Tag Archives: Wangari Maathai

Day 29- Environmental Activism

Most rational people understand and accept that humanity’s actions have severely negatively impacted the environment, and yet most people do little or nothing to change their personal impact on the environment. I too am guilty of not always recycling, throwing batteries in the trash, (which I excuse-away in my mind as understandable because I live in a country where I do not speak the language and thus cannot seek proper channels for disposal), leaving my computer on and plugged in for days at a time, lounging in the shower, using synthetic petro-chemical products, and generally being wasteful. That I am not perfect in my own personal protection and defense of the environment does not lessen my commitment to making the world a better place, both figuratively and literally. Bad behaviors are not generally changed overnight, and so, I forgive myself if I have a lapse in judgement or memory and wound the planet, but I still consider myself an ecofeminist.

Not all women who participate in activism on behalf of the environment identify as ecofeminists, or even feminists in general. The link between the subjugation and exploitation of women and the subjugation and exploitation of the natural environment is the backbone of the ecofeminist discourse. Many women who participate in environmental organizations or movements do so as a result of the negative health impacts environmental degradation has had on them, their homes or someone they love. For years reports have surface that women (indigenous women especially) are and continue to be more severely affected by climate change, pollution, deforestation, increased food costs which can result in women resorting to prostitution or families selling their daughters, and other aspects of environmental concern because of social inequalities already present before environmental problems surface, but they are also taking the initiative to educate themselves and empower those around them.

Women are disproportionately represented in environmental organizations: they are often a majority of grassroots/local members and activists but are very few officers or leaders of major organizations. Often women, and the specific effects of environmental degradation on them, are specifically (if not intentionally) left out of papers, conferences and legislation surrounding environmental issues. Increasingly (and alarmingly) environmental organizations that are committed to nonviolent tactics, such as gluing themselves to the offices of companies they are protesting, are falsely linked to militaristic environmental groups that shamefully use terrorist tactics to try and overcome the system–more on why that will never work in a later post. The women in these peaceful groups are at an increased risk of violence if other members think the use of violence is an acceptable way to get what one wants, and are often under attack from corporations, police and non-activist citizens who feel threatened by the truth being spoken.

Internationally, Wangari Maathai, the first African woman and the first environmentalist to earn the Nobel Peace Prize, is a shining example of the potential for leadership and positive change in the environmentalist movements. Vandana Shiva is another “world-renowned environmental activist” who shows that women can be extremely capable leaders, especially when they are so personally impacted by the issue at hand. Many women are discovering the power of blogs and writing to share their ideas and concerns about the environment, like this woman. Also, see this list for information about some of today’s leading Jewish environmental activist women.

The link between family planning and climate change is a hot issue for many feminists, including the women of color RJ group SisterSong, because attempts to control women’s fertility and take away their right to bodily autonomy have been “justified” whenever anything needs protecting (like a specific gene pool, for example). This article Collective_Voices_Vol4_Issue9 shows why trying to limit women’s fertility will not be the answer to climate change. Please do not misunderstand: I fully support all women having accurate information about and access to all kinds of birth control so that they can make their own fully-informed decisions. What I do not approve of is anyone imposing their views of what is right, or moral, or healthy or “best” on someone else.

Women are often assumed to be more “in-tune” with nature because of menstruation, or because the femininely-linked intuition and emotion are seen as more basic human traits than the masculinely-linked logic and reason. (Even big-name politicians fall prey to these assumptions!) These assumptions merely feed into the social constructions of gender roles in any given society, which are often responsible for the impact environmental issues disproportionately have on women in the first place, creating a vicious cycle.

If you would like to become more involved in environmental issues there are many, many areas of concern. A quick google search for organizations in your area will be a good start. Women are effective and capable leaders and members of environmental activist organizations not because they (more than men) have some innate connection to Mother Earth but because they are effective and capable people.

Attention: If you happen to be in Denton, Texas today head up to the University of North Texas this evening for a discussion of environmentalism and social justice from one of the founders of Code Pink, Diane Wilson.


Day 9- Women’s Activism in Africa

A composed satellite photograph of Africa.

Image via Wikipedia

North Africa has been in the news recently for its people’s uprisings. Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt are all currently in very precarious situations but the people of these nations, men and women, have shown that they want democracy and are willing to give their lives to earn it.

