It is not possible to understand climate politics today without taking into consideration social mobilization and the activism of organized civil society, which has been advocating on the environmental question in its manifold of topics for decades (Bauriedl, 2015). Climate issues have grown out of a historically broader environmental agenda and, more recently, assumed a higher priority as the scientific data and prognostics have become even gloomier about the severity of the problem and the urgency for action. The discrepancy between the growth of this awareness of the problem and public acknowledgment of the challenge, as well as the timid and insufficient responses, has given rise to a renewed critical mass from the organized civil society politically engaging with the climate issues around the world. This includes the emergence of new actors, such as climate justice movements based on youth in Europe—Fridays for Future and Extinction Rebellions (Stuart et al., 2020)—who received attention from the media and have a presence in global policy venues. In the past few years, some ambitious projects for ecological transition and/or transformation grew out from organized actors with civil society in collaboration with scientists, and politicians, such as the Sunrise Movement and the Green New Deal in the USA, degrowth and environmental movements and the Green Party in Germany, and the Pacto Ecosocial del Sur in Latin American countries.

However, there is also a range of social actors from popular sectors, coming from the rural working class, and women, who have been mobilizing for decades and demanding social and environmental transformations with proposals that tackle the climate crisis as well—but who are not directly involved in climate politics arenas and not usually recognized in the societal and academic debates about climate change, climate crises, or climate justice. When the popular sectors, rural poor, and women do appear in climate debates, they are usually portrayed as objects or victims of climate events and policies (as those most affected by and vulnerable to extreme events) and thus as key receivers of adaptation strategies, or, at the most, as resilient actors, from which there is a lot to learn.

There is a growing body of research on gender and climate change, climate racism, climate change and class, or more broadly, on intersectional approaches to climate change or climate justice (Backhouse & Tittor, 2019; Bauriedl, 2015, 2016, 2021; Gonzalez, 2021; Hackfort & Burchart, 2013; Kaijser & Kronsell, 2014; Mikulewicz et al., 2023; Sultana, 2014, 2021). These all consider the multiple structural orderings (capitalism, racism, patriarchy) that generate climate crises, the unequal gendered effects of climate change, and the mainstreaming of a gender perspective to tackle asymmetries in the political representation in climate policy negotiations—but with limited results. While the literature on gender, intersectionality, and climate change acknowledges that gender justice has been articulated with climate justice in protests in the Global South and the Global North, there is a need to further empirical research about the social mobilization, the organized political agency, and the contribution of popular social movements, movements from the rural working class, and popular feminisms, to face the challenges associated with climate change and the ways out of the multiple crises (Venegas et al., 2021). Rarely are these recognized as agents of transformation in climate debates.

Such absences have been tackled politically in at least two forms. Within climate movements, awareness has been raised on issues of representation and the need to integrate voices from the Global South and subaltern groups to establish broad alliances. This has resulted in transformations and splits, such as the rise of climate justice discourses and movements (Bauriedl, 2015). The Fridays for Future protests have incorporated calls for an anti-colonial and intersectional feminist climate justice movement (Malik, 2019, p. 1; Bauriedl, 2021). At the same time, some popular movements themselves have not only incorporated climate issues in their broader struggles but also engaged directly in climate politics, contesting attempts to speak on their behalf. For instance, at the global level, the transnational grassroots alliance La Via Campesina and the indigenous peoples have incorporated climate issues in their broader agendas and engaged, directly or indirectly, with climate politics, as well as sought to influence the climate politics according to their political agendas (Claeys & Pugley, 2017; Bjork-James et al., 2022; Carmona et al., 2022a, b). Scholarly, the implications of climate change on rural worlds and the political responses from agrarian movements and the rural poor have recently become the focus of investigation within critical agrarian studies (Borras et al., 2022; Paredes & Kaulard, 2023). Often, the image of climate justice movements is that of young, middle-class, educated, and urban activists in the Global North—although there are also nuances showing a wider class composition (De Moor et al., 2021; della Porta & Portos, 2023; Wahlström et al., 2019). Yet, a growing body of literature has emphasized the active involvement of social actors from popular sectors in shaping climate politics (Bjork-James et al., 2022; Brink et al., 2023; Venegas et al., 2021; Paredes, 2022; Carmona et al., 2022a).

Drawing on our long-standing research with the Brazilian Marcha das Margaridas, we want to contribute to these new research endeavours. The Marcha das Margaridas, a national mobilization led by women’s organizations within rural unions, has brought between 20,000 and 100,000 women to Brasilia seven times since 2000. The Marcha was established by women leaders within the national rural union movement, which is a mixed gender movement. The organization of the Marcha in 2000 aimed at showing the strength of rural women workers, both externally (to society and the state) and internally (to the trade union movement of rural workers). For that, they needed collaborations and partnerships with other movements. It is, therefore, a mobilization organized in alliance between various social movements and organizations, particularly feminist, agrarian, unions, and environmental movements and organizations. Feminist organizations, such as the NGO Sempreviva Organização Feminista (SOF), were extremely important in building alliances between the Marcha das Margaridas and the transnational World March of Women.Footnote 1 A politics of alliance is a constitutive feature of the Marcha (Teixeira & Motta, 2022; Motta & Teixeira, 2021). The motto of the 2000 Marcha das Margaridas replicates that of the World March of Women: “2000 reasons to march: against hunger, poverty and sexist violence.” Since then, the World March of Women has become a key partner in the organizing committee.

When they come to Brasilia to march, they are protesting for their rights and presenting proposals for an alternative model of development, especially to the countryside—one that recognizes their work and dignity. To achieve this, the Margaridas have dedicated their efforts to a political agenda encompassing extensive transformations. These include, for instance, influencing state policies, promoting internal democracy, and enhancing women’s participation within trade unions, as well as advocating against sexist violence. Environmental issues have always been present in their struggles and demands, and, more recently, they have incorporated climate justice.

In our text, we will address the following questions: how are their diagnostics of, and proposals to, overcome the climate crisis embedded in their broader project of transformation? How does their political identity within class, gender, and rural categories of difference and inequality inform their positions to the climate crisis? We argue that debates about transition and transformation in the context of the climate crisis (and other associated crises) must consider some voices that have remained mostly unheard, such as those from agrarian movements and popular feminisms.

This article proceeds as follows. In the next section, we give a more detailed introduction to our case study, the Marcha das Margaridas; then, we explain our methods and data and disclose our positionality. Next, we review scholarly debates that situate climate crisis within a diagnostic of the multiple crises in the contemporary world and identify the role of social mobilization in addressing such challenges. We then present our analysis of the political agenda of the Marcha das Margaridas, relating it to multiple dimensions of crises and situate the climate debate as part of a broader project of transformation. We conclude with some reflections on the lessons learned from the Marcha das Margaridas to the climate debate and beyond.

The Marcha das Margaridas

The Marcha das Margaridas general coordination is the responsibility of the National Commission of Rural Women Workers, composed of the Women’s Secretariat of the National Confederation of Rural Workers and Family Farmers (Contag) and the Women’s Secretariats of the 27 state federations affiliated with the confederation. The Marcha also has an expanded coordination, which includes other organizations. In 2023, for example, 16 partner organizations made up Marcha’s organization.

