which is empowering women to use law as an instrument of change and promoting women's rights in the Asia-Pacific region.

Here are some excerpts from the interview.

CNS: How to accelerate progress towards achieving SDGs?

Kate Lappin: "We see a lack of commitment from governments to redress the system and genuinely shift to a sustainable development model. While countries have initiated processes to achieve SDGs, most of them really do not want to do anything that challenges their existing economic model that underpins development. In the briefs that governments submitted for HLPF, none of them are looking at Goal10 related to reducing inequality within and between countries. So any work done on sustainable development still benefits a tiny minority. For example, in order to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 7 (Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all) even if nations are shifting from coal energy to more renewable forms of energy, they are still doing it in a way that provides the ‘profits of energy and access to energy’ to only corporations and does not address sustainable development aspects of inequality as well as the environment.

We are looking for a more concrete commitment to address the systems that are driving an unequal and unsustainable development. For example, the RCEP (Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership) in the Asia-Pacific region is a barrier to development justice. Then again, the fuelling of militarism, authoritarianism and patriarchal governance is a clear threat to sustainable development.

[US President] Trump’s example of pulling out of the Paris agreement is aimed at watering down global agreements by fuelling individualism and conflicts, rather than solidarity. So right now, we have a very weak global system that is designed to care for corporations alone."

CNS: Why democratically elected governments function like fundamentalist and capitalist forces whose policies harm those very people who elected them?

Kate Lappin: "We have to get to the heart of what is driving some of these authoritarian elected governments. One reason is the failure to provide an alternative. In the absence of any other alternative, they have capitalised on the sense of injustice that people have, and told them that the alternative is to hate other people. They have got elected through instilling hate and fear in the people. Trump capitalised on working people’s distrust of globalisation, and used that plank to get elected. Yet, he is now actually fuelling globalisation. In India people felt that there was no genuine alternative party for the people. [Indian PM] Modi, I think, has capitalised on people’s feeling of injustice, by directing those feelings towards other countries and/or minorities within the country. Both of them fear that men might be losing power to women; both believe in regaining power through patriarchy and through the use of threats and violence towards other people. They are fomenting hatred by trying to convince people that they (people) are losing power to other countries due to globalisation, or to other religions (such as the Hindutva plank).

Theirs is the patriarchal model. We as progressive movements need to show that there is another alternative. We can genuinely have elected people who are not there for their families' interests, or their personal capital interests, but for a new system that is going to be redistributive and just. I already see a readiness and willingness for genuinely alternative systems and genuine alternative shared leadership. What people want in their leaders is a genuine sense of responsibility and accountability towards the people."

CNS: Please share more on why a feminist fossil-fuel-free future gives hope?

Kate Lappin: "The whole idea of a feminist fossil-fuel-free future is to say that we need feminist democracies. That does not mean putting the current development model in the hands of women. It means having a different kind of democracy that is based on shared systems. Feminism is about solidarity. The opposite of patriarchy is not matriarchy but solidarity. Patriarchy is about using power and violence against other people in order to gain power. The opposite of that is feminism - using care and solidarity to change systems and share/ redistribute power. The current flawed system is forcing people to think that there could be changes for the better. For example, governments are now becoming concerned that citizens will take action against dangers of fossil fuel industry, because they can see its impact on their health.

But, if we are going for energy transformation (and renewable energy is a wonderful opportunity to do that), we need to transition towards energy democracies and not just energy monopolies. We will have to do away with centralised and extractive capital investments. One can have a dispersed way of managing energy where communities can take control of their own energy and own it. That is one exciting area for feminists, because that can be achieved through decisions made by women. We normally have a very male dominated and controlled energy industry. So a feminist fossil-fuel-free future is also about energy democracy."

CNS: Please share some moments that make you proud?

Kate Lappin: "We should be proud of this very moment because, as a global feminist movement, we have forced the narrative to change. We have succeeded in drawing global attention towards the harms of trade agreements. The Trans Pacific Partnership had to be abandoned. It is indeed a failure of our political systems, that instead of the governments, it was the people’s movements that did it.

In case of the climate justice, we have brought a feminist perspective to mobilise more grassroots women around the climate and environment sustainable development movement. In Nepal we have been able to successfully support the growth of grassroots movements of women of most marginalised communities, who had never engaged with the government before, to talk about the impact of climate on them. That for me is a very proud achievement. We were able to support a minority group in Bangladesh, who had been born and living in makeshift refugee slums for decades, to create their own movement and show that they too have a voice. There have been many other similar wins.

On the bigger level of changing discourse, I think that not only starting a discourse but also creating movements around development and redistributive justice is something to be proud of. We were able to bring to the UN a whole movement of over 400 organisations (who were behind this regional alliance), and made the member States talk about redistributive justice. That is a significant achievement.

This year at 61st UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW61) we eventually managed to (after having failed at the Paris and Marrakesh meets) successfully table a gender just and equitable transition for workers to low carbon economies-planned transitions of the workforce that address the sexual division of labour and think of fairer economies that are more gender equitable and sustainable for all people.

And that is at the heart of what we want. It is not just about small transitions of laid workers get re-employed in renewable energy. It is a bigger transition of the economy and politics, of social and legal systems, as well.

All these achievements help us to retain hope even in difficult times. The current political global scenario is not only a backlash by authoritarian governments, but also signifies that capitalism is failing. There is a dip in equality and a rise in authoritarianism and patriarchy. At the same time there is a recognition around the world that the present political and economic systems are failing. This presents huge opportunities to all of us to deliberate upon alternative systems and how to bring them into being. Now is the time to capture the challenges and opportunities that this moment brings and to make people take back the power from hands of people who are not accountable to them. Real changes happen only when you invest time and efforts into mobilising and organising people."

3rd Asia Pacific Feminist Forum (APFF 2017)

The upcoming 3rd Asia Pacific Feminist Forum (APFF 2017) to be held in Chiang Mai, Thailand, is being organized on the theme of "Mobilising in the era of authoritarian, patriarchal, late capitalism". APFF 2017 would hopefully provide a platform to mobilize stronger action within nations and regionally in Asia-Pacific, for dismantling economic, social and political systems that produce obscene levels of inequality and fuel violations of women’s human rights.

(Shobha Shukla is the Managing Editor of CNS (Citizen News Service) and has written extensively on health and gender justice over decades. Follow her on Twitter @Shobha1Shukla or visit CNS: www.citizen-news.org)