From planting trees in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to protesting pesticide use in the San Francisco Bay Area, women across the globe are gathering together Tuesday to urge action on climate change. The demonstrations come as world leaders meet in New York to discuss a changing environment and other global issues during the United Nations General Assembly. Organizers of the Global Women's Climate Justice Day of Action say they hope to call attention to the impact climate change has on women and their communities and the role women can play in addressing it. “Women are impacted first and worst by climate change," Emily Arasim, communications coordinator for Women's Earth & Climate Action Network, International (WECAN), told Refinery29. Women, she said, are more likely to feel the devastating effects of climate change, from displacement due to environmental disaster to feeling the economic impact of declining natural resources. But they're also essential to achieving the changes needed to preserve the planet from here on, she said. “[We are] turning the tables and saying we are not just victims, we are the solution, and we have the power to turn it around," she said.
The battle against climate change must be fought for and with women.
Helen Clark, United Nations Development Programme
The movement has attracted testimonials and pledges from members in at least 45 countries, including places as far reaching as Seattle, Syria, Uganda, and Australia. WECAN is urging allies to share their own statements and photos through its website and on social media, using the hashtag #climatewomenspeak. One photo, submitted by Bintou Mère Theresa Datt, shows women in her Senegalese village talking about the need for safe water. "I have tears in my eyes as I think about the living conditions in our village," she wrote. "My village has no potable water and rivers are dry in other villages because of the climate change." Rachel Carillo of Steamboat Springs, CO, posted a selfie on a ski mountain. Climate events such as droughts, floods and fire, she wrote, have "affected our local economies, decreased tourism revenue, and diminished our water supply."
"Healthy communities worldwide need access to water and work…. I am pro-snow, pro-climate justice, and pro-Colorado ski tourism," she added. In New York City, more than 100 people filled a conference room at the Church Center for the United Nations, just steps from the hall where powerful heads of state are meeting, to spend the afternoon learning about climate-related issues and advocacy campaigns. “We are here today to work as a United Nations of women, with a unity of purpose within our separate plans, and that is to restore earth justice and climate balance," Janice Turner of the Lenape Indian Tribe of Delaware said. The group heard about issues ranging from food security, to pollution caused by dyes used in the textile industry to reports of increased domestic violence amid North Dakota's fracking boom. The day of action was scheduled just months ahead of a major United Nations summit in Paris focused on the issue. Arasim said WECAN's goal is to make sure "women’s voices are elevated on the road to Paris, both inside and outside the negotiations."
That aim was on the minds of officials at the U.N. on Tuesday as well, as officials gathered for a meeting on gender and climate. Helen Clark, director of the United Nations Development Programme, opened the “Empowering Women in Climate Action” panel by saying women are "central to tackling the issue of climate change." In addition to playing a major role in choosing and sustaining food, water, and energy sources for families and communities worldwide, women are more likely to face hardships and even death when environmental disasters strike, she said. “Business as usual, without women at the decision-making tables and without women’s concerns taken into account, just isn’t going to help us tackle the climate-change problems,” Clark said. “The battle against climate change must be fought for and with women."
This story was originally published at 12 p.m.