WOMEN are changemakers, caregivers, teachers, creators, partners, economists, health carers, organisers, entrepreneurs, leaders, pillars of strength and support for those around us. Women truly are the foundation of society.
Yet, we still live in an age of gender inequality. Today on International Women’s Day 2023, we celebrate women. But we should recognise the important role women and girls play in society every day.
Women play a particularly vital role in environmental care and climate action. Women are also more likely to suffer the impacts of climate change, future and present. That is a fact. Climate impacts disproportionately affect women. Statistically women still do the bulk of unpaid domestic care, childcare and care for elderly, which will increase in burden with the fallout of climate-related disasters and related social and health emergencies. The IPCCC acknowledges the vulnerability of gender in these events and how they affect women’s lives and economic circumstances. Notably, the Paris Agreement called for a “gender-responsive” approach to climate action.
Women are not only at the forefront of the impacts, but also at the forefront in finding viable and innovative solutions
Today I’d like to acknowledge but a few of these outstanding female leaders past and present (especially those from the Global South), and pay homage to the rest who are working behind the scenes (as women often do) to make this world habitable, and more equitable, for our future generations. Despite two amazing Kenyan women below, this is neither an exhaustive nor biased list, rather it is just to highlight some of the inspiring contributions that women around the world are making in the fight for our planet. I’d also like to take this moment to honour all women everywhere, for all that we are.
Dr Vandana Shiva
Dr Shiva is a leading environmental activist, policy advocate and philosopher who has also been a major source of inspiration for my own work. Dr Shiva believes in the inseparability of nature and society, at the intersection between feminism and ecology. She says, “Diversity creates harmony, and harmony creates beauty, balance, bounty, and peace in nature and society, in agriculture and culture, in science and in politics.”
Dr Wangarĩ Maathai
The late inspirational Kenyan woman Wangarĩ Maathai “the Mother of trees” was famous for her environmental and sociopolitical work. Among her many, many accomplishments, the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004. In 1976, Dr Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement, an organisation planting of trees with women groups in order to conserve the environment and improve their quality of life, planting more than 20 million trees on farms, schools and compounds.
Dr Jane Goodall
Dr Goodall is a globally-renown primatologist, conservationist, environmentalist and activist. She is considered the world’s foremost expert on chimpanzees. She has also spent much of her career supporting environmental projects in both climate change and radical animal rights activism. Dr Goodall says, “Fortunately, nature is amazingly resilient: places we have destroyed, given time and help, can once again support life, and endangered species can be given a second chance. And there is a growing number of people, especially young people, who are aware of these problems and are fighting for the survival of our only home, Planet Earth. We must all join that fight before it is too late.”
Indigenous Brazilian activist Sônia Guajajara is passionate about ensuring Indigenous rights, best known for her strong positions on Indigenous land rights and policies in Brazil. Her organisation, the Association of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (APIB) focuses strongly on preventing deforestation.
Duke is an Indigenous environmentalist, political activist, and program director for Honor the Earth who works on issues of climate change, renewable energy, sustainable food systems, and environmental justice for Indigenous communities. Duke was named one of Time magazine’s 50 most promising leaders under 40 years old.
Rachel inspired a global environmental movement in 1962 with her ground-breaking book Silent Spring – still fundamental text of environmentalists today.
Amelia is a Bundjalung and South Sea Islander woman originating from Northern New South Wales. Inspired by a lack of Indigenous youth participation in climate action, she co-founded Indigenous youth climate network Seed in 2014 bring First Nations voices to climate discussions. She is known for her role in fighting fracking in the Northern Territory.
Eunice was the first to predict rising temperatures from CO2 emissions with her experiments on greenhouse gases in 1856 being some of the earliest known. Eunice proved that raising carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would increase temperatures.
Costa Rican diplomat Christina was the Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) from 2010-16 and is credited with leading the UNFCCC to achieve the 2015 Paris Agreement.
As the global public face for youth climate action, Greta needs no introduction. She is known for catapulting youth voices for advocating for stronger climate action in policy. Greta’s work inspired the global school climate strike movement Fridays for Future.
Dr. Corinne Le Quéré
French-Canadian Le Quéré is a climate change scientist best known for investigating carbon cycles to understand the drivers of carbon emissions and how climate change and variability affects the land and ocean carbon sinks.
Prof. Asmeret Asefaw Berhe
Professor Asmeret Asefaw Berhe focuses her research on understanding how disturbances in the environment affect the natural cycles of soil. She is credited for her work on understanding how land restoration could play an important role in sequestering CO2 and slowing climate change.
Dr Rose M. Mutiso
Kenyan born activist and materials scientist Dr. Rose M. Mutiso works with experts worldwide to find solutions to the energy crisis in developing countries, particularly specialising in renewable energy. Mutiso co-founded the Mawazo Institute, an institution committed to the next generation of female scholars and opinion leaders in East Africa.
The Master’s student was instrumental in an expedition that has been said to have changed the face of Antarctic research, in which she and a group of other women, to Amundsen Sea, a rarely explored corner of the Antarctic continent, to better understand the rate at which the Thwaites Glacier disintegrated in the past. Her research will help future modellers make more accurate estimates of how fast sea levels will rise in the coming century.
Dr Kate Marvel
Dr Marvel uses compelling storytelling to debunk misinformation about climate change. In her postdoctoral research, Marvel discovered that human activity almost definitely changed global rainfall patterns.
Rumaitha Al Busaidi
Rumaitha Al Busaidi is an Omani marine scientist and activist who is best known for her work on how seawater is changing the Monai agricultural landscape. As both a climate change and female rights activist, Al Busaidi demonstrates how women are more likely to be impacted by climate change. “Other approaches are necessary, which have to do with how our societies are structured. The most important of them is educating and empowering women and girls,” she said.
Dr Catherine Nakalembe
Dr. Nakalembe is a Ugandan remote sensing scientist who uses sensors to capture and analyze data to do with natural resource management, urban planning, and climate and weather prediction. Her work focuses on food security in Africa, helping smallholder farmers make decisions about their agricultural activities, particularly to prevent the disaster of crop failure. Nakalembe won the Africa Food Prize for her work in 2020.