For International Women’s Day, we’re highlighting the ways that women around the world are making an impact in the fight against climate change. Here are 5 women who are making a difference in the climate crisis.
Throughout history, there have been a wide variety of movements advocating for the sort of social change that is necessary to create a world in which all people have the opportunity to pursue life to its greatest potential. One of those movements has been commemorated by International Women’s Day.1 First celebrated on March 19, 1911, over one million men and women came together from across Austria, Denmark, Germany, and Switzerland to advocate for the expansion of women’s rights. Since then, more countries have joined in recognizing International Women’s Day, which is now universally celebrated on March 8th.
As a result, essential conversations around women’s and, more broadly, human rights have occurred, leading to the rethinking and rewriting of legislation the world over. The women’s movement as a whole still has work to do regarding intersectional representation and equality, and International Women’s Day reminds us of the monumental importance of continuing conversations and activism around improving the lives of all people.
Gender equality and climate change
Every year, International Women’s Day touts a specific theme or call to action, with 2021’s being “Choose to Challenge.”2 The International Women’s Day website explains that “we can all choose to challenge and call out gender bias and inequality. We can all choose to seek out and celebrate women's achievements. Collectively, we can all help create an inclusive world. From challenge comes change, so let's all choose to challenge.”
In honor of this year’s theme, we’d like to shine a light on the work being done by five women from across the climate justice and sustainability movements, and talk about how their efforts are continuing to positively impact the state of the climate crisis. Because the connection between women and climate change has a lasting impact on our collective future.
Women and the fight against climate change
Here are 5 women leaders who are making a difference in the climate crisis:
1) JoAnn Tall: Helped prevent nuclear testing and hazardous landfill building on reservation lands
JoAnn Tall,3 a member of the Oglala Lakota Tribe4 in South Dakota, has long been a prominent voice advocating for the rights of Indigenous peoples in the Black Hills area. As the co-founder of the Native Resource Coalition and a past member of the Seventh Generation Fund’s5 Board of Directors, Tall has used her skills in research, education, and environmental advocacy to empower the Lakota people and protect Native lands. Some of her environmental activism efforts include preventing dangerous uranium mining and stalling the creation of a nuclear weapons testing site near the Black Hills region of SD. Her conservation work continued with her multi-reservation efforts to prevent a landfill from being built on reservation lands.
2) Sylvia Earle: Leader in ocean conservation and founder of the Mission Blue Alliance
Sylvia Earle6 is a leading ocean and marine conservationist, researcher, explorer, and advocate. Through the lens of her marine algae research, she has led conversations around the impact of overfishing and ocean pollution on marine ecosystems worldwide. She was also one of the first ocean scientists to embrace the use of SCUBA gear7 (self-contained underwater breathing apparatus) as a tool in studying remote areas of the ocean — even holding the record for the deepest untethered dive. She is also the founder of the Mission Blue Alliance,8 which brings together over 200 different conservation organizations from around the world to unite their efforts to “explore and protect the ocean.” Earle was also the first female chief scientist at NOAA9 (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and received Time Magazine’s Heroes for the Planet award in 1998.
3) Isatou Ceesay: Created a yarn made of plastic to reduce local waste and provide income opportunities to her community in Gambia
Isatou Ceesay, who grew up in a small village called N’jau in central Gambia, first got involved in environmental advocacy work when she became a volunteer with the US Peace Corps. After learning about the environmental impacts of plastic waste, she had the idea to repurpose the colorful plastic bags in the local landfill by cutting them into strips and turning them into yarn, or “plarn” (plastic yarn). She along with a group of other women started the N’jau Recycling and Income Generation Group (NRIGG) and began crocheting a variety of products that they could then sell locally and abroad. This not only created a new income opportunity for the women but also helped to educate others in the community about the importance of recycling and caring for the environment. This effort grew to include other types of waste upcycling and education programs. In 2012, Ceesay, who became known as the Queen of Recycling, received the Making a World of Difference Award10 from the International Alliance for Women. She also wrote a picture book called One Plastic Bag11 to show how much of a difference each of our actions can make.
4) Luisa Neubauer: Helped spark the “Fridays for Future” movement in Germany
Luisa Neubauer is a German climate activist who, in 2018 at age 22, helped to launch the first “Fridays for Future”12 school strike movement across Germany. Taking inspiration from Greta Thunberg (who initiated the movement in Sweden), Neubauer called on students to organize on behalf of the pervading climate crisis in order to force legislative action on the part of governmental representatives. Neubauer has also given a TED talk13 on what it means to be a climate activist, and why we all need to come together to create a sustainable future. She has also been a member of various organizations including ONE,14 Foundation for the Rights of Future Generations,15 and 350.org.16
5) Marinel Ubaldo: Climate activist and past youth leader at Plan International
Marinel Ubaldo’s activism began at Plan International,17 an organization that works in the Philippines to create greater equity for girls and advocates for child rights. Through this organization, Ubaldo was able to travel outside of her own community to share knowledge about climate change and our planet’s future with others. After Super Typhoon Haiyan18 hit the Philippines in 2013, Ubaldo suddenly found herself and her family among those who had to rebuild their lives. It was this event that made Ubaldo rethink her role in climate activism and led her to help organize the Philippines’ first youth climate strike. In 2015, she spoke at the United Nations Climate Change Conference and has continued her advocacy and education work abroad with the support of Amnesty International,19 among others.