2018 marks 100 years since most British women were granted the right to vote. Right now, a global movement is growing to expose the horrific scale of sexual assault around the world. #MeToo has become a shout of shared experience and a call to arms. The crescendo of women’s voices clamouring for change is loud, urgent, and powerful.
While the world stutters to respond to women saying “Time’s up”, we also face another stark and urgent challenge: climate change.
The impacts of climate change are not felt equally. Whilst poverty and geography are important dividing lines, so too is gender. Climate-change induced disasters disproportionately affect women. When disaster strikes, women, who still often play the primary role of looking after children and the elderly, are the last to evacuate; leading to higher female death tolls. Around 90% of the 150,000 people killed in the 1991 Bangladesh cyclone were women. They typically have less access to emergency response information and if they do survive, women, especially in poor or marginalised communities, are often less able to rebuild and recover.
Solutions to climate change need to work for everyone – yet women’s voices and needs are still often excluded from the decision-making table. The problem of climate change is simply too big to overlook half the world’s population and ignore female talent.
We can’t fix climate change without fixing gender equality but thankfully, there are already some amazing women stepping-up and leading the charge for a more equal, more sustainable world.
From Rachel Carson, the American marine biologist who, through her 1962 book Silent Spring, changed the way we think about the environment. To Berta Cáceres, the murdered Honduran environmental activist who successfully forced the world’s largest dam builder to pull out of the Agua Zarca Dam. To Christiana Figueres – a driving force in negotiating the 2015 Paris climate agreement. Negotiating the agreement was a feat that many said couldn’t be done. It commits the world to pursue efforts to keep global temperature rises to1.5°C, and if honoured, it will save countless millions of lives – in the coming decades and in generations to come.
Equality and sustainability are two sides of the same story. The global economic system’s “business-as-usual” has had terrible consequences for our environment; as we use more and more of the earth’s resources with little care for what happens next. It has also led to huge inequality. It’s time to reimagine, and create, a different kind of world, with equality and sustainability at its heart. Where both resources and power are shared fairly.
When women are allowed a seat at the table, we all benefit. It’s becoming well-known that companies with women on their boards perform better, the same is true for women and climate change.There are already examples from around the world which have shown the positive impact that involving women can have on mitigating climate change and dealing with disasters.
The urgency of the climate crisis is real and acute, but we cannot focus on climate activism, without also working to create a fairer, more equal society.
In 2018, as we celebrate those who fought for a woman’s right to vote, we need to capture some of the spirit of the great women who came before us and with hope, passion and perseverance, together we can build a better world.
Why women will save the planet– the pioneering new book from Friends of the Earth and C40 Cities is available now from Zed books.