The last two IPCC reports showed just how urgent the climate crisis is, as emissions keep rising and the impacts are immense. Not just in the future, but already today, and they are not shared equally. We found there is a lot to learn from how women are turning the tide for climate justice.
The inequalities of today's world are heavily reflected in - and compounded by - the climate crisis. Historical injustices and unequal opportunities and power are visible in emissions (Global North, rich, men) and impact (Global South, poor, women, Indigenous and marginalized communities). It is clear that climate justice would require all voices to be heard and ambitious action that reduces inequality. So how to get there? We spoke to six climate leaders – all women - for the second series of the People vs Inequality podcast. We found three things to stand out across the stories of six of the most effective climate activists of today.
All our guests were inspired to work for climate justice because of their strong connection to nature which was fostered from their early years. They also all emphasised the importance of building trust and relationships. Youth activist Elizabeth Wathuti decided to follow in the footsteps of her hero Nobel Prize Laureate Wangari Maathai. Growing up in Nyeri County, the most forested part of Kenya, and seeing both the beauty and destruction of nature first-hand, she turned anger and love into action. She is spearheading a tree growing campaign to get children in every school in the country to plant and adopt a tree to maturity in their schools. This practical approach helps nurture care and leadership for their environment.
"If we are serious about tackling the climate crisis we need to start listening and feel the pain of those suffering the consequences already today," Elizabeth said when we interviewed her. She has taken this message to the global stage, courageously calling on global world leaders to open their hearts, truly listen and take immediate action at COP26 in Glasgow.
Victoria Tauli-Corpuz builds on a long history of organizing and movement building for the rights and recognition of Indigenous Peoples, from her home community of the Kankana-ey Igorot people to the global stage. She shows how to build inclusion by enhancing the capacities of women and their communities to advocate for their rights. Victoria cautions against greenwashing and false solutions that do not respect Indigenous Peoples practices or their right to consent before any actions in their territories. She also emphasises that both resistance and dialogue are key to making change happen and that movements must combine these tactics.
This also shows from the work of Tessa Khan, a leading environmental and human rights lawyer who has played an important role in winning landmark court cases, won the 2018 climate breakthrough award and recently set up a new NGO called Uplift. Tessa is using her experience in campaigning, advocacy and strategic litigation to support movement building for a just transition away from fossil fuels. “The best thing I can do for my family in Bangladesh is to campaign here in the UK to phase out fossil fuels,” she told us. Tessa believes that global north citizens have the privilege and responsibility to use their best skills to work towards fixing the climate crisis and to make sure everyone - from oil workers to migrant communities - is heard in the process.
Bolivian-Dutch artist and activist Chihiro Geuzenbroek highlights the historical injustices that led to both climate change and inequalities and calls on everyone to acknowledge and address these as they work for climate justice. She reminds us of how big historical changes have resulted from people mobilizing at a massive scale, using arts and music, and not being afraid to disrupt. From women’s suffrage to the civil rights movements: citizen direct action played an important part and this is increasingly recognized in the climate movement. “Civil disobedience movements know that you need to make business as usual impossible for real political change to happen,” says Chihiro. Renowned environmental lawyer and climate negotiator Farhana Yamin also came to this conclusion when she “put her body on the line” by gluing herself to the Shell Headquarters as part of an Extinction Rebellion protest.
Tasneem Essop, the director of the influential Climate Action Network International, builds on her own experience in the anti-apartheid struggle. She is concerned that the callous response of global north actors in the face of crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic and worsening climate change is starkly different from the global solidarity experienced during those times. She has made local organizing and deliberately directing resources to the global south key priorities for her network. She calls on all of us to build back people power by standing united in the face of strong political and corporate interests.
Climate change is not just an environmental issue, it requires addressing inequalities at all fronts. Women’s rights are at the core of that. Gender equality and climate justice are two sides of the same coin, which presents us with the opportunity to build inclusive movements that address both issues at their core. The stories of these women all emphasises that ‘we need everyone in on this’. When we asked Tessa what gives her hope she said: “Acting is what generates hope and believing in the fight because we have no choice. There is lots to do!”
A longer version of this blog was previously published on https://afsee.atlanticfellows.org/blog/2022/how-women-are-turning-the-t…
The People vs Inequality Podcast is a production by Barbara van Paassen (creator and host) and Elizabeth Maina (producer). The climate justice series of this podcast is supported by the Guerrilla Foundation. Previous support came from the Atlantic Fellows for Social and Economic Equity and the International Inequalities Institute, at the London School of Economics.