In terms of the political subject, the protagonists of the Marcha das Margaridas are the women from the fields, the forests, and the waters, a category used to bring together the diversity of social subjects participating in the mobilization, such as family farmers, quilombolas, extractivists, and coconut breakers. Its main strength lies in the myriad of diversely situated perspectives among rural working women in Brazil and the transforming of its agenda to include them (Aguiar, 2015). The political subject mobilized by the Marcha das Margaridas is thus classed, gendered, and spatially situated in a relational social category that we have called the rural difference (Motta & Teixeira, 2021), namely, that of women working in the rural worlds, starting with rural working women, in the first mobilizations, to a diversification of political identities related to various socio-natures in rural worlds, such as women from the fields, the forests, and the waters. The expansion of the category hints at an underlying process of negotiating identities that correspond to diverse social realities across Brazil, including family farmers, fisherwomen from different regions, forest dwellers in the Amazon region, quilombolas, and indigenous women. Rurality is a key axis of intersectionality that constitutes their political identity (Motta & Teixeira, 2021). While ethnicity, race, and generation also appear in their narrative, they have not structured their discourse along these lines until recently. Since 2015, their agenda of demands has increasingly incorporated ethnic and racial demands, and particularly in the last edition, in 2023, an anti-racist discourse gained more visibility in the Marcha das Margaridas. Nevertheless, the dynamics of gender, race, class, ethnicity, and generational variances manifest in distinct ways when intertwined with the unique context of rural disparities.

Apart from the movements and organizations that joined this alliance, details about the grassroots participants in this mobilization are also of interest. In the last two national mobilizations, in 2019 and 2023, we conducted a protest survey to collect data on the socio-economic profile of the Marcha participants, how they prepared for the mobilization, and their political opinion about topics such as food and feminisms. In 2019, for example, the majority of participants were black women (72.3%),Footnote 2 Catholics (68.5%), and aged between 33 and 54 (51.0%); more than half of the participants had completed high school (27.1%) or completed or incomplete higher education (28.7%); they came from the Northeast of Brazil (39.2%)Footnote 3 and from rural areas (55.2%) and had a per capita income of up to R$500.00 (60.1%)Footnote 4 (Teixeira et al., 2021). The demographic data illustrates the common characteristics of the Marcha’s activists and aids in gaining a deeper understanding of their political agenda.

Although the first Marcha happened in 2000, the roots of this mobilization can be traced back to the history of women’s organizations and struggles within the rural union movement. Trade unionism in rural areas in Brazil was a late arrival compared to urban areas. While the legislation that created regulations for rural trade unionism dates back to 1962, this process in urban areas dates back to the 1930s. The state’s acknowledgment of trade unionism predominantly arose from the emergence of organizations dedicated to defending the working class’s interests, with substantial influence from sectors of the Catholic Church and leftist political parties. For numerous decades, rural unionism was characterized by the predominance of men, occupying positions of power or even membership, as regulations often permitted only one family member to register with the union. During that period, these positions were typically assigned to men. Key discussions within rural unionism included topics such as agrarian reform, policies for supporting agricultural production and distribution, social policies, and wages. Even during this era of male dominance, women were not entirely absent from the discourse on trade union politics. However, their participation often took place in peripheral or less visible roles, such as union secretaries, wives of union leaders, or as part of a union member’s family. The presence of these women is recorded in photos, documents, and memories. However, their presence was not recognized as political work.Footnote 5

Throughout the 1970s, and especially from the 1980s onwards, this scenario began to change in the wake of the process of organizing rural women workers. Since then, rural women workers have advocated, for instance, for the right to be enrolled in trade unions and to actively participate and assume positions of influence within the trade union movement. This encompasses participation in movement congresses, where the movement’s political agenda for each term is determined, as well as aspiring to leadership positions in the unions. To attain this objective, a strategy was employed to push for the implementation of a quota policy for participation in union leadership roles. This effort evolved over time, eventually transitioning into a successful campaign for a parity policy in 2013. The implementation plan for this policy spans from 2017 to 2025. The presence of women in positions of power in trade unionism has also changed the agenda of debates, including topics that were previously non-existent or had little space, such as the debate on gender relations, the sexual division of labor, sexuality, youth, agroecology, and environmental and climate issues. The inclusion of these women in the trade union movement reflects their decision to be part of what they term a mixed movement, comprising both men and women. Their commitment is directed towards advocating for the transformation of gender relations within this sphere. However, this was not always the choice of organized rural women workers. In many cases, they decided to create what they call specific movements or organizations, referring to movements dedicated exclusively to women’s struggles, as was the case with the Movement of Rural Women Workers of the Northeast (MMTR-NE), created in 1986, and the Articulation of Rural Women Workers of the Southern Region, in 1988 (Aguiar, 2016).

The mobilizing character of the Marcha is defined by the efforts to engage activists in organizing the event, participating in the street protest in Brasilia, and contributing resources and support for the activity. Preparation for the Marcha commences over a year prior to the street action and is spearheaded by social movements operating at the national, state, and local levels. The Marcha is also a formative action that promotes a series of political training meetings before the street action, such as courses and meetings at different levels, from the national to the local scale. According to Ângela Conceição Lopes de Jesus, president of the Federation of Rural Workers and Family Farmers of the State of Pará (Fetagri-PA), “political training has a fundamental position in this process. For example, (…) we decided here in Pará that we were going to carry out political training in all the regions and we did, in preparation for the march”.Footnote 6 In the day leading up to the street protest, particularly since 2007, there have been discussions, workshops, and various training activities organized. In addition, orchestrating the Marcha serves as a crucial political engagement and training process, fostering the development of leaders along the way. For numerous women, involvement in the Marcha has marked the initiation of their activist journey (Aguiar, 2015; Teixeira, 2023).

Methods, Data, and Positionality

In terms of methods and data, this article is based on a qualitative and quantitative analysis that includes documents produced by the Marcha, participant observation notes based on multi-sited ethnographic, semi-structured interviews with the Marcha’s leaders, and data from protest surveys. In regard to documents, the Marcha generates a diverse range of materials. These include texts aimed at bolstering participants’ political preparedness ahead of national mobilizations, a political agenda outlining demands for state representatives and the rural union movement, as well as documents designed to promote the Marcha to the broader society and internal documents, such as reports and other relevant materials. We draw mostly on two types of these documents: the ones prepared for activities of mobilization and political training of activists, which take place before the march in Brasilia, and the final result of this process, namely, their list of demands to the different sectors of the State or the union movement.

Those documents (Contag, 2000, 2003, 2007, 2011, 2015, 2019, and 2023) are written by the national organizing committee with inputs from local leaders and participants of preparatory meetings and distributed amongst all organizations through several activities in preparation for the march.Footnote 7 The results of these initiatives at the local, regional, and national levels serve as a basis for formulating a document that articulates the political agenda and its corresponding demands. Between 2000 and 2015, it was a single document, with pages ranging from 29 to 56. From 2019 onwards, the publication changed format and began to produce small booklets, each focused on one or two thematic axes (in 2019, there were six small booklets, with a total of 248 pages, while in 2023, there were 14, with a total of 164 pages). Commencing as an extensive written document, it underwent a gradual shift in format over time. The document evolved to integrate a more visually engaging presentation, incorporating elements such as photos, illustrations, explanatory boxes, timelines, and various other graphic resources throughout its entirety. Therefore, we considered all preparatory texts for each of the seven mobilizations, forming a corpus composed of 25 documents and 682 pages. Camila Castro de Oliveira, General Secretary and Women’s Secretary of the Federation of Agricultural Workers in the State of Pará—FETAGRI/PA and a member of the National Commission of Rural Women Workers, explains how the content of the March textbooks is prepared:

