Raihal Fajir is an activist from Aceh, Meunasah Manyang, Indonesia. After a devastating tsunami swept her region in 2006, Raihal witnessed a drastic change in the quality of water coming from her community’s wells, which were positioned next to a concrete mine. Noticing the way the pollution impacted the health of women and children of her area, she decided to take urgent action.
Coming from a predominantly Muslim region governed by Sharia law, Raihal understood the importance of partnering with her community’s religious leaders in order to make change possible. By highlighting the connection between the Qur’an’s teachings and the need for maintaining a healthy environment, Raihal garnered their support, mobilized her entire community, and brought significant attention to the mining pollution in her region. Since then, Raihal has bolstered her advocacy efforts around a safe and healthy environment by joining the Indonesia Women’s Earth Alliance Grassroots Accelerator which, among other critical offerings, connects grassroots leaders from across Indonesia with a regional and global network of women engaged in environmental and climate change efforts.
Women like Raihal stand on the frontlines of a growing global ecological crisis. Although they comprise half of the world’s population, women are more vulnerable to and disproportionately impacted by environmental degradation, environmental violence and climate change. According to UN Women, these threats do not merely impact women’s health, financial stability, and food security, but intensify rates of domestic and sexual violence, and amplify existing systemic oppression. And while women do bear the brunt of climate change, evidence proves, it will take women’s leadership to address these issues. Despite this, their knowledge and work remain unrecognized, under-resourced, and deprioritized – largely due to deep structural inequities.
As women, what do we do when everything is at stake and our individual leadership is stymied by isolation, inequity and lack of access?
Like Raihal, we come together, build partnerships, and drive solutions.
Studies have shown that national and transnational women’s networks enhance the capabilities of individual women leaders through sharing expertise and resources. In this way, alliance-building is critical for sustaining grassroots women’s environmental and climate leadership. At times, these alliances offer repositories for knowledge exchange and skill-sharing on appropriate technologies, policies, grassroots advocacy strategies, and more. At other times, these alliances evolve into coalitions aimed at generating a critical mass to catalyze much-needed action for the structural change necessary to address our climate emergency. Alliances offer the connective tissue among leaders, providing support, solidarity, and hope for frontline leaders engaged in the long battles for the reform of broken systems and for design of new, and more effective ones. And as Raihal’s story shows, partnerships can also forge a path for urgent action where it hadn’t previously existed.
While the alliances formed between activists and advocates are often the most critical for rapid-response action, there are also partnerships happening on many fronts that support women leaders and women-led movements. To be effective and to spur lasting and intersectional transformation, we as environmental and women’s rights NGOs have a responsibility to not just foster partnerships, but to model them as well. As ecological dangers become more complex and different needs are identified, it becomes necessary for organizational partnerships to transcend traditional silos and to coordinate activities. As advocates, we are united by common goals, and through collaboration we are able to amplify the work of our stakeholders while combining networks to generate greater impact.
The U.S. Grassroots Accelerator for Women Environmental Leaders is one example of the importance of partnerships at each level of our collective work. A capacity-building training program developed by WEA (Women’s Earth Alliance) and the Sierra Club, the Accelerator convenes a powerful group of grassroots women leaders from across the United States and U.S. Territories who are protecting our water, food, air, forests, land, sacred sites, indigenous lifeways, and future generations. Together, leaders gain the skills, tools, and networks critical to transforming our most pressing climate challenges into scalable solutions. A key component of the training are the partnerships formed across the country with 40+ mission-aligned organizations who mobilized hundreds of nominations and applications from local women leaders in their communities, exponentially broadening the reach of this work and ensuring more grassroots leaders have access to urgently needed resources for growing their work. As part of the Accelerator, leaders will join a global network of fellow grassroots women—like Raihal in Aceh—fostering solidarity, collective purpose, and ongoing mentorship and support.
Partnerships play an invaluable role in ensuring grassroots women environmental leaders have what they need to design, catalyze, and sustain climate solutions for generations to come. Whether they’re between leaders on the ground, at the highest levels of government, or between frontline leaders, partnerships ensure our work is responsive, effective, and impactful. It’s time to turn the tide and come together to uplift grassroots women-led solutions.