“As a young child, barefoot women and girls carrying heavy containers of water on their heads, walking long distances under the searing sun were a common sight. The reality of this stayed with me, and I knew I would do something about it someday.”
Meet Olanike Olugboji, a WEA founding mother, who participated in our first Women and Water Training in Kenya, and then returned to Nigeria with a clear vision and a strong network. Equipped with technical skills, entrepreneurship training, and seed funding, Olanike launched her own NGO called WISE, which today has trained over 3,000 women in clean energy, safe water technologies, and entrepreneurship. Her work has created refuge for Nigerian women, who risk rape or assault on the long walks to fetch water and firewood, as well as opportunity for women to create a livelihood and secure a future for their children.
After joining WEA as a regional coordinator, Olanike linked with women around the world, and today has a global reach. Olanike is a correspondent with World Pulse, a recipient of numerous international awards, and a participant in several prestigious leadership trainings. WEA is now collaborate with Olanike and her team at WISE to train women in promoting and selling clean cookstoves, linking up with the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves in Nigeria. (If a woman cooks breakfast, lunch and dinner over a wood fire, she suffers the equivalent of smoking between 3 and 20 packets of cigarettes a day. Over 120,000 Nigerian women die annually from inhalation of firewood smoke.) Olanike’s impact on the environment and on women’s well-being and livelihood has only just begun.
Together, we can build the leadership of women who will create a future of balance, health, and peace for our world.
A woman closes the door behind her and sets off into the early light of dawn. It’s the pre-monsoon season in India, and the air is thick with heat as she walks to her small kitchen garden. What began as a grant of seeds, has transformed into fertile beds of earth that are all her own. From her garden she can produce crops to both feed and financially support her family. From her garden she has been able to build alliances with other local women’s collectives around the importance of organic farming and how to improve their own self-sufficiency. From her garden her future is now one of abundance and opportunity.
This is our vision for the world because, we believe that when women thrive, communities thrive. When women are supported and resourced, they are able to lift their communities out of poverty, increase economic stability, and provide countries with sustainable practices to address and combat climate change. In light of this, the member states of the United Nation’s have been awarded a rare opportunity. As they reconstruct the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) into the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) that will be adopted in September, these nations and participating NGOs have the potential for being the spark that makes the WEA vision for the world—a world where grassroots women leaders are heard, and their knowledge is honored and uplifted for the betterment of us all—a reality.
In 2000, the eight MDG were established by the UN to target global issues identified as being some of our world’s most pressing concerns. Over the past fifteen years, great strides have been made towards accomplishing these goals. The percentage of those living in extreme poverty has been reduced nearly by half, from 1.9 billion to 836 million. More girls than ever are now enrolled in schools, and gender equality in secondary schools in 36 developing nations is no longer just an aspiration, but a shining reality. Access to clean drinking water has also seen an increase for up to 90% of the global population. But while this incredible progress represents important steps toward creating global equality, the work of the MDG isn’t finished. We cannot regard this progress as a landmark triumph while millions of people—particularly women and girls—continue to face severe poverty, basic human rights insecurity and deep inequity.
In this way, the MDG have come up short in shedding light on the intersectionality of the original goals, especially with regard to gender. In the final progress report the Secretary General of the UN, Ban Ki Moon, noted that of all the goals, gender equality and woman’s health were the most neglected. Even with an advanced education women around the world continue to earn 24% less than men. Less than 20% of government leaders in the world are women. And women in developing nations are fourteen times as likely to die as women in developed nations. When we look at this reality, we can clearly see how issues of climate change, food security, and environmental degradation continue—these are interconnected challenges existing in an ecosystem that is our world, and one challenge cannot be addressed while ignoring another.
