In the U.N. Millennium Declaration, 189 governments agreed to “To promote gender equality and the empowerment of women as effective ways to combat poverty, hunger and disease and to stimulate development that is truly sustainable.”.
This is because for better or for worse, women are at the center of every one of these issues.
Food. Women produce most of the world’s food yet own only a small percent of the world’s titled land.
Water. Women worldwide spend a combined total of 200 million hours per day collecting water, which translates to lost opportunities to gain education and employment.
Climate Change. Because of poverty and lack of access to resources, women are 14 times more likely than men to die in a climate-related disaster.
Health. Women carry a disproportionate “body burden” of pesticides, pollutants and chemicals in our body fat, and can pass this toxicity on to our children in the womb.
Safety. The Center for Media and Democracy found that regions experiencing severe environmental destruction, like fracking or mining, show significant increases in rape, assaults, and other types violence against women.
But what happens when these obstacles are removed? When women are accessing financial resources, training, leadership opportunities, when they can advocate for their land and their communities with knowledge and support, how does this change the equation? When their ideas are prioritized and their voices heard, what is the outcome?
These are the questions that have motivated WEA’s work since that original meeting of thirty. When women who are giving everything to protect our communities are supported, not only do we excel, but we help others to do the same. The children benefit, the communities benefit, natural resources and local economies can flourish, and real transformation can take root.
A small group of us had a hunch this would be the case, and we knew it wasn’t about meeting quotas for women’s representation. We knew we needed to design an initiative that had investing in women’s leadership as THE core strategy for achieving global environmental sustainability. We knew, because we saw it happening everywhere– that women’s empowerment creates the tipping point for ecological and social change. More than top-down decisions, more than development projects imposed from the outside, women’s community-based leadership is a key driver of lasting transformation for the critical issues we all care about and want to help solve.
And this is nothing new. Women are behind some of the most significant global movements for sustainability – from India’s Chipko movement, when hundreds of women rallied to protect Indigenous trees from being cut by hugging them, giving up their lives in protest; to Kenya’s Green Belt movement, where 50,000 women transformed the nation’s environment and economy with their treeplanting; to the thousands of brave women who led Bolivia’s “water wars” against water privatization.
Across cultures and throughout time, women work tirelessly to protect the earth and uphold the fabric of community for future generations.
Stability in communities worldwide contributes to everyone’s health and safety on this earth. Without clean water, land to grow food, or forests to provide life, there is unrest. And we are all impacted, regardless of where we live or what we think. A planet where all people’s basic needs are met is possible. We just need to go back to the source—our world’s women—and make sure women are sourced.