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Every year on March 8th, International Women’s Day (IWD) is celebrated worldwide. This year’s 2021 campaign theme is #ChooseToChallenge, inspired by the notion that “a challenged world is an alert world. Individually, we're all responsible for our own thoughts and actions - all day, every day (...) from challenge comes change, so let's all choose to challenge” (International Women’s Day). What an inspiring opportunity to discuss the impacts of women on the environment, and how they continue to contribute to the environmental movement.
Don’t forget to strike the Choose To Challenge Pose and share your photos on your social media platforms using the hashtags #ChooseToChallenge #IWD2021 to encourage your online community to commit to helping forge an inclusive world
The earth being closely affiliated to the feminine entity is a commonly held belief amongst many global traditions. We speak about Mother Earth, Pacha Mama, Mère Nature or Bhūma Devī, among other incarnations. Françoise D’eaubonne, a renowned french feminist, coined the concept of ‘ecofeminism’ in 1974. Ecofeminism can be understood as a philosophy that delves into the association between women and the earth. Women, like the earth, create, nourish and protect life. Regardless, “women are still misrepresented in national and international decision-making about climate change (less than 25% of the head delegates in recent international climate negotiations were women” (National Wildlife Federation). The fight for environmental rights and the rights of women are deeply interconnected, for both struggle against a patriarchal system. Ecofeminism seeks to infuse values of “nonlinear structures, and a view of the world that respects organic processes, holistic connections, and the merits of intuition and collaboration” (Encyclopedia Britannica).
“This earth is my sister: I love her daily grace, her silent daring, and how loved I am, how we admire this strength in each other, all that we have lost, all that we have suffered, all that we know: we are stunned by this beauty, and I do not forget: what she is to me, what I am to her.” — Susan Griffin (Woman And Nature)
Anne Dagg and Jane Goodall
Many inspiring women have laid the foundation which has made it possible for young leaders of change to take the lead today. Contemporary female trailblazers like Anne Dagg (known for her preeminent studies of giraffes and extensive research on the discrimination of women within the academic field) and Jane Goodall (known for her work with primates and considered to be the world’s foremost expert on chimpanzees) have become the modern faces of women conservationists, despite starting their careers in an era when women were deemed too incompetent to be working directly in the field. Thanks to examples such as these, female scientists travelling and leading their research initiatives has become normalized and revered.
“When I was a little girl, I used to dream as a man, because I wanted to do things that women didn’t do back then such as travelling to Africa, living with wild animals and writing books.” — Dr. Jane Goodall (interview for Times)
Justine Philippon and Hélène Collongues
“Primatology is a feminine field. Many women followed the footsteps of Jane Goodall, Diane Fossey and Biruté Galdikas who were pioneers in this discipline” explains Justine Philippon, a French conservationist and primatologist in her mid-thirties. By the age of 21, Philippon started working with Ikamaperu; a Franco-Peruvian NGO that protects wildlife, biodiversity and the local Awajun community. Ikamaperu was founded in 1997 by Hélène Collongues. Splitting her time between France and Peru, Philippon conducts her PhD research on woolly monkeys while her and Collongues continue to actively fight against primate trafficking while working to protect their natural habitat, the forest.
One of the preeminent Indian environmental activists, Dr. Vandana Shiva, has been studying the effects of globalization on India’s food supply for decades. Her project is inseparable from the wellbeing of women since they are the primary workers in the agricultural fields throughout the country. The model of intensive production inherent to globalization is seen as a masculine dynamic. Therefore, her fight to protect the diversity of crops and local farming, and women undoubtedly goes hand in hand with feminism. She continues to persevere in a country where women’s rights still have a long way to go. Her environmental work is intertwined with womanhood, as she explains in her book Ecofeminism — written in partnership with Maria Mies.
“We are either going to have a future where women lead the way to make peace with the Earth or we are not going to have a human future at all.” — Vandana Shiva
Ishimure Michiko and Erin Brockovich
Many environmentalists frequently warn of the negative and harmful effects environmental pollution can have on human health.
Ishimure Michiko, a Japanese housewife from a small fishing village who also became a conservationist and writer, is an inspiring example of activism and leadership prevailing over pollution’s detrimental consequences. In the ‘50s and ‘60s, Ishimure pioneered the research that exposed the Chisso chemical plant as the source behind the tragic outbreak of Minamata disease in her village. She was concerned when so many locals, including herself, fell mysteriously ill. In her first book, Cruel Tales of Japan: Modern Period (1960), she recounted a firsthand report of the toxic effects of mercury poisoning (Minamata disease, is a neurological syndrome caused by severe mercury poisoning) by interviewing her fellow villagers. However, it was her second book, Paradise in the Sea of Sorrow (1969), which became her definitive work on Minamata disease and won her several awards, all of which she refused to accept until the plight of the victims was finally recognized by the government. Her book has been praised by international peers for its mobilizing “combination of hard-hitting factual reporting, along with exquisite literary narration, moved readers’ hearts as well as minds and led to a worldwide awareness of the threat of environmental pollution and the birth of the environmental movement” (The Asia-Pacific Journal).
On the other side of the world another female activist, Erin Brockovich, had a similar mission, to stand up against corporation’s negligence. Brockovich, a legal clerk at the time, was instrumental in building the winning case against the Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E) of California in 1993. Her successful lawsuit later became a Hollywood hit movie entitled Erin Brockovich (2000) which starred Julia Roberts, who won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance in the film. Since then, Brockovich was catapulted into becoming a pop culture icon. She used her fame to continue her humanitarian efforts by tirelessly litigating corporations and holding them liable for their negligent behavior.
