Laudato Si' Research Institute wraps up first major conference on women, solidarity, and ecology

June 9, 2021

Gender, feminist eco-theology, doughnut economics, the risks of techno-optimism, and the importance of diversity within solidarity were just some of the areas discussed at the Women, Solidarity, and Ecology virtual conference last week, the first major international conference hosted by the Laudato Si’ Research Institute at Campion Hall, University of Oxford.

As the name suggests, the conference aimed to explore the disproportionate impact of environmental degradation on women, focusing on environmental and gender injustice such as that arising from mining and other forms of extractivism.

Made possible by the virtuality of the conference, attendees from all corners of the globe tuned in to the three-day conference. During the insightful discussions, a distinguished line-up of speakers, panellists, and respondents from diverse backgrounds and disciplines shared their expertise on topics ranging from ecological economics to environmental psychology.

In resonance with the LSRI’s ethos of learning from the most marginalized groups, the conference opened with three case studies of environmental and gender injustice from Amazonia, Zambia, and Malaysia. Panel discussions based around different but interrelated themes of ecological degradation followed: Molly Scott Cato (Professor of Green Economics, Roehampton University) highlighted in the “Governance” panel the pivotal role played by women in climate policymaking; Katharina Beyerl (Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies, Germany) explained the psychology behind what was hindering the collective transformation to more sustainable lifestyles in the “Science” panel; and Christine Allen offered third-sector perspectives, speaking from her work as Director of Catholic International Development Charity (CAFOD) in the “Practice” panel.

One common thread that emerged from these discussions is the recognition that existing structures of economics, mining, energy production, and even green energy production, are failing the majority of vulnerable populations across the globe. The case study of charcoal burning from Zambia was a clear reminder that moving away from traditional energy sources for the sake of the environment must go hand in hand with support for those in poverty. It is meaningless to preach environmentalism without tackling the underlying issues of poverty and deprivation. Celia Deane-Drummond said in her concluding remarks:

“How might a genuine ecological conversion take place in way that is positively inclusive of gender questions and in solidarity with the overall health of the earth? It is clear from our discussions so far that such transformation needs to be at all levels- individual, community, structural including particularly that related to issues of governance and political.”

While the Laudato Si’ Research Institute may not be able to drive such a transformation on its own, this conference is a first step and one of many initiatives the Institute is engaged in as part of its wider mission to facilitate transdisciplinary research, inclusive of religious traditions, that offers new creative insights to support those invested in socio-ecological change for the flourishing of our common home.

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