Gendered dynamics of environmental crime

A contribution by Lieselot Bisschop
Dynamics of Inclusive Prosperity
two chairs in front of a wall, the word feminism written on the wall

On Wednesday 21 September 2022, the seminar “Environmental Crime & Gender” took place in Malaga, Spain. This one-day event explored the varied intersections of environmental crime and gender with the aim of sharing knowledge with the criminological community and inspiring new research and collaborations. Since 2012, green criminologists from around the world have been organising this (bi)yearly seminar that focuses on different aspects of environmental crime, with the aim of pushing green criminological scholarship further by bridging (sub)disciplinary boundaries, but also by bringing together junior and senior scholars as well as practitioners to learn from each other.

Green criminology has advanced our understanding of many aspects of the nature of and responses to environmental harm and crime. Although the discipline is well positioned to do so, minimal attention has been devoted to the critical examination of gendered roles in these activities. Limited consideration has been given to women as offenders, victims, and protectors of environmental crimes. Green criminology can draw upon established and theoretically robust understanding of both male and female offending and victimisation. Ecofeminism and feminist methodologies offer critical insights into researching and understanding green crimes. Critical and feminist influences in green criminology have provided a gendered lens in crafting solutions to environmental harms. Combining these different approaches will allow us to fill in the gap and shed light on the different roles women play in environmental crime.

Jennifer Maher (University of South Wales) introduced the day by drawing our attention to the gender dynamics of environmental crime and how a gender-focused lens can provide greater insight into the nature of and responses to environmental harms. She noted the intersections were diverse and inconsistencies glaring: from the dominant focus on the role of men as persecutors of environmental harm and protectors of the environment in policy making and law enforcement to the absence of enquiry into the multifaceted roles of women offenders and guardians; from the influence of masculinities in environmental victimisation and in exacerbating the victimisation of women and girls to the contributions of feminism in understanding animal abuse and ecofeminism in responding to environmental harms, from the few (but significant) women in formal and powerful roles in responding to environmental crime to the many women exercising soft power in NGOs. Monica Pons Hernandez and Esteban Morelle Hungria then highlighted the growth of green criminology in Spain, in particular the development of a Green Criminology Society, and cautioned the use of a holistic approach to addressing environmental harms.

In the first keynote of the day, Helen Agu (University of Nigeria) shared how the twin crises of climate change and forced migration in Nigeria are not currently addressed as an issue of inequality between men/boys and women/girls. Between 2016 and 2021 about six million Nigerians had been exposed to climate change hazards, often resulting in migration. Recognised as one of the ten most susceptible countries to climate change, by 2050, related hazards are expected to force over nine million people to move. Men/boys and women/girls experience climate induced migration differently, utilising different adaption strategies. Men/boys suffer from interrupted education, child labour, dangerous work, damaged health, loss of livelihood, substandard living conditions and disrupted social lives. Women/girls suffer furthermore from increased violence, transactional sex (e.g. for fish), child marriages and limited access to energy and water. These gendered harms are fuelled by broader societal dimensions of the patriarchy, which results in women/girls turning to risky jobs and gender discrimination and bias, including denied access to basic societal rights such as land ownership. Helen also shared the Nigerian policy initiatives aimed to address issues of climate change (e.g. the 2021 Climate Change Act), noting, however, that key developments in gender issues are predominantly addressed by grass roots organisations, led by women.

Panel 1, on wildlife crime and gender, commenced with a study on illegal and unregulated fishing [IUF] in Portuguese fishing communities near biodiverse rich protected marine areas. Rita Faria (University of Porto) highlighted how the traditional gender roles evident in these communities were reflected in IUF offences, with men/boys being both the key offenders and enforcers, and offending linked to hegemonic masculinities. Findings from over a decade of research in Norway by Ragnhild Sollund (University of Oslo), likewise, identified the dominant role of male offenders and masculinities in both wildlife crimes and trafficking. Expressing masculinity involved hunting, owning, and showing ‘dangerous’ animals. While the role of women was less clear, this could be related to gendered aspects of criminalisation. In sharing stories of Liviu, Ioan and Tomescu who he encountered during his field work, George Iordachescu (University of Sheffield) explored gender-based violence in timber trafficking and how this is inextricably connected to broader societal developments - such as militarization, securitization, and the regulation of informal timber practices. While most victims are men, often performing very traditional gender roles, whole families can become victims of retaliation and suffer in a climate of fear, threats, and criminalisation.