Another inspirational environmental pioneer of note is the Kenyan biologist Wangari Maathai, the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004. Also known as “the women who planted trees” or “the mother of trees”, she founded the Green Belt Movement in 1977, an environmental initiative focused on planting trees, environmental conservation and fighting for women’s rights. She managed to reforest Kenya while elevating the women of her country.
“Until you dig a hole, you plant a tree, you water it and make it survive, you haven't done a thing. You are just talking.” — Wangari Maathai
Greta Thunberg and Artemisa Xakriabá
Today, a new generation is ready to take the reins and fight for the future of our planet. The possibilities are infinite. Today’s women have personalized their ecofeminist efforts and expanded them into all aspects of modern day life, from conservation and commerce to innovative products and harnessed the positive power of social media. An example is of Greta Thunberg, the 18-year-old Swedish environmental activist who demonstrates that advanced age is not a requirement for a strong voice. Similarly, the 21-year-old Brazilian indigenous activist Artemisa Xakriabá has been raising her voice to protect the Amazon Rainforest Forest and her community. During her speech at the New York Climate Strike in 2019 she exclaims:
“We, indigenous people, are the children of nature, so we fight for our mother earth. Because the fight for mother hearth is the mother of all of the fights. We are fighting for your lives, we are fighting for our lives, we are fighting for our territory.” — Artemisa Xakriabá
Nemonte Nenquimo and Alexandra Narvaez
Many voices together can be impactful, which is demonstrated by the collective action led by two Ecuadorian leaders, Nemonte Nenquimo (from the Waorani indigenous community) and Alexandra Narvaez (from the Kofan indigenous community). On August 14th, 2020, a group of around a hundred indigenous women marched together through the streets of Brasilia, demonstrating their unity in the fight against the abuse of the Amazon Rainforest. Nenquimo explains that for centuries indigenous communities have strived to keep their territory clean and healthy. However, since the 1960’s, the exponentially rising rate of resource consumption, steadily increasing oil exploration, logging and road building have caused disastrous repercussions for Ecuador’s rainforests and local population. Nenquimo has dedicated her life to protecting human rights and protesting against the destructive impact that capitalism, unregulated governmental policies, overconsumption and technology (Brut.) can have on the environment.
“Our Territory, Our Body, Our Spirit.”
Nowadays, women are not only making a difference for our planet as environmental activists, but as entrepreneurs as well. These environmentally conscious girl bosses make it possible for anyone to have a positive environmental impact by offering sustainable options to consumers. They inspire individuals to easily live a greener lifestyle.
A perfect example is Lauren Singer, an American environmental activist turned eco-entrepreneur who is credited with popularizing the Zero Waste Movement. In 2012, Singer went viral by documenting her personal journey of reducing her waste to zero. She was an overnight internet sensation for fitting a year’s worth of all of the waste she’d created into one 16oz mason jar. She went on to start her popular blog Trash is for Tossers in 2014, a place that provides readers with tips for reducing daily waste and a resource for environmental education that makes sustainable living simple, cost effective and fun. Simultaneously, Singer founded The Simply Co., a personal care line with the objective of bringing sustainable and non-toxic products to the market. In 2017, Singer opened Package Free, an online marketplace that exclusively sells environmentally conscious products, while at the same time, helping brands take steps to reduce their waste, overall plastic usage, and packaging. Since opening, Package Free has kept over 4 million plastic straws, over 3 million plastic bags and over 1.5 million non-recyclable bottles and cups out of landfills.
The ecofeminism movement has also paved the way for eco-entrepreneurs such as Meika Hollender. In 2019, Hollender created Sustain, a certified B Corporation that produces “shame-free products for periods and sex” that “prioritizes doing good for people, animals, and the planet”, as their guiding ethos. She states that she should not have to compromise when it comes to sexual and reproductive health, neither should our wellbeing endanger the environment. Her goal with Sustain was to create the first brand of natural sexual wellness essentials that protect women's bodies, their partner's and the planet, all at the same time.
Finally, we round-up our list of inspiring women with one of our local Montréal entrepreneurs, Chloe Roy, the founder of Floramama. Roy offers more than just sustainable bouquets and floral arrangements; she also takes an ecofriendly approach in all aspects of her business in hopes to show the beauty and diversity of nature in its natural state. Her flower farm is part of a collective movement of producers who promote local organic farming. Her commitment is to work in harmony with nature by using certified organic inputs, minimal tillage to maintain the structure of the soil, with an underlying respect for biodiversity in everything she does.
All throughout history and all around the world, women have always worked to inspire and act for the future. Whether you're young or mature, marching for a cause or starting an NGO, conducting research in the field or launching a sustainable business, or even if you’re thinking of becoming an influencer to use your visibility as a platform to raise awareness among your peers, in the end, it doesn’t matter what form your voice takes, as long as more and more voices are heard.
Article co-written by Emma Dora and Mariette Raina.
- Stéphane Desmeules (photo, editing) and Rodrigo Gelmi (3D tree)
- International Women's Day campaign photography
- Cristina Gottardi from the Unsplash platform
- Portrait of Anne Dagg
- Portrait of Vandana Shiva
- Portrait of Wangari Maathai
- Kofan leader Alexandra Narvaez and Waorani leader Nemonte Nenquimo, shot by Hivos
- Portrait of Lauren Singer
- Chloe Roy in her atelier creating some organic bouquets