The Seas Are Rising and So Are We

Emma Lewins interviews three women on the important strides being made in climate justice across the world.

The Climate Emergency is one of the biggest threats facing us, and there are some incredible activists who are rising to meet the challenge and hold people in power to account. Everyone has heard of Greta, and there are thousands of others like her who deserve to have their names known too! I interviewed a few women who are doing fantastic work. Renata is a graduate in International Relations from Brazil, she has been working on climate justice and gender equality for over four years and founded EmpoderaClima. Ayesha is the National Coordinator for the Japan Caribbean Climate Change Partnership and founder of Young People for Action on Climate Change Jamaica. Crystal is an environmental journalist in Hong Kong.

When did you first get involved in climate activism? Was there a life-altering moment or was it more of a slow realisation?

Renata: I became a climate activist and environmental advocate in a “backward manner”, by first studying about the effects of climate change and getting involved in larger movements, and then developing my inner passion for Mother Earth and becoming a vegetarian, using more public transportation and speaking up for climate justice. The realization came over the years for me, but ever since I’ve got involved in the climate movement I’ve been unstoppable, and after founding my own platform about gender equality and climate action, I’ve been lucky enough to present at international conferences like the Global Landscapes Forum in Germany, the ACE Symposium and a High-Level Event of the UN, in Austria. There’s so much more work to be done and more knowledge to be shared with young people, so I believe my activism for a more sustainable planet is still just beginning.

Ayesha: I applied for and was accepted to attend Global Power Shift in Istanbul, Turkey in 2013 – an event that brought together over 600 climate activists from across the globe. At the time I had just started graduate studies in climate change and was simultaneously working with young women in leadership development at the University of the West Indies in Jamaica. Global Power Shift ignited a fire in me that has been sustained over the years. I was so impressed by the activists from across the world that were leading actions in their countries. I was amazed by their energy, passion and bravery! I knew I wanted to do more. Upon returning home, I, along with four other activists from across the Caribbean, started Global Power Shift – Caribbean. It served as a platform for advocacy and activism. Since then I have sought every opportunity to continue and build on the intersections of climate change and gender.

Crystal: I had always been aware of the issue but, growing up in Hong Kong, I used to focus more on political and social issues such as civil rights and social welfare. It wasn’t until I spent 6 months in the Philippines for an NGO placement program upon graduating from university that I began to acutely realise how our region is exposed to climate risks and why it is a matter of justice and survival.

What are you working on at the moment?

R: As a young woman from the Global South, an issue that is very close to my heart is climate justice. In the past 4 years of my engagement in climate issues, I’ve had opportunities to study and present on gender and climate at youth conferences in China, Bangladesh, and the U.S. One thing I noticed, especially in my community, is that the topic of gender equality in climate action is not properly addressed, or even known, by people in the Americas. Many young girls and women do not know how females and the youth are disproportionately affected by climate change, especially in poorer areas in developing countries. There needs to be more public awareness to this issue, not just in Brazil, but internationally, so that the voices of women that suffer environmental impacts can be heard and acknowledged. EmpoderaClima aims to address this issue by going beyond the efforts that already exist toward awareness of women’s rights for climate action, making all types of high-quality content, such as podcasts, videos and research documents, accessible in the main languages spoken in Latin America. We believe education is the best tool for change.

A: I am employed by the United Nations Development Programme under the Japan Caribbean Climate Change Partnership project. It is a regional project that seeks to build resilience and promote mitigation through policy-level actions and build resilience by promoting adoption of adaptation infrastructure amongst indigenous communities and rural farmers. The project therefore works with a wide cross section of stakeholders- including rural women, indigenous groups and youth. I had the privilege of coordinating the participation of regional youth activists to the UN Youth Climate Summit in September 2019 – an opportunity that reinforced the significance of youth engagement at all levels and reminded me of my passion for working with youth. At the moment I am supporting this group of Caribbean delegates to formalize their operations as a regional youth climate organization and leading the same process for a group in Jamaica called Young People for Action on Climate Change which I founded, that will serve as an umbrella organisation for youth climate organisations.

C: I’m working to better inform Chinese-speaking audiences of the multifaceted human impacts of the global climate crisis; this has always been my professional aim as a feature writer. I have recently started to explore the ways climate change would affect our food production, land use, public health, and migration patterns.

If you were a student now, what would you do to tackle the climate emergency?

