Yes, that Jane Goodall
By Robin Happel
As reported by the United Nations, women are disproportionately burdened by climate change. From increased risk of becoming refugees to the struggles of finding water in a warming world, women are some of the first to suffer from carbon emissions, yet many of us are also on the front lines of the fight. From diplomats to dancers, painters to prime ministers, the Global Climate Action Summit this month in San Francisco brought together women leaders from almost every walk of life. Famed primatologist Jane Goodall spoke powerfully about the importance of listening to indigenous voices, as well as youth initiatives like her Roots and Shoots program. “Honestly, we’ve never needed young people to help us protect wildlife more than we do now,” she told me via Twitter.
Mirian Cisneros, president of the Pueblo of Sarayaku, Ecuador, similarly stressed the importance of indigenous people and youth in carrying the fight forward. For almost forty years, the women of Sarayaku have fought against fossil fuel extraction and other threats to their territory. “The women are an important pillar of our community,” she told me at an art exhibition during the summit. “All this work of fighting and defending our territory is from the women… We have an intimate relationship, one could say, with Mother Earth.”
Monica Jahan Bose, an artist, activist, and environmental lawyer also exhibiting at the Women Leaders in Global Climate Action event, described the positive energy in the room as palpable. Her “Storytelling With Saris” project seeks to connect Californians and others across the U.S. and Europe with women battling climate change in Bangladesh.
In collaboration with non-profit Samhati, Ms. Bose empowers citizens around the world to act on climate change. In Katakhali, an isolated island community in Bangladesh, women and their families are on the front lines of climate change, and have weathered increasingly severe cyclones and crop shortages in recent years. Without urgent international efforts, communities like Katakhali may soon be uninhabitable. Nevertheless, the women activists behind Storytelling with Saris and Samhati remain optimistic. By providing women with literacy classes, adaptive forms of agriculture, and access to healthcare, advocates have made a dramatic difference in the lives of Katakhali’s women and girls. And, at the art show, attendees wrote personal pledges to reduce their carbon footprint on a sari that will be returned to Katakhali Village, a poignant reminder of how our everyday actions affect people half a world away. Storytelling with Saris shows us that it is vital to remember women like Roxana and Zakia in our activism, and put a human face to some of the worst effects of climate change.
There’s still a lot of work to be done to ensure that all women have a voice in this fight, but it was so inspiring to me to see that so many are refusing to be silent. Although indigenous women especially often lack the voice in international politics that they deserve, groundbreaking initiatives like the Living Forest Proposal show that change is still possible. And, from the women’s empowerment efforts of the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves to the vital UN advocacy work of Mirian Cisneros and other affiliates of Amazon Watch, women’s voices have time and again been shown as crucial to combatting the climate crisis. As was said near the close of the art show, we are not drowning – we are thriving. “It will make us stronger every day to defend our territories,” Ms. Cisneros told me. “The rain forest is everything – and because of this we fight for it.”
This article was also published on the GenUN blog. I was able to attend the Global Climate Action Summit as a student reporting fellow for the U.N. Association, a fantastic organization that works on building alliances between U.S. citizens and U.N. initiatives, and which you can learn more about here.