Consent Between Communities and Consent Between People
Tomorrow is December 6th, the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women in commemoration of the Polytechnique Massacre where 14 women were killed due to their gender. Today is December 5th, a day that gender-based and sexual violence is committed against real people. Yesterday was December 4th, and people experienced sexual violence then too, because every day this is an issue.
I am writing from the UN negotiations on climate change – a real issue with real implications for real communities. However, that issue is integrally linked with seemingly separate parts of people’s lives and experiences. At UN climate negotiations gender-based violence is extremely relevant. In every space and every community gender-based and sexual violence are extremely relevant. A woman’s experience is never less important than the “real work” going on. Until we are willing to address all of these issues with care, dedication, and humility, none of them will be solved.
Climate change is an issue that is mostly caused from excessive resource extraction, generally in areas inhabited by Indigenous, racialised, or low income people. Not only that, communities often do not consent to development that causes climate change which is often forced upon them by a small group of people who use their power to profit off the destruction. Not only is extraction and development going on without consent, the people most affected by climate change are not the same people who are causing it and it is not their fault.
The root social causes of human-induced climate change are abuses of power and lack of consent from those most affected. Therefore, when we are working on environmental issues, issues of consent and abusing power, which are at the heart of gender-based and sexual violence as well, are “real” issues. As long as anyone feels unsafe, violated, hurt, distracted, abused, or empty, we can’t create the so-called just and sustainable world we strive to. Someone cannot be doing “great work” for the climate movement while they are abusing power and ignoring consent in their personal relations.
Just as consent is important between people, it is important between communities. This needs to be talked about, and this is why I flew half way around the world to the climate talks; but just as importantly, gender-based and sexual violence happen and need to be talked about – not only after an incident has been reported. In every way, consent is sexy. Otherwise, what is the point of this future we are fighting for anyways?
To anyone out there who has survived anything – your experience is real, it is not your fault, and there is no “real work” that can trump that.