Sub-Saharan Africa is largely ignored by America unless the political events that occur will affect the US, such a high-profile oil spill in Nigeria which could raise gas prices in the States. The tragedies and travesties of the rapes in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the upheaval in Sudan and its Darfur region, and the poverty and desperation in Somalia go largely unnoticed by American news outlets and the American people.

Today I’d like to give a sample of what women (and feminist men) are doing across the African continent to advance social justice and true equality.

Liberia: The women of Liberia bravely stood up against dictator and war criminal Charles Taylor and helped bring about an end to their country’s brutal civil war in 2003. Their story was told in the 2008 documentary Pray the Devil Back to Hell. Subsequently Liberia elected Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first female head of state in Africa. An all women UN peacekeeping unit from India still provides inspiration for Liberian women and shows them that women can do or be anything they set their minds to. Today the women of Liberia are still working for peace in their region and in the world. These women are raising their voices for the women of neighboring Ivory Coast.

Cotê d’Ivoire: In honor of International Women’s Day, and to protest the killing of women protesting Laurent Gbagbo’s refusal to recognize the November 2010 elections, thousands of Ivorians marched yesterday in an event that left three men and one woman dead.

Nigeria: Last year at this time women in Nigeria were protesting a religious massacre. Last week (2 March 2011) Nigerian women found themselves protesting the presence of cattle herders on of their farm land. In February a small group of women protested the imposing of a female candidate into a federal position for which they elected a man. These women recognize that simply because a candidate is a woman does not necessarily mean she will represent women or fight for women’s rights.

Sudan: Women in Sudan, especially in the Darfur region, understand what it means to be completely ignored and have their rights denied. In the recent referendum however, women turned out in large numbers to show their support for the cessation of Southern Sudan. OftenSudanese women’s stories go untold, but small groups of women are slowly finding their voices and demanding justice. For the second time in two weeks a group of women staged protests against the government’s detention of protesters.

Ethiopia: One of my favorite feminists, native Ethiopian Billene Seyoum Woldeyes, is helping to bring gender equality to her motherland through her blog Ethiopian Feminist.

Kenya: Wangari Maathai is perhaps one of the most well-known women in the world. The 2004 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for her work in the Greenbelt Movement, Maathai continues to improve the world around her both through her environmental activism and her women’s rights advocacy.

Uganda: One of Uganda’s favorite journalists, Rosebell Kagumire, covers stories and brings attention to everything from vote rigging to violence against women, both in Uganda and around Africa, in her blog.

Somalia: Women in Somalia suffer under some of the worst poverty in the world. Often left without a means to support themselves, many women-heads-of-household work all day and resort to begging to feed their families, often going hungry themselves. Despite this, Somali women make the time to protest the lack of women in parliament and push for higher quotas.

Democratic Republic of the Congo: Because of the efforts of the V-Day campaign the atrocities committed in the DRC have been given at least a little public attention in the US. The widespread use of rape in the DRC as a weapon of war has drawn the sharp criticism of the UN and organizations around the world, like Amnesty International. The women of the DRC have joined forces with these international organizations and demanded safety and dignity.

Mozambique: While Mozambique is making significant progress in gender issues, one of the most dire problems women there are fighting against today is climate change. Because of the feminization of poverty and the differential affects of climate change, rising sea levels and land degradation on women, the people of Mozambique have begun to pay attention to solutions that specifically address women’s relationship to the environment.

Namibia: Forced sterilization of women is not a new concept, but HIV+ women in Namibia who were sterilized without their knowledge or consent have demanded justice. Staging sit-ins with the slogan my body, my womb, my rights thousands of women have shown their support and raised their voices in solidarity with their HIV+ sisters.

South Africa: The shameful “rape capital of the world” (a title South Africa dubiously shares with the DRC) has come a long way since apartheid, but the country’s lesbians are constantly at great risk. So called “corrective rape” of lesbians in South Africa has reached epidemic proportions with police refusing to take complaints seriously, but women around the world have demanded an end to this inhumane practice.

To learn more about women’s roles and rights in Africa, visit Solidarity for African Women’s Rights, Human Rights Watch, All Africa, Women of Africa and the newly formed UN Women.


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