We participate in all the construction. It’s always here in the state, when Contag holds meetings, in the northern region, for example, right? Then there’s the representation of the movements, of the organisations that make up the region, and we also accompany the March at a national level. (...) In the past, when I took part in the construction, we had the Margaridas’ Caravan here in Pará, which was also a time for us to meet and debate. (...) So, all of this here was a moment that we’ve already been building, right, from our point of view in the Northern region, because it's not just a construction from Pará, right? (...) And then, when we meet in these debates, we unify what the states bring. And that’s how we build the textbook, both the platform and the textbooks, right?.Footnote 8

Given the collaborative nature of these documents, they emerged as pivotal sources for our analysis. In this regard, our decision to prioritize this source aligns with Calvario and Desmarais’ approach of engaging with political documents from social movements. In their case, they focused on declarations originating from the principal conferences and assemblies of La Via Campesina (LVC):

Since these gatherings are spaces of collective deliberation, debate and consensus-building as well as being the highest decision-making and representative political spaces within the movement, the declarations and accompanying documents provide important insights into the movement’s analysis, dynamics, vision, actions and paths forward. While many authors writing on LVC use interviews with movement leaders as key sources, we chose to focus exclusively on these documents for the following reasons. First, we wanted to capture the collective voice of the movement rather than depending on the experiences, thoughts and analyses of individuals. Although leaders certainly play a critical role in inserting key issues in the political agenda of the movement, and moving them forward, they are also elected by their respective region on the basis of the movement’s politics as decided in these spaces and reflected in these documents. Second, the declarations and associated documents are the results of extended reflection, exchanges of experience and analyses, debate, negotiation, collaboration and consensus. (Calvário & Desmarais, 2023, p. 642)

We did a qualitative content analysis of the documents in two steps. First, we did an overall reading of the document to understand its narrative logic and general content and to identify the passages that refer to the climate debate. Then, we systematically read and analyzed the passages that dealt with issues related to the environment, sustainability, climate, biodiversity, natural resources, and the commons.

Although we mostly rely on archival data, our analysis draws on a broad body of knowledge that we have been accumulating for quite some time. Marco Antonio Teixeira has been engaged in research within the union movement since 2011 (Teixeira, 2023), with a specific emphasis on the Marcha das Margaridas since 2015. During this period, the author conducted field research for 3 weeks during the 2015 mobilization, extended to 4 weeks in 2019, and encompassed 2 weeks during the 2023 Marcha. Renata Motta’s work (2009–2015) on agrarian and urban movements disputing agrobiotechnology in Argentina and Brazil (Motta, 2016) sparkled her interest in gendered mobilizations and of coalition-building. She met the Marcha das Margaridas in 2017, at the union movement national congress, and did field research at regional meetings in 2019, at national preparatory meetings and the march in 2019 (2 weeks) and in 2023 (1 week). Additionally, we conducted 27 semi-structured interviews in Brasilia, Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Belém, Manaus, and Belo Horizonte with leaders of organizations and movements that are part of the coalition. We have also shown some of the quantitative data from the protest surveys we conducted during the 2019 and 2023 mobilizations to include the sociodemographic profile of the activists as well as to illustrate the activist’s perspective on some issues. In 2019, we interviewed 457 women face-to-face. In 2023, 1014 interviews were conducted and are still under analysis.

Last, but not least, we would like to disclose our positionality and take responsibility for our research. Following feminist epistemologies (Haraway, 1988), we understand that all knowledge is situated. Our research is informed by our location as a cis-female and a cis-male migrant scholars from the Global South situated geopolitically in Northern Europe. Our positionality is informed both by our academic formation in political sociology, working on social movements, food studies, environmental issues and feminism, and our lived experience in Latin America, where we have close family, friends, and professional networks, and where struggles for gender justice and socioenvironmental justice have a long and hard history. We position ourselves in solidarity with the struggle of the Marcha das Margaridas and other popular, agrarian, and feminist social movements that have been defending socioenvironmental justice. We perceive our research and knowledge-building process not solely as an extraction of data about the Marcha das Margaridas, but rather as an ongoing exchange and solidarity-building endeavor with the activists involved. Notwithstanding such collaborations, we situate our knowledge as researchers, as part of the academic world.

Situating the Climate Crisis Within a Multidimensional Crisis: Contributions From Critical Social Sciences

Many critical social scientists have been advocating for an understanding of the climate crisis as part of multiple crises. Contributions vary according to how the problem is framed, but they share a common diagnostic of the structural and multidimensional roots of the climate crisis and against sectoral and reductionist answers, as well as the need to go beyond the more known facet of an anti-capitalist critique, involving epistemological orderings of society-nature relations, structural racism, and patriarchal foundations. There is a growing awareness of the need to articulate debates across world regions, namely, contributions from the Global North and the Global South (Escobar, 2015; Kothari et al., 2019; Nourani Rinaldi, 2022). In this section, we analyze some critical diagnoses of crisis and multiple crises based on the inputs of scholars from both the Global North and the Global South.

Within the Global North, the paradigm of “socio-ecological transformations” describes “political, socioeconomic, and cultural shifts resulting from attempts to address the socioecological crisis” (Brand & Wissen, 2017b, p. 1).Footnote 9 In this tradition, critical social scientific debates on the climate crisis have called attention to the structural causes of the challenges involved in order to explain the apparent paradox of why, despite so much knowledge and decades of climate governance, not enough has been done (Brand & Wissen, 2017a; Dietz & Brunnengräber, 2015; Domingues, 2021; Lessenich, 2016). Brand and Wissen (2017b) consider the economic and financial crises of 2007–2008 as the starting point for identifying multiple crises: the ecological crisis, a crisis of political representation and parties, an increase in migration in search of asylum and refugee (the so-called “refugee crisis”), and the care crisis. All of these are situated in what the authors called the imperial mode of living. This allows for the maintenance of the current capitalist system through the exploitation of labor and nature in the Global South, thereby externalizing crisis phenomena to these parts of the world.

Another strand of critical scholarship about the climate crisis in the Global North that became very influential is that of Moore (2017). He contends that the roots of climate change should be sought in the epistemic and ontological underpinnings of the global capitalist order—specifically, in a dualist and Cartesian worldview that facilitated the alienation and commodification of nature. This process was accompanied by the incorporation of large parts of the world into the capitalist machinery and their subsequent devaluation. To him, the origins of the climate crisis cannot be found in the British Industrial Revolution, as claimed by many, but in exploitative organizing and thought structures established and maintained since fifteenth century colonialism. Moore’s argument, centered on the colonial episteme of global capitalism as the roots of the climate crisis, had been raised much earlier within a different intellectual tradition, namely, that of Latin American critical scholarship.

This scholarship already integrates what we understand now as the climate crisis within broader critiques of Modernity and Development, encompassing ontological, epistemological, and political dimensions. The critique of the Eurocentric episteme and the coloniality of power are foundational to decolonial theories stemming from the Modernity-Coloniality group, a research program that understands the co-constitution of (capitalist) modernity with its shadow, coloniality (Lugones, 2007; Mignolo, 2011; Quijano, 2007). While it is not possible to reconstruct the complexity and breath of the main works in this tradition, key to our argument here is the critique of the hierarchical categories that constitute the modern episteme that serve as legitimation for conquest and domination over racialized Others, women’s bodies, nature, and territories, and disavow other forms of knowledge. The decolonial option (Quijano, 2007) defends the dialog outside academia, working together with social movements and learning from other forms of knowledge, as well as valuing other epistemologies (Mignolo, 2011).