Come September, all countries that participated in the MDG must re-evaluate and submit new goals, which will become the SDG. Of the seventeen SDG declared so far, one goal directly focuses on women, while many others have the potential to impact gender in positive and critical ways. Goal #5, the aim of achieving gender equality and empowering all girls and women, is only one of many and yet impacts almost every other issue at stake. In fact, a 2014 study by the Copenhagen Consensus Center providing guidance on which of the drafted SDG targets were the best investments rated those aimed at gender equality among the highest. Still, many governments fail to invest in the leadership and capacity-building of women, they fail to increase resources to address violence against women or to ensure access to reproductive health care, and they fail to recognize the disproportionate financial and environmental burden women bear as food producers and providers, community caretakers, and natural resource stewards. The global success of women represents our greatest hope for a reconciled world, and this is something that must be taken seriously by the SDG and world nations.
The Millennium Development Goals gave us a glimpse of a world where change is possible. Through WEA’s vision of recognizing essential women’s rights, and building global networks of empowered female leaders, the Sustainable Development Goals have the potential to create a world where change truly is sustainable.
In India, climate change, the steady degradation of natural resources, as well as political and social unrest and inequity, has severely affected the lives of millions of rural poor—a majority of which are women—who depend on natural resources for their livelihoods. These barriers help to make women and girls more vulnerable to societal and health dangers, and reinforces patriarchal practices that deny them access to arenas where decisions affecting them are made.
That’s why WEA was thrilled to partner with GREEN Foundation last year to recognize the knowledge and expertise of women farmers to promote food security and build community resiliency. Through this partnership and GREEN Foundations amazing efforts on the ground, women farmers in Karnataka were mentored, trained and supported as they shared and built their skills in sustainable agriculture, seed saving, income generation, community organizing, and leadership around climate adaptation.
Rucha Chitnis: Director of Grantmaking, Women’s Earth Alliance @ruchachitnis
As Philippines grasps the devastating scale of the destruction unleashed by Super Typhoon Haiyan, the global community must prioritize those who are being disproportionately impacted by this natural disaster—women and girls.The typhoon has impacted over 11 million people and aid gridlocks are paralyzing relief operations with poor access and communications.As aid and relief agencies scramble to deliver critical services to survivors, it is crucial to keep in mind the gender dimensions of natural disasters, and existing inequalities facing girls and women.
Why Gender Lens Is Crucial
Climate change and natural disasters are not gender neutral:Women and girls face multi-faceted discrimination and inequalities globally.Prevailing social norms – which leave women economically and culturally vulnerable in the best of times – impede women’s ability to recover from natural disasters and receive adequate support for their unique health, safety and other well-being needs. According to a report, Because I am A Girl, women and children are 14 times more likely to die in disasters than men.
Escalation of violence against women and girls:Disasters, such as the Super Typhoon, create crippling social breakdowns, including in law enforcement services. A study of the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at NYU School of Law conducted in four camps of internally displaced persons around Port-au-Prince, Haiti, revealed alarming data: Of the households surveyed 14% “reported that, since the earthquake, one or more members of their household had been victimized by rape or unwanted touching or both.” The typhoon in Philippines is no different, and human rights groups are raising concerns of escalating violence against women and girls, including risks of trafficking, forced marriages and rape.
Lack of adequate healthcare: UNFPA estimates that nearly 200,000 pregnant women need additional support, with stories surfacing of women giving birth amidst the rubble. Approximately 40% of women in the Philippines deliver at home, so there is an urgent need for groups like UNFPA to provide clean delivery kits to partners and midwives.
Around the world, women’s groups, solidarity networks and movements are demanding urgent climate action and a re-examination of a carbon-fueled development paradigm. Indigenous and rural women recognize that as mothers, caregivers, food producers, water and environmental stewards, they bear a disproportionate burden from these climate-induced disasters. Here are some holistic ways in which our grassroots partners and allies in South Asia and beyond are taking proactive steps to build community resiliency.Way Forward: What We Are Learning From Women’s Groups
Empowering Women & Promoting Rights: HIMANWANTI, Women’s Earth Alliance partner in Nepal, works to promote the rights of rural women in forest and natural resource management. HIMAWANTI believes that it is crucial to strengthen the role of women in the management and protection of biodiversity, as well as promote equitable access to natural resources and benefits generated from its use.They are also strengthening political literacy to build networks of healthy, conscious and empowered women throughout Nepal.
