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Why Animal Rights Is a Social Justice Issue—and What You Should Be Doing About It

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Posted March 22, 2016 by Marissa Price

If you believe in gender equality, you’re a feminist. And if you’re a feminist, you should also support other social justice movements, like animal rights—and vice versa. Why? Because of a lovely thing called intersectionality, a concept used to describe the ways in which oppressive institutions like racism, sexism, ableism, classism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, speciesism, etc., are connected and almost always overlap with each other.

feminists for animal rights bannerFeminists for Animal Rights | 1990 March for the Animals in Washington

The aim of intersectionality is to recognize our shared struggle against discrimination and to work together to end it. Because everyoneregardless of race, gender, ethnicity, social class, or speciesdeserves a life free from unnecessary harm.

climate march

More and more feminists and other social justice activists are including animal rights in the conversation, because all social justice movements are inherently centered on campaigning for the rights of those whose voices need to be heard. Billions of cows, pigs, chickens, and other animals every year are condemned to a life of torture and violence without a second thought.

we can do it

Anyone who cares about social justice must include animals in their activism because, when it comes down to it, there isn’t ever just one problem going on at any given time. Racism and sexism are linked to a larger system of oppression. While some social justice movements have made strides toward equality, we are still fighting a system that favors certain groups over others.

The animal agriculture system is built on the exploitation of the female reproductive system. Here’s how:

Female cows produce milk for the same reason that human women do: to feed their babies. On factory farms, calves are taken away from their mothers just after birth so that the milk that was meant for them can be used for human consumption instead.

In order to get cows pregnant, farmers forcibly impregnate them on what the industry calls a “rape rack.” After giving birth, cows lactate for 10 months and are then inseminated again. Some spend their entire lives standing on concrete floors, while others are confined to massive, crowded lots, where they are forced to live amid their own feces.

DairyVealFarm-optimized-

The pork industry also exploits females.

Most female pigs in the U.S. spend their entire adult lives confined to cramped metal crates. When they’re old enough to give birth, female pigs are usually artificially inseminated and imprisoned for the entire length of their pregnancies in “gestation crates,” which are too small for them even to turn around or lie down comfortably in.

pig 3

After giving birth to piglets, mother pigs are moved to “farrowing” crates, which are wide enough for them to lie down and nurse their babies in but not to turn around in. Piglets are separated from their mothers when they are as young as 10 days old. Once their piglets are gone, female pigs are impregnated again, and the awful cycle continues for three or four years. Finally, they are slaughtered.

Now how about the egg industry?

battery cage elevator 2

Portions of the sensitive beaks of most female hens used by the egg industry are cut off with a hot blade so that the birds don’t hurt each other out of frustration during their intense confinement. Then they are forced to spend their entire lives confined to tiny cages. 

The wire mesh rubs off their feathers and causes their feet to become crippled. Because of the terrible living conditions, chickens often die in these cages. After about two years, those who have survived are sent to slaughter. Birds have their throats cut while they are still conscious, and many are scalded to death in defeathering tanks.

Are there any other ways that meat consumption is bad for women and other marginalized groups?

Yes. On average, women are poorer than men in every state, and like many issues involving poverty, food insecurity disproportionately affects women and children. Researchers have also found that African-Americans and Latinos are more likely than people of other ethnicities to live in areas where there is little to no access to the fresh fruits and vegetables that are necessary for a healthy diet, known as food deserts. Instead, people have no choice but to eat unhealthy animal products and convenience foods.

There’s a correlation between food insecurity and increased rates of diabetes. Eating animal-derived foods puts people at a higher risk for diabetes as well as cancer, heart disease, and high blood pressure. In addition to lacking access to healthy foods, marginalized groups also have less access to health-care resources.

healthy cherry tomato, lettuce and vegetables

But many affected communities are “taking back” their food systems and taking control of their health by going vegan with the help of organizations such as the Food Empowerment Project and Grow Where You Are.

Many organizations are now working to promote better access to fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains, in addition to teaching people how to grow their own organic fruits and vegetables in urban settings.

A photo posted by NuVegan Cafe (@nuvegancafe) on

The meat, dairy, and egg industries also exploit their workers, who are primarily people of color and are often immigrants.

Workers in meat and poultry plants have the highest injury and illness rate of any industry. The industry refuses to make working conditions safer by slowing line speeds or buying appropriate safety gear, which amounts to what Human Rights Watch calls “systematic human rights violations embedded in meat and poultry industry employment.” Workers are often forced to work 10 or more hours a day. In order to avoid slowing down production, supervisors often deny them bathroom breaks, and they have no choice but to urinate in their pants.

Help spread the word about the intersection of social justice and animal rights in whatever way works best for you.

Maybe like this:

lettuce ladies

Because it’s your own damn body and you will do with it what you please.

Or, like this!

vday outreach

  1. Go vegan, and show others how healthy and accessible it is!
  2. Try to understand where others are coming from, and respect their experiences. Don’t compare struggles, but make it clear that there’s a link between the forces that hurt animals and those that hurt women and other people.
  3. Reflect on your own privilege in society—in what ways do your skin color, gender, sexual orientation, financial standing, age, nationality, religion, physical and mental abilities, etc., help or hold you back as you navigate your day-to-day life? Then consider how most humans act as though they have privilege over animals.
  4. Continue to be your fierce AF feminist vegan self. Grow, stay woke, and save animals.

For more info on how industries that abuse animals are inherently anti-social justice, check out an exclusive interview about feminism with PETA President, Ingrid E. Newkirk, our blog, Can You Be A Feminist and Drink Milk?, and the book Every Twelve Seconds, which was written by a former slaughterhouse employee.

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