Women in Sustainability
On International Women's Day and every day, we honor the women in sustainability who've made it their life’s work to combat climate change and save our planet.
From sinking islands to drought-ridden savannas, women bear an outsized burden of the global-warming crisis, largely because of gender inequalities. In many parts of the world, women hold traditional roles as the primary caregivers in families and communities, and as the main providers of food and fuel, are more vulnerable when flooding and drought occur. The U.N. estimates that 80% of those who have been displaced by climate change are women. Even in countries where the workforce gender gap has significantly decreased, the household gender gap remains. In the U.S., although women now outnumber men in the paid workforce, they do twice as much household work and childcare as their male partners.
Yet, women play a critical role in the response to climate change due to their local knowledge of and leadership in sustainable resource management and leading sustainable practices at the household and community level. In fact, women’s participation at the political level has resulted in greater responsiveness to citizens' needs, often increasing cooperation across party and ethnic lines and delivering more sustainable peace. At the local level, women’s inclusion in leadership has led to improved outcomes of climate related projects and policies.
Learn more about some of the women making it their life’s work to combat climate change and save the planet we call home.
The female climate-change figurehead of our time, as Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change from 2010 to 2015, Christiana Figueres was a driving force in the creation of the Paris Agreement. After heading a climate-change nonprofit for eight years, Figueres took on leadership of the UNFCCC, the body responsible for international climate-change negotiations, at the agency’s lowest point. Just five months earlier, the world failed to reach an agreement at the 2009 Copenhagen summit. She injected a unique sense of optimism, attempting to remove the talks from what she calls “the political trash can.” It worked. Figueres successfully steered world leaders to reach the Paris Agreement in 2015. Along with a number of other women involved in the negotiations, Figueres was successful in shedding an important light on the gender dimension of climate change.
One of the pioneers of corporate and governmental sustainability, Rachel Kyte is the former CEO of Sustainable Energy for All and the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Sustainable Energy for All. Operating at the highest diplomatic level, Kyte’s work was instrumental to achieving the 2030 sustainable development goals for the universal access, efficiency, and sustainability of energy. As climate change exploded as an issue on the international scene, Rachel became a go-to expert for heads of state and multinational CEOs trying to figure out how to transition away from fossil fuels. In the lead-up to the September 2019 UN Climate Change Summit, she played an influential role leading the UN Secretary General’s push for countries and companies to make new commitments to expedite the energy transition. As the leader of the World Bank’s climate program ahead of negotiations that yielded the Paris Agreement, Kyte developed strategies to make hundreds of billions of dollars available to developing countries eager to address climate change but lacking the resources.
Isra Hirsi is an American environmental activist. She co-founded and served as the co-executive director of the US Youth Climate Strike. Hirsi was one of the lead organizers of the first-ever Youth Climate Strike in the US. The young activist is pursuing climate justice by raising awareness about environmental racism. Her mission is to ensure that any climate action prioritizes communities of color and those likely to be marginalized, who are often disproportionately impacted by climate change. "Climate change mostly affects communities of color and low-income communities, and these people live in these areas under these conditions, and we don’t really do anything about it," she told The Cut. "I think people of color are automatically ignored. It’s also important to advocate to people who aren’t fully aware of the problem to make sure they take a stand and come together because climate change affects all us," she added. "We all have to come together at some point."
Executive Director of one of the largest climate change movements in the world, 350.org, May Boeve has helped shape many highly publicized and effective demonstrations including the People’s Climate March, the Keystone XL pipeline protests, and the global divestment movement. Her organization continues building bridges between movements to gather collectively behind the climate banner for the greater good of all.
Greta Thunberg is a Swedish environmental activist who is internationally known for challenging world leaders to take immediate action against climate change. In 2018, then 15-year-old Greta Thunberg started a school strike in Sweden to draw attention to the climate crisis, and since then her message has spread globally—despite her avoidance of air travel because of its high carbon emissions. She's galvanized young people across the world have to follow in her path, striking and marching to make clear to adults and decision-makers that climate change is a true emergency. "We are children saying, 'Why should we care about our future when no one else is doing that? And why should we bother to learn facts when facts don’t matter in this society?' When children say something like that, I think adults feel very bad," Thunberg told TIME.
We encourage you to get familiar with these amazing activists and share with the young women in your lives to inspire them that they too can make a difference in the world through organizing and activism. It’s never too early (or too late) to do the right thing.