R: I just recently graduated college with a degree in International Relations, and although the Fridays for Future movement wasn’t global when I was still in school, I did similar activities to tackle the climate emergency. I believe that one of the most important things young people can do is use their voice and their energy as the global youth to speak up about our right to a sustainable future, for us and for the next generations. As a student, I wrote research papers about global climate policy and climate justice and volunteered with a Brazilian NGO as a member of their climate working group – which allowed me to attend COP21 in Paris as a delegate of Brazil, and present a climate education project at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The more I used my resources as a student to learn about the impacts of climate change and the need for sustainable development, the more I was able to find opportunities to rise as a young woman passionate about Mother Earth.

A: If I was a student now, I am certain I would be in the streets with my peers. I applaud the young people who are leading climate strikes and lobbying governments to step up their actions on climate change, particularly for emissions reduction. I think based on what I now understand of the political-decision making I would also be keen on seeking opportunities to impact decision-making in very direct ways. I would lobby governments to act and I would educate my peers about what each of us has to do to avert the climate crisis. I think the power of personal action must be underscored; leading and living by example. Empower, educate and engage youth. Be strategic. Use all platforms to spread the message. I would document the stories of those most affected – I think it is important to use our platforms to share the stories of those worst affected. So along with the marches and protests show how climate change impacts and worsening the lived realities of men and women all over the world. I would also wish to see greater acknowledgement of my peers in the Global South who are leading climate strikes and taking climate action in contextually relevant and meaningful ways.

C: I would make sure I equip myself with better quantitative skills to help me make informed analyses when it comes to the scientific and economic aspects of climate change. While activism and consumer campaigns raise our awareness of the “problem”, effective communication of the development in research and innovation as well as the policy responses are equally crucial for us to identify the “solutions”.

How can we be better allies to women and girls in the Global South?

R: Everyone can be an ally of women and girls in the Global South by firstly hearing their stories. Rural women in developing countries, for example, are the first to be impacted by climate disasters such as droughts, and their position as women in an outdated patriarchal society poses a challenge for them to be the leaders they truly can be for climate action. A bottom-up approach is necessary for effective solutions such as national and global policies that support gender equality in island states and rural areas of the world. Projects like EmpoderaClima serve as a tool so more people can learn about this very important issue. I encourage everyone who is passionate about gender and climate justice to do some research, write blog posts, make videos, host talks – or anything else that is within their capacity – and highlight these fierce women that are leading the efforts for a more just planet, especially indigenous women. It is by recognizing the power and importance of women and girls that are Earth champions that we can become true allies and have a stronger collective voice.

A: Women and girls in the Global South are on the ‘frontlines of climate change’ – not merely as victims but as victors. They have proven that they have agency and institution and so it is important that we move away from the rhetoric of classifying us as vulnerable. Failure to do so will exclude us from the decision-making spaces and processes, which are already quite limited, despite which we have continued to mobilize and lead and empower our communities. Women and girls of the South must be seen as just that – allies, on equal footing. We have a wealth of lived experiences and knowledge, that can inform sustainable solutions. Where opportunities are available, we must be allowed to share our stories in ways that can connect and empower us. Women in the Global south are leaders, decision-makers, farmers, mothers – the full gamut of roles as those played by our counterparts in the North. We are no different from women everywhere else, fighting different forms of systemic inequalities and using our voice and power to demand more. We must understand that women and girls in the Global South are not a homogenous group. To be better allies, you should

  • Form partnerships: build partnerships that allow for sustained collaboration and access to information and resources that can assist in their work.
  • Capacity building & representation: help to identify and develop opportunities to enhance the capacity of women in the GS, particularly in resources mobilization.
  • Inclusion: where opportunities arise for inclusion in spaces and forums to tell their own stories, in their own voices, these should be provided; not in a tokenistic way that allows for a box to be checked, but in a way that empowers women and their communities.

C: First, stop saying there’s an “overpopulation” crisis. Not only is this notion empirically ungrounded but it also carries racist undertones. We should instead look at ways to improve women’s access to health care, for instance, as well as empowering them to become the environmental stewards of their communities.

Where can we find you online?

R: Renata Koch Alvarenga on Facebook
Instagram: @renata_alvarenga
Twitter: @renatakoch9.
My EmpoderaClima platform can be found on: https://www.careaboutclimate.org/empoderaclima
For updates, please follow Care About Climate: Twitter – @CareBoutClimate; Instagram – @CareAboutClimate; Facebook – Care About Climate

A: Facebook: Ayesha Constable
Instagram: @eshasensei-
Twitter: @eshasensei-
Blog- Purposeful Living- http://ayeshaconstable.blogspot.com/
LinkedIn- Ayesha Constable – https://www.linkedin.com/in/ayesha- constable/

C: crystalchingchow
Instagram: crystalcc0913

Artwork by Thea Gegeshidze.

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