Short ignite presentations, enjoyed over lunchtime, highlighted the increased importance of recognising how environmental harms add fuel to existing factors in gendered violence, and integrating gender into environmental crime responses. Anne Linn Jensen and representatives from the UN Container Control Programme Women’s Network explained their role and success in addressing the underrepresentation of women in these enforcement and leadership roles. While Rob White argued that “men, as such, are not the enemy – patriarchal capitalism is” – recognising the significance of men, politically and in front line services, in responding to environmental harms. Exploring the impact of patriarchal capitalism further, Janine Janssen (Dutch National Expertise Centre for Honour-related Violence of the Dutch Police; Open University; Avans Hogeschool) and Delon Omrow (Centennial College) discussed how the domination and oppression of land and women’s bodies (and related gendered harms and violence) are paralleled.

Panel 2, the academic-practitioner conversation on gender-based violence and the environment, involved speakers Joni Seager (Bentley University) and Laura Sabater (IUCN Gender Programme Officer). Joni Seager focused on the embeddedness of gendered-based violence in the fossil-fuel industry and economy as one of the pre-eminent drivers of global wealth. She argued that many of the arguments opposing – or slowing – green energy transition are gendered. The culture of fossil fuels is masculinized: from the hyper masculine interpersonal exchanges in everyday fossil fuel extraction over the advertisement campaigns to the board rooms. Laura Sabater followed by discussing the work of IUCN on gender-based violence and the environment, working closely with environmental defenders around the world. The key questions she addressed are what gender-based violence looks like across different environmental sectors and in different environmental contexts, and the connection between gender-based violence and gender-balance in societies. Specific attention was given to the disproportionate harms faced by indigenous communities and environmental defenders. The importance of systematic data collection on violence against women was stressed, in order to design and implement appropriate responses. Moreover, by supporting community centres to function as advocates for victims of gender-based violence it will help future generations to influence policy programming.

In Panel 3, gendered and environmental violence, Steven Burell (Durham University) pointed to the many overlaps between environmental harm and different forms of interpersonal violence and abuse, which men and masculinities disproportionately contribute to. He argued that lessons from violence prevention work can be applied to environmental harm prevention among men/boys. These studies emphasised the importance of fostering more caring relationships with the environment and employing gender-transformative approaches, such as, just transitions in forming identities, challenging negative gender norms, accepting vulnerabilities, and fostering dialogue to address the root causes of violence and abuse. Marilena Drymioti (Erasmus University Rotterdam) proposed the use of structural violence studies as a tool for responding to gender and environmental harms. By acknowledging that both environmental and gendered violence are necessary to sustain dominant structures, the structural violence imposed onto both female bodies and the land itself becomes evident. She argues the need to challenge structural violence justifications, such as, the associated harms are an ‘acceptable risk’, ‘collateral damage’ or a ‘necessary sacrifice’.

Sally Simpson (University of Maryland), the second keynote, brought together literature from various disciplines – green criminology, corporate and white-collar crime, feminist criminology, gender studies, management and diversity studies – and data from over 3,000 companies to analyse the influence of gender on corporate environmental offending. Starting from the fact that females commit far fewer and far less serious crimes than males, she identified that women leaders in corporations (on Boards of Directors and Executive Management Teams) appear to reduce the harms associated with environmental offending. Firms tended to elevate women leaders during times of environmental, rather than financial, crisis. This positive influence may be even more powerful in the global south.

Daan van Uhm (Utrecht University) wrapped-up the day by highlighting several important insights as well as implications for future research, including: ensuring research on environmental crime and gender avoids reconfirming gender stereotypes and addresses the diversity of victims and harms for all genders, including non-human animals as both directly and indirectly affected victims; expanding mixed-method data collection to address concerns where gender and environmental harm intersect; adopting a gender transformative approach to environmental crime and recognising the mutual benefits of a caring relationships with nature by embracing eco-pedagogy in preventative responses. The event also highlighted the critical role green criminology must play in filling the knowledge gaps and supporting further research, policy and interventions which truly integrate gender. Importantly, the conference demonstrated what can be achieved when this is done successfully.

This year’s organizers were Jenny Maher (University of South Wales, UK), Daan van Uhm (Utrecht University), Tanya Wyatt (Northumbria University, UK), Fatima Perez (University of Malaga, Spain) and Lieselot Bisschop (Erasmus University Rotterdam, the Netherlands).

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