How women’s environmental activism in the global south can create a better world

Climate change has different impacts on men and women, especially in the global south.

These differences are due to patriarchal culture. Women are often not involved in responding to environmental problems. They are too often excluded from debates about solutions to the climate crisis.

Leaving women aside when devising environmental solutions places them in more vulnerable positions. When climate change-related events occur – such as more extreme weather, wildfires or floods – women and girls bear a heavier burden and experience more severe impacts. Violence against women is also increasing due to global warming.

However, we have to change the narrative that women are mere “victims” of the climate crisis. In reality, women in countries in the global south also possess the capacity and strength to protect the environment. And they demonstrate it through various actions, both formal and informal, both individual and collective.

Women’s movements in the global south

Historically, women have played an important role in environmental protection in Asian and South American countries.

An example is the Chipko environmental movement in India in the 1970s. Its activity began in 1974, when women and the indigenous community of the village of Reni fought to save the forest from logging that threatened their livelihood. They acted collectively by protecting and hugging trees to push back the contractors and prevent deforestation. Their fight became global, causing a great impact throughout the world.

Chipko women surrounding a tree to protect the forest.
Arnab Chaudhary / Wikimedia CommonsCC BY-NC-ND

During the 1985 Nairobi Conference on the Achievements of the United Nations Decade for Women, the importance of nature conservation and women’s environmental actions was stressed. At this conference, testimonies from the Chipko movement and similar women’s movements in other countries were discussed.

Fighting for change in Mexico and Bolivia

In addition to the Chipko movement, there is a recent example in Zapotalito, a town located in the Laguna Chacahua-Pastoría National Park area, in southern Mexico.

Zapotalito has suffered a number of environmental problems, including mass fish kills, a horrible ammonia smell, and deteriorating air and water quality. All this as a consequence of a dam project and the contamination of a lime oil factory.

Well, the women of Zapotalito worked together to clean the natural canal in the mangrove area of ​​Coaxaca. They used shovels and hoes to carry out regular cleanups in 2016. And even as they fought for change, they continued with their daily routines. They cooked, made tortillas, cleaned houses, took care of children, tended pets and plants, and fished for their families’ consumption, even in the midst of poor environmental conditions.

On the other hand, the women’s movement in Chiquiacá, Bolivia, has been protecting the Tariquía National Flora and Fauna Reserve since 2017 from the expansion of oil and gas companies in the area.

In 2019, they blocked the entrance to the conservation area for a whopping five months to prevent drilling equipment from being introduced. The women of Chiquiacá also took their protest to the streets, actively preventing any development on their lands. What began as a local movement has become a powerful collective action that is still in force and has gained the support of thousands of people in Bolivia.

Chiquiacá women in action in Bolivia.

The leadership of Indonesian fisherwomen

In Indonesia, fisherwomen in Central Java have been working to sustain their community amid climate change since 2020. Rising sea levels have increased the risk of flooding in their neighborhoods, forcing them to take action by collaboration with policy makers, raising awareness and fundraising to build bridges.

Unfortunately, women in these movements often face threats, intimidation and violence. Her enemies have attempted to undermine her actions, pointing out that “women should stay quiet at home and take care of the kitchen.” Some of them have even received death threats.

However, despite these challenges, they continue their fight to protect their land.

Growing global recognition

The stories above demonstrate that women are capable of making a difference in environmental activism, from their homes and communities to the national stage.

The international community is also increasingly recognizing their efforts. Since the 1990s, more and more international policies emphasize gender as a crucial element for nature conservation and sustainable development.

For example, the 1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development recognizes the vital role of women in environmental and development management.

The Beijing Platform for Action, established in 1995, is a resolution that supports gender equality and the empowerment of women around the world.

Reports from the High-Level Intergovernmental Meeting on the Beijing Platform for Action in Asia and the Pacific highlight the critical link between environmental change and women’s role as managers and providers of natural resources.

There is also the 2004 United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, which highlights the crucial role of women in drought-affected areas, especially in rural regions of developing countries.

Recent documents from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) highlight the critical role of local women’s movements and indigenous women in shaping climate policies and actions.

Numerous policies also promote the participation of women in the sustainable development agenda although, unfortunately, not all countries adopt them.

Better solutions thanks to the participation of women

Despite being severely affected by environmental damage, women continue to demonstrate their resilience and knowledge to confront climate change.

To enhance women’s activism, governments around the world should formulate policies that integrate the role of women in conservation and sustainable development strategies within their own nations.

file 20230921 15 rmi77m.png?ixlib=rb 1.1
Women marching for climate justice in Jakarta in 2017.
Indonesian Civil Society Network for Climate Justice

It is also crucial to document women’s activism. Both government and social measures are essential to avoid oversimplifying the experiences of women in various countries, and to move beyond the narrative that portrays them solely as victims.

Taking women into account is a first step to finding new and better solutions to environmental problems.

Related articles

The United Kingdom recognized the cover-up of blood contaminated with HIV and hepatitis

An investigation revealed the biggest public health scandal in the UK: the deliberate cover-up by the British authorities between 1970 and 1991 of blood...

Chiranjeevi: The megastar who gave another chance to that director… for the sequel!

After 'Bhola Shankar', Megastar Chiranjeevi's movie 'Vishwambhara'. The film is being directed by Vashishta of Bimbisara fame and is currently in the shooting...