Indeed, one of the distinguishing features of the field of Latin American political ecology is its engagement in dialogues and discursive connections with subalternized political traditions, as well as its ties to socio-environmental activism beyond the confines of academia, as Hector Alimonda (2015, 2017) points out. As a result, the field of political ecology in the region has been constituted in a frontier position in relation to established knowledge systems and has grown (and is continuing to grow) on the margins of university structures (Alimonda, 2015, 2017). In this way, reflecting on the crises affecting the region cannot be done without considering this tradition, which, as Alimonda (2015, 2017) argues, is a field that is part of or a continuation of regional traditions of critical thinking. If we conceptualize the field of political ecology as both a domain of studies on social conflict and a social and political movement, particularly in Latin America (as articulated by Alimonda, referencing a 2014 speech by Martínez-Alier, 2014), comprehending its core issues becomes crucial. This understanding aids in grasping the diagnoses of crises impacting the region and the approaches taken to address them, within the framework of critical thinking and activism traditions. Thus, Latin American political ecology has turned its attention to the contemplation of issues such as the identity of its peoples, resorting to an exploration of its historical context. Throughout this process, the impact of the Iberian conquest is apparent, as it dismantled native civilizations and integrated the region into modernity/coloniality in a subordinated manner. Consequently, due to the persistent influence of coloniality and the trajectory of modernity in the region, structural heterogeneity emerges and persists. Another important characteristic is that, when they elaborate more general points of view, they do so in reference to a common geo-historical reality, even if they are portraying a particular national history. This field also has a common distrust of the theoretical and methodological tools of conventional sciences. As a result, their validity and applicability to the particularities of the region are questioned, since they tend to situate Latin American realities as “cases of deviation” in the march of progress and have been drawn up from repertoires of modernity (Alimonda, 2015, 2017).

If the field of Latin American political ecology is established and flourishes not solely in connection to the environmental aspect of the global crisis but particularly in response to the rapid expansion of hegemonic movements seeking to appropriate Latin American nature, reconfigure territories, and engage in unequal conflicts with resisting populations—as highlighted by Alimonda (2015)—these considerations must be integral to the diagnosis of the multiple crises. This approach seeks to comprehend how this crisis manifests in Latin America and the region’s responses to it. Among many other contributions from Latin America that reflect on the current crises, it is important to highlight Lander and Rodríguez (2019) work, who considers that humanity is experiencing a profound civilizational crisis, which he characterizes as a terminal crisis of the civilizational pattern of colonial modernity. According to Lander, this crisis exhibits a multifaceted, multidimensional nature, embodying a civilizing pattern characterized as anthropocentric, patriarchal, colonial, classist, and racist. In the author’s words:

It is a multiform, multidimensional crisis of a civilizational pattern that in synthetic terms can be characterized as anthropocentric, patriarchal, colonial, classist, racist, and whose hegemonic patterns of knowledge, science and technology, far from offering solutions to this civilizational crisis, contribute to deepen it. (2019, p. 14).

These dimensions of the hegemonic civilizational pattern are interdependent, feeding off each other and reinforcing each other. This societal pattern is rapidly devastating the conditions for the creation and reproduction of life on planet Earth, threatening human survival and that of a large proportion of life. For Lander, the current crisis is a crisis that heralds the end of capitalism because the pattern of hegemonic civilization, whose historical expression is capitalism, is accelerating its approach to the limits of a finite planet. The alternative to the crisis of civilization lies in the diversity and multiplicity of cultures, ways of knowing, thinking, and living. However, these alternatives are being threatened and devastated by the advancement of the logic of the commodification of all dimensions of life and the processes of accumulation by dispossession.

The critique of the civilizational standard has deep roots in Latin American thought. Latin American critiques of development, with a longstanding tradition dating back to at least dependency theory, saw a resurgence in the 1990s (Escobar, 1995) and experienced renewed vitality in the initial decade of the twenty-first century. When progressive governments relied on a neodevelopmentalist agenda combining commodity extraction with social policies for poverty reduction, acceleration, and legitimizing processes of environmental dispossession, Latin American scholars started to discuss alternatives to development (Gudynas, 2011, 2013; Svampa, 2019). Indeed, “the crisis of the Western modelo civilizatorio is invoked by many movements as the underlying cause of the current crisis of climate, energy, poverty, and meaning” (Escobar, 2015, p. 455). The recognition that the ecological crisis is part of a civilizational crisis, and of the destructive forces stemming from modern civilization and its epistemic foundations, has led to an ontological turn in the debate. Against the dominance of the One World, of Modernity, Latin American authors have recalled the message from the Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional, which defended the pluriverse, a world in which many worlds can (and do) co-inhabit (De la Cadena & Blaser, 2018; Escobar, 2020; Kothari et al., 2019).

Latin American decolonial scholarship also plays a fundamental role in establishing the theoretical foundations to build linkages between the climate crisis and structural racism. Quijano’s (2007) concept of the coloniality of power, which is constitutive to the modern episteme and refers to the racialization of the world’s population in hierarchical orderings, has been recovered by authors discussing interconnections between nature destruction and exploitation of racialized Others, as well as the racial dimensions of climate change and climate policies, in which some lives are not considered worthy of protection and rescue (Gonzalez, 2021). Shedding light on the linkages between climate change, racism, and capitalism, Gonzalez (2021) argues that “an analysis of climate change through a race-conscious decolonial lens reveals the ways that race is inscribed in the history of capitalism and in the sacrifice zones of both the fossil fuel economy and the emerging green energy economy” (p. 77). Engaging decolonial theory, Malcom Ferdinand (2021) argues that the ecological crisis is a crisis of justice, which cannot be solved without reparation to structural violence of racism. According to him, environmentalist movements and anti-racist struggles should collaborate, and only a decolonial ecology, shaped within what the author refers to as “modernity’s hold” in regions like the Caribbean—where experiences of suffering, struggles, and hopes unfolded—can effectively address current ecological challenges while advancing the emancipation from coloniality (Ferdinand, 2021, p. 13–14). He defends ecology as the foundation of a common world—that is, as a politics of “worldization”—in which many forms of world-making encounter each other, live together, and share and act together, including humans and non-humans.

Another important crisis that has been discussed in the literature of crisis is the one of care. To Nancy Fraser (2014), the crisis of care is the central aspect of a general crisis of society, which permeates and interacts with the economic and ecological dimensions of crises but is often neglected in discussions about these. It expresses the contradictions and the separatism of productive and reproductive activities in financialized capitalism. The externalization of social reproduction is enabled by historically specific thought structures and discourses that confine women and colonized groups, among others, to the domestic and private realms of society, excluding them from a public sphere of political participation.

Another contribution to the debate on crises of care comes from Dengler and Lang (2022). They establish bridges between feminism, ecology, and decolonial theories to defend a critical-feminist version of degrowth, as a way to address the environmental crisis without generating a crisis of care. They view care as the central foundation of both society and economic activities, advocating for a social organization that avoids externalizing care work onto colonized natural environments and marginalized social groups. Instead, their approach emphasizes a comprehensive consideration of the interconnectedness between society and nature. They thus reject the idea of incorporating unpaid care work into the monetized economy, as this strategy not only overlooks existing social inequalities, but reinforces them. Instead, they propose an emancipatory and polycentric way to deal with these compound crises in the form of “commoning” care. By pointing to the necessity of establishing new social and political institutions, they underline the fact that social relations are key to a socio-ecological transformation and that solutions for ecological and climate crises must be thought of in relation to the social dimension. Moreover, by pointing to the interrelation between gender and environmental justice, they claim that a social re-organization of care must include rethinking gender norms and aim for a dissolution of the public/private divide by commoning care.

