It is internationally recognized that women’s empowerment is an essential precursor to economic growth, environmental protection, and peace. The landmark book Drawdown, which describes the 100 most substantive solutions for reversing the buildup of atmospheric carbon within 30 years, found that empowering women is among “the most impactful tool for achieving drawdown.” The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) describe gender equality and women’s empowerment as “integral to each of the 17 goals. Only by ensuring the rights of women and girls across all the goals will we get to justice and inclusion, economies that work for all, and sustaining our shared environment now and for future generations.”
Yet this still has not translated into an investment of resources— financial, human, information, or physical. Women are still hit the hardest by environmental and climate crises, and many risk their lives every day just to access basic needs – like water, food, and fuel – for their families and their communities. Deep structural inequities rob half of the global population of our full potential to profoundly shape our communities, our values, and the future on this planet.
How would this, and the world, change if women had a seat at the decision-making table? If women’s leadership were centered, not only at the grassroots level, but on the political level as well?
Research reveals that women’s participation and leadership in politics results in:
- Prioritizing social issues and services concerning women, children and families in policymaking
- Greater likelihood of ratifying international environmental treaties
- Increased participation of women in the governance structures of institutions protecting community resources, such as forests
- A variety of environmental risks, from nuclear power to toxic substances, being taken more seriously, as women tend to be less likely to impose environmental and health risks on others.
At Women’s Earth Alliance (WEA), we see these shifts firsthand through our work supporting women leaders around the world to accelerate their environmental solutions and movements — most recently in Indonesia and Nigeria.
In Indonesia, Tiza Mafira — a lawyer and director of Gerakan Diet Kantong Plastik Indonesia, a grassroots community-based organization focused on advocating for the abolition of single use plastics — understands the impact her advocacy can have on millions of Indonesians, as well as the environment. “Often, we think it is the people versus the government, some entity you need to criticize, I don’t think that is necessarily true,” Tiza explains. “I think if you want to create massive change you have to do it through policy – if we are talking about nationwide change, something that includes up to 240 million people then we’re talking about a policy – and that is what I am trying to do.”
Indonesia is the second-biggest contributor to the plastic trash crisis in the oceans, behind only China. It produces 3.22 million tons of mismanaged plastic waste every year, of which 1.29 million tons ends up in the sea. Since she first began campaigning against single-use plastic bags in 2013, Tiza’s leadership in policymaking and coalition-building has helped four cities to enact plastic bag bans, with hope for a nationwide ban in the near future.
In Nigeria, Binta Yahaya uses her training as a clean cookstoves entrepreneur and leader to educate and influence the highest levels of local government in her work to safeguard women’s health and promote affordable, sustainable energy. In Nigeria, firewood smoke is the 3rd largest killer of women and children, most of whom cook over open fires or traditional cookstoves, suffering chronic respiratory infections and other health problems from the toxic smoke. Studies have shown that cooking with an open fire is like burning 400 cigarettes an hour in your kitchen. In the last year, not only has Binta sold over 230 clean cookstoves to women in her community — providing them with a simple solution to reduce sickness, medical bills, and daily fuel costs for families — and designed her own clean cookstove model, she has also used her leadership and position to advocate for her community’s Traditional Ruler and Council to designate land for the UN Development Program Global Environment Facility – Sustainable Fuelwood Management Project’s Clean Cookstove Demonstration Center.
And right now in the United States, women leaders with the Sunrise Movement have laid out the Green New Deal (GND), an ambitious national program of investments in communities, clean energy jobs, public infrastructure and industry to transform our future. Among its goals are: achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions; securing clean air and water, climate and community resilience, healthy food, access to nature, and a sustainable environment for us all; promoting justice and equity by stopping current, preventing future, and repairing the historic oppression of frontline and vulnerable communities.
Tiza, Binta and the leaders of the Green New Deal show us just how much progress is possible for the environment and our communities when women’s leadership — in politics, in grassroots movements, in coalition-building — is considered not just as a benefit to the conversation, but as essential. As community and family caretakers, leaders, and advocates, women are key change agents engaged in protecting vital resources, and are already at the forefront of developing appropriate, local climate and environmental solutions. They provide a critical and necessary perspective for shaping broader environmental policies and our future for generations to come.
When women thrive, the Earth thrives.