Why women as environmental activists will bring about necessary political change for a sustainable future
by Holly Wright
Since the 1960s ecofeminists have posited that women as a universal, homogenous group are biologically predisposed to care and conserve the environment and bring about social change. Especially since women are more vulnerable to the degradation of nature and the consequences of climate change. Furthermore, this sentiment can be traced back to the ideas of the ‘Earth Mother’ and how a women’s ability to reproduce life can be inextricably linked to ‘Mother Nature’s’ spiritual affinity to sustain nature’ (Hawley, 2016). Consequently, as an effective solution to climate change and sustainable development becomes increasingly necessary there is a possibility that it could become embedded that sustainability is exclusively a women’s responsibility. However, although a majority of those involved in sustainability and environmental organisations are women, they only make up 29% of executives and board-level seat members which would suggest that they are not involved in the decisions on climate and sustainability policies. Therefore, feminists suggest that one of the key changes that need to take place to produce an effective global solution is the inclusion of more women in the decision-making processes and having their perspectives heard at the top levels of organisations and governments globally would be a significant transformation.
Despite not being permitted access to leadership roles in the key environmental organisation due to the existing and prevalent gender inequality, women have played a crucial role in protecting natural resources and promoting sustainability. One of the most well-known female activists of the past generation was Wangari Maathai (1940-2011) who was awarded the Noble Peace Prize for her work towards sustainable development. Her work was influential as she intertwined the notions of democracy with both human and women’s rights both locally and globally (Golding, 2016). This was important as within societies across the world feminists have drawn connections between the treatment of women and nature as they argue that both are taken for granted and presumed to have an unlimited capacity to provide. The Green Belt Movement that Wangari Maathai founded is still regarded with international honour and recognition for the work they conduct agitating against illegal developments on public land and against large corporations evicting poor villages throughout Africa. Through the efforts of the movement by 2004 around 40 million trees had been planted and villages around Africa and globally were becoming educated on the effects that uncontrolled development has on nature and the depletion on important natural resources. Finally, it could be argued that through her social activism Maathai and her movement brought about a new spirit and energy to environmental activists and movements around the globe.
Currently, the United Goal for Sustainable Development is to create a future where the planet and natural resources are protected however, this goal cannot be achieved without the equal participation and response of women. At the moment, women are highly underrepresented in the top levels of business and politics which impacts on the effectiveness of any sustainable solution created. For instance, men and women have clear differences in attitudes towards sustainability as a survey recently found that 65% of females compared to 45% of males argue that sustainability of the environment was an important factor when considering investment opportunities. The disproportionate representation has led to the foundation of Women4Climate programme which aims to empower women, particularly in underdeveloped countries where they face unequal access to resources and are more negatively affected by climate change and food insecurity.
Petra Kelly, the founder of the German Green Party once stated that ‘women who promote sustainability and protecting nature and resources are not the weak stereotypical Earth Mother, instead they are angry for our children and the future of the planet’. Furthermore, there is a growing influence of the notion that women due to their past oppression by men are used to fighting for equal rights in politics and the private life both locally and internationally and can, therefore, better understand the ultimate domination of men and culture over nature. Through environmental movements, women around the world have been inspired to pursue and advocate for greater equality in parliament and politics, along with in the business sectors. Ultimately, there needs to be a greater gender balance within Parliament and environmental organisation as only then could there be a more successful and balanced solution. Only through speaking and public debate will we find an effective response to the greatest threat to the future of our planet.
Finucane, A and Hidalgo, A. (2018). ‘Climate Change is Everyone’s Problem. Women Are Ready to Solve it’, FORTUNE, 12th September. Available at: http://fortune.com/2018/09/12/climate-change-sustainability-women-leaders/ (Accessed: 2nd April 2019).
George, S. (2019). ‘Women in sustainability: The agents of change are ready, its time businesses were too’ edie.NET, 7th March. Available at: https://www.edie.net/blog/Women-in-sustainability-The-agents-of-change-are-ready-its-time-businesses-were-too/6098624 (Accessed: 2nd April 2019).
Golding, J. (2016). ‘Wangari Maathai and Peace on Earth’, ZED, 19th October. Available at: https://www.zedbooks.net/blog/posts/wangari-maathi-and-peace-on-a-warming-earth/ (Accessed: 2 April 2019).
Hawley, J. (2016). ‘Why women’s empowerment is essential for sustainable development’, International Institute for Environment and Development, 2nd February. Available at: Why women’s empowerment is essential for sustainable development | International Institute for Environment and Development (Accessed: 2 April 2019).
Lucas, C. (2016). ‘Why Women will save the Planet’ ZED, 26TH July. Available at: https://www.zedbooks.net/blog/posts/women-will-save-planet-caroline-lucas-green/ (Accessed 2 April 2019).