More than a crisis of care, Rita Segato (2014) prefers to use the word “war.” She argues that contemporary dynamics of power and exploitation in Latin America generate intersections between colonial-gendered wars on bodies and war-like expansion in conquest for territories, threatening all alternative forms of relating to nature and land. To her, this is related to the apocalyptic phase of capitalism in which financialization and unparallel levels of concentration of ownership and lordship turn fictional the ideals of democracy and equality. There is a widespread employment of extreme forms of violence, the naturalization of suffering and aggression against feminized bodies and territories, a pedagogy of cruelty, and the dissolution of relational bonds of empathy; more than colonization, it is conquest without any constraints. Gendered violence serves as a symptom of a broader life precarity, where men, feeling powerless in the face of contemporary capitalist conditions, channel their frustrations towards women, viewing them as a subordinate group. Segato’s (2014) plaidoyer is that the current gendered violence in Latin American should not, epistemically nor politically, be minorized as a women’s issue or as sexualized violence, and must be understood within the transformations of society at large in the current historical phase.

Lastly, another crisis highlighted as central to the discourse on multiple crises is the crisis of political representation and political parties. When referring to the climate crisis, this relates, for instance, to the diminishing confidence in the ability of institutional politics to address the ongoing challenges posed by climate change. This resonates with the analysis of the crises of democratic capitalism, as framed by Streeck (2011), and the mushrooming literature on threats to democracies (Dos Santos, 2017; Levitsky & Ziblatt, 2018). The latter happens not via armed forces or classic coup d’état but through the action of leaders and actors with authoritarian tendencies that, using institutions and powers, end up transforming it into a distinct and autocratic regime. In that sense, democracies have been instrumentalized by right-wing interests to halt climate politics. Furthermore, considering the dangers of authoritarian climate narratives, which might entail measures that secure a small group of the privileged while restricting rights and increasing control over the majority (Adloff & Neckel, 2021), it is not trivial when actors include climate issues within an agenda of deepening democracy.

In addition to the diagnostics of multiple crisis, there is a growing debate about the various strategies and actions repertoires that, when combined, are more likely to set in motion a process of transformation (Stuart et al., 2020), as well as about the formation of political subjects that can address the climate crisis entangled with the various dimensions of crisis and propose a radical process of transformation. From a neo-Gramscian theoretical perspective, the problem lies in identifying social dynamics and correlations of power that can challenge hegemonial understandings, policies, and practices. If there are possible ways to face the climate crisis, they necessarily might involve social conflict, the loss of privileges, and redistributive negotiations. In a literature review of popular resistance to climate adaption, Brink et al. (2023) identified 56 scientific articles about resistance taking place across the globe, analyzing the sites, actors, and consequences of popular action. The authors reached the conclusion that popular movements are not always progressive and that there is a long way to go between resistance and transformation—in particular, in what concerns state-society relations. In another review article, Bjork-James et al. (2022) assert that global discussions and policymaking have been influenced by transnational environmentalist movements, indigenous groups, and agrarian and food justice movements. These movements have introduced new concepts and agendas, such as environmental justice, climate debt, indigenous-led conservation, food sovereignty, and agroecology. In a different vein, focusing on Latin American and other Southern feminisms, Venegas et al. (2021) argue that these:

do not speak the same language as the institutions that strive to design climate change policies, or the scientists who warn about the urgency of such policies. For them, to paraphrase Audre Lorde, no struggle can be monothematic, because we do not live monothematic lives. The fight against climate change must analytically connect patriarchal and femicidal violence with economic, labor, institutional, police, racist and colonial violence: that is to say, the current form of capital accumulation (p. 19).

The authors highlight how feminist struggles “are a result of the embedded experience of a multiple, systemic, and even civilizational crisis” (2021, p. 21). Venegas et al. (2021) refer to ecofeminisms, indigenous, communitarian feminisms, feminist political ecology, and women’s movements not identified as feminists. Our work aims at contributing to this line of investigation, by shedding light on how one particular feminist coalition has addressed climate change within their multifaceted struggles to “change everything” (Gago, 2020).

The increasing recognition of an ecological crisis has given rise to transition discourses (Escobar, 2015), including postdevelopment, postextractivism, and buen vivir. Despite their distinct genealogies and specific characteristics, these discourses collectively advocate for the establishment of new cultural and economic paradigms rooted in non-exploitative relationships between nature and society and ultimately emphasize the importance of drawing insights from grassroots movements. Our article is situated within this broader problem about the role of social mobilization in facing the climate (and other) crises. The acknowledgement that climate crisis can only be understood and addressed by simultaneously addressing the multiple crises paves the way for looking into coalitions of social forces that are able to include climate issues within a broader diagnostic of the present challenges and, accordingly, a more encompassing project transformation. An implication of a critical social science of the climate change is therefore an inquiry into the social forces and formation of political subjects who can shape paths of structural transformation. In our research, we have come across a different path of transformation, one in which an existing coalition led by women within rural trade unions has increasingly incorporated climate issues into their agenda of transformation. We turn to this in the next section.

Popular Rural Feminism Engaging Climate Justice: the Political Agenda of the Marcha das Margaridas

Based on the diverse territorial experiences, the unionist, and the popular rural feminist political subject of the Marcha, their political agenda cannot be understood in isolation from their gendered-class-rural perspective, which includes demands for public policies to guarantee access to land, credits, technical assistance, professionalization, labor and pension rights, higher wages, protection against gendered violence, and public provisioning of health and education. What differentiates those demands from a broader class and feminist demand is their popular rural feminist approach that challenges the division between productive and reproductive/care work and the assignment of women to care activities from the positionality of the women situated mainly in the intersections of class, gender, and rurality (Motta & Teixeira, 2021). In this section, we analyze how Marcha’s political agenda of transformation face the climate crisis within a broader framework to confront the multiple crises. For that, we divided their political agenda into five categories: in defense of democracy and rights; anti-patriarchal and decolonial struggles; the environmentalization of the Marcha das Margaridas; climate change and the defense of sociobiodiversity and the commons; and climate justice and environmental racism.

In Defense of Democracy and Rights

There are competing visions about sustainable futures, and it is far from trivial when actors include climate issues within an agenda of deepening democracy. While the advocacy for democracy, especially participatory democracy with enhanced inclusion of women, has been a consistent theme in the Marcha’s documents, it was not until 2015 that a more pronounced emphasis on participatory democracy with a gender equality agenda was incorporated. This agenda was explicitly featured in the slogans of both the 2015 and 2019 editions of the Marcha. This is related to the political context in which attacks to the democratic regime in Brazil intensified: the illegitimate contestations of electoral results in 2014, the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff (2016), the subsequent neoliberal and right-wing government of Michel Temer (2016–2018), and the electoral victory the extreme-right government of Jair Bolsonaro (2019–2022).

