Tackling climate change will require local, national and international action

At Durban, leaders must show they understand the scale of the climate change emergency.

As delegates continue their discussions in Durban for the 17th Climate Change Conference they do so in the knowledge that this represents the last chance for developed nations to sign up to a second term of the Kyoto Protocol, which specifies legal limits for their carbon dioxide emissions, before it expires at the end of next year.

Recently I had the opportunity to join Oxfam to see for myself their REE CALL Livelihood interventions in the Satkhira District, Bangladesh. Whilst I was there I met with a number of women's groups who had come together to look at reducing the risks associated with climate change and increasing local risk awareness. They wanted to take more control and responsibility for their futures and had joined together to establish their local climate risks, priorities and to write a plan for local action. These community groups, formed to confront one specific issue, have started to branch out to look at other challenges they face.

Those women lived under constant threat from rising waters and devastating cyclones, and yet their hope and optimism was inspirational. It was heartening to see that at the same time as the Bangladeshi Prime Minister was hosting a vulnerable countries forum with the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon to start addressing the challenge of climate change, local groups were organising to protect their communities and to build a better future for themselves and their children.

At the same time in the UK, Caroline Flint was launching the Labour Party's Climate Change Pledge which called on David Cameron to start showing international leadership on this issue. This means:

  • Seizing the opportunity to build a low carbon economy;
  • Pushing for a second period of the Kyoto protocol and working towards a global deal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions;
  • Delivering on climate finance.

It is this kind of action at a local, national and international level which is needed if the world is to meet the challenge of climate change.

Durban presents the UK and international community with yet another chance to show they understand the scale of the climate change emergency. Political leaders owe it to the women I met in Bangladesh and millions of others around the world to take bold and decisive action.

I travelled to Bangladesh with the GAVI Alliance for World Pneumonia Day, which is a day organised to highlight that pneumonia remains the world's leading killer of children under 5 and is largely preventable through vaccines. The GAVI Alliance is a public private global health organisation that helps to provide these vaccines to some of the world's poorest people. Earlier this year, the UK Government pledged an additional GBP 814 million to support GAVI, which has helped immunise 288 million children and saved an estimated five million lives since 2000. The organisation is looking to immunise more than 250 million children from 2011-2015 and save over 4 million additional lives.

I was delighted to be able to see the fantastic work GAVI are carrying out on the ground and you can see my World Pneumonia Day report from the field here.

Ivan Lewis is the shadow secretary of state for international development

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Just face it, being a parent will never be cool

Traditional parenting terms are being rejected in favour of trendier versions, but it doesn't change the grunt-like nature of the work.

My children call me various things. Mummy. Mum. Poo-Head. One thing they have never called me is mama. This is only to be expected, for I am not cool.

Last year Elisa Strauss reported on the rise of white, middle-class mothers in the US using the term “mama” as “an identity marker, a phrase of distinction, and a way to label the self and designate the group.” Mamas aren’t like mummies or mums (or indeed poo-heads). They’re hip. They’re modern. They’re out there “widen[ing] the horizons of ‘mother,’ without giving up on a mother identity altogether.” And now it’s the turn of the dads.

According to the Daily Beast, the hipster fathers of Brooklyn are asking their children to refer to them as papa. According to one of those interviewed, Justin Underwood, the word “dad” is simply too “bland and drab”:

“There’s no excitement to it, and I feel like the word papa nowadays has so many meanings. We live in an age when fathers are more in touch with their feminine sides and are all right with playing dress-up and putting on makeup with their daughters.”

Underwood describes “dad” as antiquated, whereas “papa” is an “open-minded, liberal term, like dad with a twist” (but evidently not a twist so far that one might consider putting on makeup with one’s sons).

Each to their own, I suppose. Personally I always associate the word “papa” with “Smurf” or “Lazarou.” It does not sound particularly hip to me. Similarly “mama” is a word I cannot hear without thinking of “Bohemian Rhapsody”, hence never without a follow-up “ooo-oo-oo-ooh!” Then again, as a mummy I probably have no idea what I am talking about. If other people think these words are trendy, no doubt they are.

Nonetheless, I am dubious about the potential of such words to transform parenting relationships and identities. In 1975’s Of Woman Born, Adrienne Rich describes how she used to look at her own mother and think “I too shall marry, have children – but not like her. I shall find a way of doing it all differently.” It is, I think, a common sentiment. Rejecting mummy or daddy as an identity, if not as an individual, can feel much the same as rejecting the politics that surrounds gender and parenting. The papas interviewed by The Daily Beast are self-styled feminists, whose hands-on parenting style they wish to differentiate from that of their own fathers. But does a change of title really do that? And even if it does, isn’t this a rather individualistic approach to social change?

There is a part of me that can’t help wondering whether the growing popularity of mama and papa amongst privileged social groups reflects a current preference for changing titles rather than social realities, especially as far as gendered labour is concerned. When I’m changing a nappy, it doesn’t matter at all whether I’m known as Mummy, Mama or God Almighty. I’m still up to my elbows in shit (yes, my baby son is that prolific).

The desire to be known as Papa or Mama lays bare the delusions of new parents. It doesn’t even matter if these titles are cool now. They won’t be soon enough because they’ll be associated with people who do parenting. Because like it or not, parenting is not an identity. It is not something you are, but a position you occupy and a job you do.

I once considered not being called mummy. My partner and I did, briefly, look at the “just get your children to call you by your actual name” approach. On paper it seemed to make sense. If to my sons I am Victoria rather than mummy, then surely they’ll see me as an individual, right? Ha. In practice it felt cold, as though I was trying to set some kind of arbitrary distance between us. And perhaps, as far as my sons are concerned, I shouldn’t be just another person. It is my fault they came into this vale of tears. I owe them, if not anyone else, some degree of non-personhood, a willingness to do things for them that I would not do for others. What I am to them – mummy, mum, mama, whatever one calls it – is not a thing that can be rebranded. It will never be cool because the grunt work of caring never is.

It is not that I do not think we need to change the way in which we parent, but this cannot be achieved by hipster trendsetting alone. Changing how we parent involves changing our most fundamental assumptions about what care work is and how we value the people who do it. And this is change that needs to include all people, even those who go by the old-fashioned titles of mum and dad.

Ultimately, any attempt to remarket parenting as a cool identity smacks of that desperate craving for reinvention that having children instils in a person. The moment you have children you have bumped yourself up the generational ladder. You are no longer the end of your family line. You are – god forbid – at risk of turning into your own parents, the ones who fuck you up, no matter what they do. But you, too, will fuck them up, regardless of whether you do it under the name of daddy, dad or papa. Accept it. Move on (also, you are mortal. Get over it).

Parenting will never be cool. Indeed, humanity will never be cool. We’re all going to get older, more decrepit, closer to death. This is true regardless of whether you do or don’t have kids – but if you do you will always have younger people on hand to remind you of this miserable fact.

Your children might, if you are lucky, grow to respect you, but as far as they are concerned you are the past.  No amount of rebranding is going to solve that. This doesn’t mean we can’t change the way we parent. But as with so much else where gender is concerned, it’s a matter for boring old deeds, not fashionable words.

 

 

 

Glosswitch is a feminist mother of three who works in publishing.