Ten eco-warriors to thank this International Women’s Day

If recent global events have you feeling like our world is currently taking several giant steps backwards, here’s some cheerier news. Across the planet, courageous women young and old are stepping up to make a positive difference for both gender parity and our environment.

In celebration of International Women’s Day today, which this year asks us all to ‘Be Bold For Change’, we’ve found ten awesomely determined lady eco-warriors doing exactly that.

Australia’s Emma Johnston is fighting coastal water pollution

As a marine ecologist and ecotoxicologist, Emma has spent a fair whack of time diving underwater. She’s seen firsthand what’s often hidden from view: the impact of human activity on complex marine ecosystems. Using Sydney Harbour as her launching point, Emma’s led internationally recognised research on the effects of pollution, dredging and invasive species.

In November 2014, Emma and her colleagues launched the World Harbour Project, which now has 20 cities on board, from Jakarta to San Francisco and Shanghai to Rio de Janeiro. Her high-profile work is not only helping clean up our waterways, but also inspiring young women to consider a career in science.

Kenya’s Wangari Maathai helped plant millions of trees in Africa

Born in 1940, Wangari was a force to be reckoned with. In 1977, after hearing from rural Kenyan women that streams were drying up and few trees were left for firewood, Wangari came up with a simple idea that became a major environmental movement. She founded the Green Belt Movement, which encouraged women to grow seedlings and plant trees to bind the soil and store rainwater – and she paid them for their work, too.

Wangari became the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for her work in 2004. She died in 2011, but her legacy lives on – see this compelling doco. Our fave quote from Wangari? “We cannot tire or give up. We owe it to the present and future generations of all species to rise up and walk.”

We cannot tire or give up. We owe it to the present and future generations of all species to rise up and walk.

 

Canada’s Severn Cullis-Suzuki silenced the world

At the age of nine, Severn (David Suzuki’s daughter) founded the Environmental Children’s Organization – a group of children dedicated to learning and teaching youth about environmental issues. Then, at the age of 12, she stopped the world with her impassioned speech to the global delegates gathered in Rio de Janeiro for the first United Nations Conference on Environment and Development. Her speech went viral and she became a regular invitee to UN conferences.

These days, she continues her environmental activism as a speaker, television host and author. While 25 years ago she was appealing for change to protect the future of her own generation, now she’s fighting for the future of her two sons.

India’s Vandana Shiva is protecting native, non-GMO seeds

Vandana’s actions helped coin the term ‘tree hugger’ in the 1970s when she and other women villagers wrapped their arms around trees in the Himalayas region to stop commercial loggers from chopping them down.

In a lifetime of environmental activism and ‘ecofeminism’, Vandana has rallied against genetically modified seeds, establishing the women-centred Navdanya network of seed keepers and organic producers in 18 states across India. Together, they’ve helped conserve more than 3000 rice varieties, created 122 community seed banks and championed small farmers’ rights.

America’s Erin Schrode is cultivating change through education

Erin is a young ‘ecoRenaissance’ woman. She’s a 25-year-old social entrepreneur, environmental and human rights activist, speaker and brand consultant. She also ran as a Democratic Party Congressional candidate in the 2016 US election.

But her activist journey started back at the age of 13 when she co-founded Turning Green, a non-profit cultivating a healthy, just and thriving planet through environmental education and advocacy in 48 countries. Then in 2010, Erin launched The Schoolbag, providing school supplies to more than 14,000 children in earthquake-ravaged Haiti. This young force is even on the White House’s radar, being described as “a dynamic, passionate and ambitious young woman committed to creating big change everywhere she goes”.

The United Arab Emirates’s Kehkashan Basu mobilises children for a green future

Kehkashan was born on World Environment Day, so it’s no surprise she feels the plight of the earth running through her veins. This 16-year-old environmental activist was the winner of the 2016 Children’s Peace Prize, was the Youth Ambassador for the World Future Council in 2015 and is an active member of the United Nations.

This ambitious teenager founded Green Hope UAE (at the age of 12!), which has seen more than 1000 volunteers plant 5000 trees in Colombia, France, Mexico, Nepal, Oman and the United States. She says her sole objective is to mobilise children and youth in the movement for a sustainable and green future. Kehkashan has even written a book, The Tree of Hope, in which a young girl turns a desert landscape into an oasis by planting trees and persuading her friends to join in.

Australia’s Natalie Isaacs is empowering one million women

Back in 2009, Natalie recognised that in Australia women make 85% of consumer decisions within a household. And so she founded 1 Million Women, a movement to empower women and girls to take action on climate change through the general day-to-day ways in which we live.

Through the knowledge and how-tos shared on the organisation’s blog to the events and encouragement within this growing community, women are finding the inspiration and education they need to live a low or zero-carbon lifestyle. A tenacious, passionate and hard-working visionary, Natalie sees gender equality and climate change as intrinsically linked, and advocates for women to have equal participation at decision-making levels.

America’s Sylvia Earle walks the ocean floor

Sylvia Earle has been a tireless advocate for our oceans. She’s led more than 50 expeditions and clocked more than 7000 hours underwater. She was the captain of the first all-female team to live underwater in 1970, and in 1979 she walked untethered on the ocean floor, at a lower depth than any other woman before.

Then in 2009, she won the TED Prize, allowing her to launch Mission Blue and establish marine protected areas called ‘Hope Spots’ all around the world. As of December 2016, 5.1% of the global ocean had been declared marine protected. This 81-year-old oceanographer, explorer and author wants to up that number to 30% by the year 2030. Watch her TED talk here.

The United Kingdom’s Jane Goodall is unstoppable at 82

At 82 years of age, the spirited and ever-resilient Jane Goodall is still travelling the world, sharing her knowledge and wisdom. The British primatologist, ethologist and anthropologist is considered the world’s principal expert on chimpanzees thanks to her study of social and family interactions of the Kasakela chimpanzee community in Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania, which she commenced in 1960 at the age of 26.

Today she continues to work extensively on conservation and animal welfare issues, inspiring action on endangered species and encouraging people to do their part to make the world a better place for people, animals and the environment. She’s a patron of Australian animal protection group Voiceless, and she’ll be returning to Australia on another tour this year.

Canada’s Naomi Klein is connecting capitalism with climate change

This author, journalist and social and climate activist is a truly influential thinker. Naomi published her fourth book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate in September 2014, which put forth the argument that neoliberal market fundamentalism is blocking any serious reform to halt climate change. The book has been translated into more than 25 languages and became a film in 2015.

In November 2016, Naomi was awarded the Sydney Peace Prize for exposing our responsibility to the climate crisis and inspiring people to stand up and demand a new agenda. She’s a constant inspiration for taking on the big guys, having called for an international campaign to impose economic sanctions on the United States if Donald Trump’s administration refuses to abide by the terms of the Paris Agreement, and criticising Australia for its treatment of asylum seekers in offshore detention centres.

We love this quote from Naomi during her 2016 visit to Melbourne: “Be an active participant in writing what happens next”. Words to live by.

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ILLUSTRATION: DEVA PARDUE, FOR ALL WOMANKIND
WORDS: KOREN HELBIG AND LINSEY RENDELL

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