It was no accident that this period was also characterized by an overall setback in environmental policies and protections in Brazil. For instance, during Bolsonaro’s term, deforestation in the Amazon in 2022 reached the highest level of destruction in the last 15 years, when the survey’s historical series began.Footnote 10 Research on the democratic backlashes experienced in Brazil in recent years has shown how the attack on democracy has operated in practice through the frequent use of democratic arrangements and how this affected environmental policies and those aimed to support rural workers. As an illustration, Lourenço et al. (2022) analyzed the dismantling of federal policies supporting people from the fields, the forest, and the waters, as well as topics such as food and nutritional security and agroecology. They argue that more than the cut of specific policies or instruments, it involved a triple dismantling: financial, instrumental, and bureaucratic. Niederle et al. (2023) sought to explain how the once internationally acclaimed policies for an agroecological transition in Brazil were either extinguished or undermined by dismantling strategies including discursive delegitimation of the policy paradigm altogether.

Moreno et al. (2021) identified that the destruction of environmental policies was accompanied by a process characterized as remontage, i.e., “an institutional and regulatory ecosystem created over recent years to enable and ensure the financialization of environmental policies, i.e., its conduct through market mechanisms” (p. 19). Therefore, in the context of environmental policy dismantling, observable actions include the legalization and escalation of land seizures, rising deforestation rates, and encroachments on public forests and indigenous lands. Conversely, in terms of reassembling, the authors observed the emergence of “new forms of integration and new dynamics of “coupling” of lands and natural resources to global value chains, facilitated primarily by integration into digital infrastructure and capital markets” (Moreno et al., 2021, p. 19). It is nothing more than the threatening of democracies throughout the use of institutions and powers, as described by authors such as Dos Santos (2017) and Levitsky and Ziblatt (2018). This implies that addressing climate issues without confronting the democratic backlash in Brazil would be insufficient to resolve the climate crisis; the deterioration of the socioenvironmental and climate agenda in Brazil was directly linked to the authoritarian forces in power at that time.

Furthermore, the democratic backlash in Brazil has also directly affected the agenda of rights and public policies for the most vulnerable. Recent state disinvestment by the former extreme-right government in Brazil (2019–2022), for instance, meant increased hunger and destitution of basic social rights (Galindo et al., 2021). The combination of the effects of austerity policies due to the financial crisis and democratic crisis with the effects from climate crisis can be well illustrated in the topic of access to food, as narrated by Ângela Conceição Lopes de Jesus: “if you don’t take care of the environment, how are you going to produce healthy food? You’ll run out of water, the sun will burn, the rain will stop, because it’s either one thing or the other on this issue of climate change”.Footnote 11 Another interview that calls attention to how the democratic backlash affects many other agendas in the one with the national coordinator of the 2019 and 2023 Marcha, Mazé Morais:

The motto of the March (...) was something that we also spent a lot of time debating (...), and I think it was something that we got very right and that we shared with all the other organizations: (...) when you said “Margaridas in the struggle for a Brazil with popular sovereignty, democracy, justice, equality, free from violence”, everyone saw themselves there. Because it was exactly the moment and the situation we were experiencing in a Brazil where our democracy was being torn apart. The process of (...) labor reform, where violence was increasing - I was just hearing today that this year, the increase in femicide against women has already risen 7% from last year - so this has been increasing more and more, right, and the question of the return of hunger to Brazil, right? We needed to see that. So, all of this resonated not only with rural women, but with other organizations, with urban people, with all the other organizations, so it was very well accepted.Footnote 12

To advocate for and advance policies and rights that could mitigate climate change, the Margaridas do not necessarily engage with the technical aspects of climate governance discourses. Instead, they focus on targeting and addressing the state. The lack of rights and public policies can worsen the climate crisis for some groups, which is why the demand of the Marcha das Margaridas for a stronger state and gendered public policies is related to the fight against climate change.

Anti-patriarchal and Decolonial Struggles

The topic of sexist violence and the demand for an anti-sexist education has been at the foundation of the Marcha das Margaridas. Since then, the Marcha has consistently kept this topic on their agenda, fostering discussions and providing safe spaces for exchange and mutual support. From the outset, they have also avoided marginalizing sexist violence by framing it solely as women’s issues. Given the gendered wars on bodies and territories characterizing the Latin American region (Segato, 2014), the Marcha’s agenda has always demanded a life free from violence in the rural worlds, referring to the political violence also assaulting land activists, union leaders, and environmentalists, that makes Brazil one of the most dangerous countries for environmental activists. In fact, the name of Marcha das Margaridas is a tribute to Margarida Alves, a union leader who was murdered due to her struggles in defense of workers and land rights. An anti-patriarchal agenda thus aims to inaugurate a new gender order, based on respectful, non-violent, and egalitarian relations. In this sense, the situatedness from their struggle in regions assaulted by violent conflicts over land also contributes to denouncing systemic violence. This is not irrelevant to the climate crisis, as violence continues to operate in both climate change impacts and climate mitigation and adaption efforts (Dietz & Brunnengräber, 2015).

In addition, their grassroots bases have been struggling against an unequal division of reproductive/care work and know that they are the most vulnerable when there is a crisis of care. This addresses a key shortcoming identified by feminist degrowth scholars within the climate debate, namely, of treating gender issues as an add-on topic and prioritizing questions of environmental justice. It therefore follows that many proposals for socio-ecological transformation might increase care work and reinforce gendered, unequal divisions of labor (Dengler & Lang, 2022).Footnote 13 Considering Western exceptionalism and the coloniality of the welfare state, there are even more difficulties today in universalizing a model that has been created under conditions that cannot be further reproduced in contexts of the climate crisis. At the same time, from the point of view of popular sectors, a rights-based approach for public provisioning and for economic rights is still preferable as the acceptance of neoliberal reforms.

A decolonial episteme is also invoked in the documents of the Marcha das Margaridas. If, in the past, these women had struggled to be seen as rural workers and have access to worker’s rights; they have increasingly grown aware that their work with a variety of rural environments has given them access to differential knowledge about ecosystems. This appears when they refer to the climate crisis; their discourse reassures and values the knowledge of these women, considering them to be crucial to face the climate crisis:

Tackling the climate crisis is closely linked to the women of the land, the forest and the waters. This is because their knowledges of biodiversity and the cycles of life in their territories and waterscapes are key, extremely important, for a world that needs care, recovery and regeneration. (...) That is why, in defense of life (and the possibility of it continuing on our planet), the Margaridas are marching for environmental and climate justice. (CONTAG, 2023, p.10)

The Environmentalization of the Marcha das Margaridas

As noted by Borras et al. (2022), climate issues in agrarian movements emerged within historical environmental struggles in rural settings. The Marcha das Margaridas political agenda confirms this trend. In what we have referred to as the climate agenda of the Marcha das Margaridas, seen as an integral component of a more extensive political initiative for transformation, the discourse is framed within a comprehensive systemic critique of the relationships between agrarian capitalism and nature. This critique serves as the foundation for proposing an alternative to the prevailing system. The analyzed documents identify a dominant agrarian model that is based on monocultures, export-led and oriented, and controlled by agribusiness interests and big corporations. In addition to treating nature as an infinite resource, privatizing and commodifying land, seeds, and water, this model of agriculture is based on exploitative socio-nature relations and causes socio-environmental damage, such as deforestation and biodiversity loss. In some texts, particularly after 2015, the documents of the Marcha also include the State and national development projects with similar relations to nature and resulting in environmental destruction. The counter-hegemonic alternative is presented as a model of rural development that is sustainable and solidary and based on family farming and agroecology (Contag, 2000). Despite some variations in this structure of the narrative of the systemic critique vs. systemic alternative, the main point remains—to highlight that two different societal projects exist: a dominant one, which causes socioenvironmental damage, and an alternative one, that is sustainable and solidary to humans and nature. The following quotes illustrate this disparity:

