March is Women's History month, and we want to highlight a few of the many inspiring female leaders in the sustainability and conservation movement. Women are at the forefront of the movement. Women are making change, and we need to talk about it more and celebrate it!
Why are women important in sustainability?
Women play a vital role in the sustainability movement. Women have powerful voices that can influence those around them for the better. They also tend to be the main decision-makers for purchases within a household, so women are making a statement with their voices, and with their wallets.
Research suggests that women "have higher levels of socialization to care about others and be socially responsible", according to Rachel Howell, a lecturer in sustainable development at the University of Edinburgh (source). A woman's natural inclination to care about the planet and people on it is a major driving force in her passion for the movement.
How does the climate crisis affect women?
"The climate crisis is not 'gender neutral'. Women and girls experience the greatest impacts of climate change, which amplifies existing gender inequalities and poses unique threats to their livelihoods, health, and safety." - UN Women
Climate change causes natural disasters and drives conflict around the world. This escalated state of conflict and tension, especially in countries with fragile political and socioeconomic settings, causes women and girls to be faced with increased risk and vulnerability to gender-based violence, human trafficking, and child marriage, among other concerns. (Source: UN Women).
In addition to a woman's safety, climate change also puts her health at risk:
"Research indicates that extreme heat increases incidence of stillbirth, and climate change is increasing the spread of vector-borne illnesses such as malaria, dengue fever, and Zika virus, which are linked to worse maternal and neonatal outcomes." (Source: United Nations Population Fund).
5 Inspiring Women in the History of Sustainability
Rachel Carson (1907-1964)
"One way to open your eyes is to ask yourself, what if I had never seen this before? What if I knew I would never see it again?"
Rachel Carson was one of the early influential voices for environmentalism in the United States. A born ecologist, she worked as a marine scientist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service in Washington D.C., primarily as a writer and editor. Carson was always acutely aware of the impact that humans have on the environment, and her writings made her a trusted voice of environmental science in America.
After World War II, Carson was one of the first voices to speak out against the widespread use of chemical pesticides such as DDT. Her book, Silent Spring, asks the hard questions about whether and why humans had the right to control nature; to decide who lives or dies, to poison or to destroy non-human life. A social revolutionary, her writings set the framework for the environmental movement moving forward.
Wangari Maathai (1940 - 2011)
Wangarĩ Muta Maathai was a Kenyan social, environmental and a political activist and the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. In 1977, Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement to plant trees across Kenya, and to alleviate poverty and conflict. She recognized the connection between environmental degradation and increased poverty and conflict, and also knew that purposeful leadership can achieve positive social change.
Maathai mobilized Kenyans, particularly women, to plant more than 30 million trees, and inspired the United Nations to launch a campaign that has led to the planting of 11 billion trees worldwide. Her legacy lives on.
(Source: United Nations)
"If we destroy nature, there is no economy. There is no life either."
Earle reminds us to "restore what we can while we still have the chance".
"O custo do cuidado é sempre menor que o custo do reparo", or "the cost of care is always less than the cost of repair."
Maria Osmarina Marina da Silva Vaz de Lima is a Brazilian politician and environmentalist who currently serves as Brazil's Minister of the Environment and Climate Change. She is also the founder and former spokeswoman for the Sustainability Network Party.
In 1994, she was the first rubber tapper ever elected to Brazil’s federal senate. As a native Amazonian and a populist senator, Silva built support for environmental protection of the reserves as well as for social justice and sustainable development in the Amazon region. Marina Silva helped to establish a 2-million-hectare forest reserve managed by the traditional communities that inhabit the region, for which she was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize in 1996.
She continues to fight to preserve Brazil's natural resources to this day.
“Oil has a purpose in the earth. Carbon is supposed to be in the soil, not the air.”
Winona LaDuke is an economist, environmentalist, activist and writer, known for her work on tribal land claims and preservation, as well as sustainable development. She is the co-founder of the indigenous environmental organization Honor the Earth, and has spent her career working on a national level to advocate, raise public support, and create funding for environmental groups.
In the past decade, LaDuke has been on the advisory boards for Greenpeace, The Trust for Public Land, and other environmental organizations. She has been on the ground with many indigenous land rights protests in recent years - she was present and vocal at the Standing Rock protests in North Dakota as well as the Sandpiper pipeline protest in Minnesota.
LaDuke sees a sustainable future for the world in which food is locally grown and organic. A future where energy sources are innovative and renewable. She remains a strong voice today, calling attention to issues of indigenous peoples and environmental causes.
We are proud to follow in the footsteps of these women, among many other environmental heroes. We celebrate those women working now in the communities, courtrooms, classrooms, and businesses — women all around us are paving the way to a resilient, healthy and just future.
We'd like to end with a quote from Women in Sustainability, and environmental education and advocacy organization:
"The environmental movement has not always been inclusive... We cannot talk about climate justice without talking about social justice so we must have ALL voices at the table to face the reality of how the climate crisis has impacted our communities and how best to create meaningful change that benefits all groups including, BIPOC, LGBTQIIA+, people with disabilities, and anyone who’s felt left out of the sustainability conversation."