Ending Climate Denial and Demanding Accountability to Grassroots Women:A diverse gathering of women leaders from around the world in New York this year urged the world’s governments to make commitments to avoid a global temperature rise of 2.0 C degrees. Women also reminded the global community that citizens in industrialized nations have a responsibility to educate themselves and their worldviews and to divest from dirty fossil fuel developments, such as Tar Sands and fracking. Click here to read this powerful International Women’s Earth and Climate Summit declaration.
Promoting Women’s Decision-making:Our partner in Manipur, India, Rural Women Upliftment Society works to holistically build the leadership of indigenous women.RWUS promotes women’s participation in local governance, and provides capacity building support in sustainable agriculture and livelihoods to strengthen women’s food and economic security in the face of climate variability.
Respecting Women’s Knowledge and Expertise: Across the Global South, women farmers and Indigenous women’s networks and movements are positioning themselves as knowledge holders, equipped with a powerful agency to build holistic climate solutions.Women farmers are also seed savers, who have immense knowledge about native food crops, such as drought-resistant millet varieties that thrive in dry land areas and need little water for cultivation.
Our partner in India, the GREEN Foundation, believes it is vital to value women’s knowledge and expertise to promote food security and build community resiliency. GREEN is mentoring a group of women farmers in a drought-prone region in Karnataka in community radio production, where they will share information on climate change, early warning weather signs and promote sustainable agriculture as an important strategy to promote food security and healthy ecosystems.
There is an undeniable link between existing gender inequalities and how they exacerbate women’s vulnerabilities in the face of climate change and natural disasters. Women’s rights advocates note that it is crucial to include women’s leadership and decision-making in all aspects of climate change and disaster management program implementations and policies. Women’s participation is key in not only post disaster recovery efforts but also in proactive disaster prevention and climate mitigation and adaptation efforts. If you wish to donate to grassroots women’s groups that are leading recovery efforts for Typhoon Haiyan, consider donating to the Global Fund for Women. Also here’s an appeal with a list of organizations to support Indigenous peoples affected by this crisis.
“Oil company workers are not accountable to the community. They can treat people however they want because they think they are untouchable” – Cedar Gillette, domestic violence counselor in New Town, North Dakota (source)
North Dakota may reap huge economic gains for both Big Oil and the Midwest economy, but the consequences that have followed the oil boom have endangered women–Indigenous women in particular–and have placed them at an increased risk of domestic violence and crime.
The increase in demand for oil workers by the North Dakota fracking industry has led to an influx of young men seeking employment in various oil towns throughout the state. While crime is in no way exclusive to these growing towns, a correlation can be drawn between the population boom in several oil cities and the increase in crimes against women. After their own respective oil booms, Dickinson, North Dakota, saw a 300% increase in sex crimes and Bradford County, Pennsylvania saw an increase in unknown rapes. Some women now carry tasers to protect themselves from oil workers, and workers at the Abuse & Rape Crisis Center in Bradford County have noticed that many of town’s domestic violence cases involved individuals linked to the fracking industry. Finally, many cities that have experienced an oil boom have also seen an increase in the human trafficking of Native women.
While many argue that fracking in itself is not responsible for the increase in criminal activity in oil cities, the available data linking the fracking industry and violence against women warrants attention. Studies find that 80% of rapes against Indian women are by non-native men, yet only after recent reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act in March 2013 have tribal courts been given criminal jurisdiction over non-Indians, such as oil workers, for domestic or sexual crimes on tribal land.
For more information on fracking and how to join the movement against it, click here.