The indiscriminate expansion of agricultural mechanization by agribusiness contributes to environmental devastation and soil erosion, as opposed to agroecological practices. (Contag, 2007, p. 13)

Family farming - besides generating income and productive occupations, producing food at lower costs, and potentially not producing environmental damage - drives the growth of the socio-economic environment. (Contag, 2000, p. 9)

A discursive shift in direction of an environmentalization of the political agenda can be identified in 2011. It is the first time that an environmental theme appears on the motto, on the Marcha’s call for arms: “sustainable development with justice, autonomy, equality and freedom,” making a significant shift from what had been until then a clearly gendered-classed motto: “Against Hunger, Poverty and Sexist Violence” (Contag, 2000, 2003, 2007). However, their understanding of development is undoubtedly anthropocentric at that time:

Centered on the human being, it presupposes a dynamic articulation between economic growth, respect for biodiversity, genetic heritage, the environment, traditions, relationships, cultures and knowledge, and the organization and political participation of rural, forest, and water peoples. It indicates a development that can be sustained and reproduced in the long term. (Contag, 2011, p. 12)

Climate Change and the Defense of Sociobiodiversity and the Commons

The topic of climate change appears in the Marcha’s documents for the first time in 2011. The framing of the climate issue involves three arguments. The first is a diagnostic of the causes of climate change. This is made by relying on the previous systemic critique to include climate change as a part of the environmental consequences of the dominant model. In other words, climate change is situated within an agrarian capitalism-nature nexus, as a consequence of large-scale deforestation and agribusiness, as can be seen in the following passage:

Monocultures of soy, sugar cane, oil palm, and eucalyptus, stimulated by agricultural credit policies, have generated devastating impacts that are not limited to the immediate and direct destruction of biodiversity. Large-scale deforestation and intensive, mechanized agribusiness produce many gases, responsible for the greenhouse effect, and also, for climate change. (Contag, 2011, p. 14)

Second, the Marcha politicizes the asymmetry in the attribution of responsibilities for the crises and the unequal distribution of its effects, “some say that climate change affects everyone equally, due to its global nature, but in reality, those who suffer the most are the poorest populations, precisely those who harm the environment the least” (Contag, 2011, p. 15). Third, the documents identify rural working women as actors who can, and do, resist the effects of climate change by relying on their knowledge about biodiversity and food and production practices.

In this scenario, women rural workers from the land, and from the forest have been resisting as they can, with practices based on accumulated knowledge about genetic diversity and sustainable forms of production. They know the ecosystems, methods of food conservation and production of medicinal plants. (Contag, 2011, p. 15)

The climate debate further evolves in the documents of the following national mobilizations (2015, 2019). We consider that the three types of above-mentioned arguments—namely, the analyses of the causes, effects, and responses—are refined during the years in which a climate agenda is consolidated in the Marcha. Again, they first present the causal nexus between agrarian capitalism and climate change. Second, the documents deepen the analysis of the unequal socio-economic impacts, “strongly affecting family (men and women) farmers, (men and women) peasants, indigenous peoples and traditional populations, compromising their ways of lives and basis of natural goods” (Contag, 2015, p. 34). This time, they call attention to a patriarchal mark in the effects of climate change, singling out that women are particularly affected, further specified along the rural–urban difference. Third, they identify women as central political subjects in resisting climate change. Yet, a relevant discursive transformation takes place in their socioenvironmental agenda: the shift from biodiversity to sociobiodiversity and from natural resources to commons. This reflects new understandings about nature and human-nature ontologies and relations. While biodiversity is restricted to an idea of nature isolated from humans, sociobiodiversity highlights a relational ontology that destabilizes instrumental relations, and concepts such as natural resources give way to the idea of commons, which are seen as life-sustaining and not human-serving:

So the idea of sociobiodiversity says something about the nature/culture relationship, it admits the action of human groups in nature without destroying its biodiversity, but in interaction with it, including taking from nature its sustenance, preserving its resources (natural and genetic). And this involves traditional knowledge, practices, and know-how developed and passed on from generation to generation. In this understanding, biodiversity is a common good, our greatest common good, which exists not only for our enjoyment, but has a greater meaning and importance for life on Earth. (Contag, 2019, p. 35)

Climate Justice and Environmental Racism

The climate discourse and agenda become more elaborated in the Marcha of 2023. It was the first time that the term climate justice appeared: “environmental protection, with environmental and climate justice”. The presentation of topics and concepts show how the Marcha das Margaridas began engaging with the climate debate, and clearly state that “the climate crisis is already a reality” (Contag, 2023, p. 9). The system-critical narrative opens the booklet, with a quotation from Marx, stating that humans are a part of nature. The text goes on to elucidate various concepts, including capital globalization, the financialization of nature, the commodification of natural goods, territorial dispossession, and the privatization of public services. Their text presents boxes with definitions of commodities, of environmental racism, climate mitigation and adaption, as well as infographics about agrarian capitalism, including its CO2 emissions (Contag, 2023). There is a subsection on climate science, describing global warming, and climate change, and identifying deforestation and land use change—both part of agrarian capitalism—as the main sources of emissions in Brazil. The (unequal) impacts of climate change on food production are spelled out:

With uncontrolled periods of rain and drought, longer droughts, heat waves that prevent people from working in the sun, and more intense storms, it's not hard to imagine what happens to food production: it suffers greatly and has lower productivity. Lower production equals lower earnings for extractive farmers and fishermen, as well as higher prices for the food that goes onto the tables of Brazilian women and men. (Contag, 2023, p. 8)

The recent increase of hunger in Brazil and the food inequalities with regard to race, gender and class are also recalled, with the following conclusion: “this data only confirms the fundamental importance of the fight for environmental justice and climate justice (Contag, 2023, p. 8). In addition to the incorporation of language stemming from the climate debate, perhaps the major discursive transformation is the adoption of the language of racism and justice, as can be seen below:

(…) the damage suffered by populations is unequal: the most impoverished, women, black populations, and rural, forest and water populations are most vulnerable to the negative effects of environmental impacts. In general, these populations are the ones that cause the least environmental impact, the ones that consume the least of the planet's natural resources (...). And they are also the ones who do not access the supposed “benefits” generated by the impacts - whether in the form of income, comfort or quality of life - and who are not consulted in environmental licensing processes or the recovery of degraded areas. In other words, the negative externalities of environmental degradation have a racial and profoundly unequal component. This makes clear the existence of what is known as ENVIRONMENTAL RACISM. (Contag, 2023, p. 5, emphasis in original)

The text explains environmental racism and environmental justice, including the denounce of inequal distribution of benefits and damage as well as the demand for political participation in the decisions affecting their lives. “The Margaridas are fighting and marching to ensure that no group of people, be they ethnic, racial, class or gender groups, is forced to bear a disproportionate share of the degradation of their territories” (Contag, 2023, p. 6). It explains that climate justice is one type of environmental justice, both referring to unequal impacts to racialized groups and women. There is also a critical analysis of discourses of sustainability and green capitalism, and how some climate policies also generate climate injustice. The path towards climate justice necessarily goes through access to decision-making and gender equality (Contag, 2023, p. 8). The reasons why (rural) women are more impacted by climate change are also explained: unequal access to land, water, and energy, and the need to walk longer distances to fetch water; male outmigration and increase of care work, the right of access to biodiversity, as well as the violation of their bodies, associated with processes of land dispossession and forced evictions due to the arrival of mining, deforestation, and agribusiness.

They are affected when activities driven by agribusiness, land grabbing, deforestation, monoculture plantations, the construction of highways and energy generation projects such as wind farms, in short, when everything that deforests and promotes the enclosure and expulsion from their lands prevents them, through violent processes, from freely accessing and using biodiversity through the traditional knowledge they have acquired. Everything that contributes to the destruction of biodiversity aggravates the crisis caused by climate change. (Contag, 2023, p. 9)

On the contrary, the climate crisis cannot be viewed in isolation from the political economy of land and territory. This brings us back to the primary agenda of the Marcha das Margaridas, which revolves around the demand for rights from a gendered-class-rural perspective. According to the text, “that is why, in Brazil, the democratization of access to land, the recognition of territorial rights (and waterscapes) and climate justice are principles that should go hand in hand” (Contag, 2023, p. 10). The text references alternatives that align with Latin American scholarship on postdevelopment and transition debates, such as commoning, agroecology, and agroextractivism. It’s important to note that the term “agroextractivism” in the Brazilian context does not carry the negative connotations associated with extractivism in the literature. Instead, it pertains to activities like extracting certain nuts and products from forests. This approach depends not only on the preservation of the forest but also on the knowledge and practices of communities that have coexisted with the forest.

In summation, if we consider the climate debate within the Marcha’s broader agenda, it can be seen how their project of transformation takes into account interlinked structures of domination, going in direction of what Dengler and Lang (2022) have called “multidimensional strategies, which simultaneously challenge the different pillars of and power relations inherent in the described civilizational pattern, namely class relations, patriarchy, coloniality, racism, and destructive societal relations with nature” (p. 2).

The Marcha das Margaridas’ Project of Transformation

The analysis of the Marcha’s political agenda over the past 20 years has aimed to respond to the question of showing how their diagnostics of climate change and proposals to overcome the climate crisis are embedded in a broader project of transformation that addresses multiple crises and touches upon their structural orderings. These are dealt with in shifting order of priority not only according to the political conjuncture, nationally and globally, but also according to contextual regional realities. Tracing the genealogy of the climate issues within the Marchas’ political documents, we have considered it as part of their broader rural popular feminist and agrarian environmental struggles. Therefore, we have explored how the climate debate is played out differently in the rural worlds in which the Margaridas inhabit and its associations with socioenvironmental agendas and class-gendered demands of access to socio-economic rights and welfare state policies. When the climate issue emerged, it was not as a sectorial question, but integrated within historical struggles of the Marcha das Margaridas for an alternative model of rural development, in which relations of capitalist exploitation and environmental damage are to be substituted by respectful relations to nature. Over the years, they incorporated in their anti-capitalist stance the questioning of the ontological divides that separate nature from society and exploit it as a mere instrumental resource in the diagnostic of the environmental and climate crisis. The climate discourse of the Marcha does not strictly align with a universalizing language of climate governance, including terms such as mitigation, adaptation, and resilience. Despite this, there has been a recent effort to engage with and familiarize themselves with the language and terms associated with the broader climate agenda. Nevertheless, connections or translations between these distinct languages can be discerned much earlier. This may be attributed to interactions with other organizations involved, particularly in the Margaridas’ processes of political formation and mobilization. Alternatively, it could be a result of their own analytical self-reflection on experiences influenced by the effects of climate crisis in their respective territories.

We have emphasized how the political agenda of the Marcha potentially outlines a transformational project in which multidimensional crises are simultaneously considered in entangled forms—their agenda is anti-capitalist, anti-patriarchal, anti-racist, anti-exploitative of nature, for the deepening of democracy, and for a more ecological and just world. Their analysis specifies how the climate crisis plays out in rural worlds, in diverse contexts in which these women live and work, and relates to agendas and themes like access to land, water, commons, and forests. The political documents illustrate how alternative practices, knowledge systems, and projects for rural communities can address aspects of the climate crisis. These include agroecology, food sovereignty, and the defense of commons related to natural and material heritage (such as seeds and food cultures), with a particular emphasis on socio-biodiversity. The latter is a key topic within their project and shows their evolving conceptions of society-nature relations, shifting either from an instrumentalized view of nature, as in discourses of natural resources, centered in human life, to challenging pristine views of nature conservation, such as recovering older tropes from socioenvironmental activism from the Amazonian peoples, where indigenous peoples and traditional communities bring back in the social subjects who have co-constituted forests and biodiversity. One could argue, nevertheless, that there is still a timid incorporation of indigenous cosmologies that decenter human life from interdependent webs of relation that create and sustain lives and worlds. However, although indigenous activists participated in the Marcha, their engagement is mainly related to some events since the indigenous women have their own organization process, which includes a national march that took place for the first time in 2019. Their agenda can also develop a deeper analysis of the racial dynamics in the nexus between capitalism, nature, and rural worlds (Gonzalez, 2021).

A second question that we have raised regarded the way in which the political situatedness of such a coalition of working women’s movements, in the intersections of class, gender, and rural difference, has informed their positions on climate debates. We have argued that, through a politics of alliance, the Marcha has been crafting a political subject that reflects coalitions amongst those who are strongly impacted by the climate crisis. Their political agenda on climate issues gave centrality to class and gender inequalities, in addition to urban–rural inequalities in the structural diagnostic of agrarian capitalism and patriarchy, as well as in their alternatives and projects for transformation. As a group of self-organized rural working women speaking on their own behalf, instead of being spoken of, their political subject decenters most accounts of climate movements, which are often urban, non-gendered, and transnational. Thus, the Marcha represents these sectors not only as victims, but as agents of structural transformations. Crafting their political subject in the intersections of gender, class, and rurality, the Marcha builds interpretations of their struggles as informed by contestations to structures of the patriarchy-racist-capitalism-environmental-democratic crisis in the context of rural worlds. Hence, the Marcha represents a coalition of popular rural feminists speaking for themselves with a broad project of transformation that addresses a gendered-class-rural agenda, a climate and socio-environmental agenda, an agenda for participatory democracy with gender equality, and an anti-patriarchal and anti-racist agenda. Recognizing other movements that have been struggling for broad structural transformations touching upon the heart of the causes of the climate crisis broadens the scope of what is considered the climate movement, while bringing new perspectives for the climate debate.

More than just adding new perspectives, we believe that the Marcha das Margaridas’s project of transformation has the potential to make visible the shortcomings of many climate political diagnosis and alternatives, which keep neglecting the structural dynamics that are responsible for the climate crisis and its asymmetrical distribution of responsibilities and damage. The current technomanagerial framework of climate governance, by neglecting to recognize the coloniality of power and the racial and patriarchal foundations of the climate crisis, has inadvertently shaped climate policies that perpetuate dispossession, conflict, and injustice. Confronting the exclusions in the dominant climate discourse, the multi-dimensional project of the Marcha das Margaridas has the potential to reframe climate action beyond the widely disseminated approaches of carbon markets, mitigation, and adaptation policies. Centering justice and rights from the territorial perspective of rural working women, the Margaridas approach can broaden the terms of climate debate by including issues such as land and territorial rights, anti-sexist education, policies for deepening gender parity in decision-making and political representation, and the recognition of ecological knowledges that do not fall under the colonial scientific episteme. Here lies a potential for a truly just and socio-ecological transformation.