The Roosevelt Institute recently hosted the Women and Girls Rising Conference, which aimed to look back at gains made by women’s activists and the prospects for future improvement. It was attended and featured speakers from a diverse group of activists, leaders, policymakers and advocates. As part of the notable program, WEDO’s Bridget Burns was the moderator for a panel on Women’s Claims on Environmental Sustainability. The panel included Noelene Nabulivou affiliated with DAWN, Diverse Voices and Action for Equality, and the Women’s Major Group; Wanjira Mathai, of wPOWER Hub, the Wangari Mathai Institute, and the Green Belt Movement; and Yong Jung Cho from 350.org.

The Panel discussed the sustainable development challenges currently faced by women and how they are interlinked in many forms. To address this, panelists pointed to intersectionality: the ability to see the world through many identity lenses. This tool, used by many feminist activists, makes them particularly well-suited for climate or development activism, as they too require a multi-lensed approach. Noelene highlighted the challenges that small island developing nations are confronted with due to the inevitable sea level rise and the resulting loss of their ancestral homeland. She noted that while this crisis has brought unlikely groups together to work on a solution, many, like LGBTQ groups still remain marginalized and are made vulnerable due to inequalities in their society.

Wanjira Mathai spoke of the legacy of Wangari Mathai’s speech in Beijing, where Wangari first spoke of bottlenecks to development, the fact that development could not happen without peace and democracy and how the three were interlinked. She explained how Wangari Mathai had been inspired by the work she did with her with the women in her community. Wanjira also spoke about wPOWER, her own clean cook stove initiative that aims to turn women into clean energy entrepreneurs and the benefits it has to women’s health, development, and the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Finally, Yong Jung Cho spoke about her experiences in the environmental movement and the challenges the movement must deal with to overcome gender inequality within it.

Bridget added an explanation of why the gender dimension was important in the sustainable development discussion and could not be ignored, as development and climate change will reinforce rather than reduce systemic gender inequalities. Questions from the audience included one to the panelists to clarify and illustrate the women’s lens or gender perspective to key environmental issues. Responses linked to energy, especially cooking and heating, and health, time and income for women, as well as impacts of sea level rise on water quality, causing anemia especially in expectant/nursing mothers.

The discussion further explored structural issues such as land rights, layered with the expanded rights of trans-national corporations, that can contribute to inequality and climate change. The session ended on a positive note, with Bridget highlighting that the diverse and energetic feminists in the many spaces are inspiring, as is the cohesiveness around ‘system change, not climate change!’

Other conference sessions delved into topics such as valuing labor in the workplace and at home; girls’ education, child marriage, economics and gender, global conferences, china, rights at the local level, violence against women and girls and reproductive and sexual rights. During the conference plenary sessions, both former Secretary of State and current Clinton Foundation trustee Hillary Clinton and feminist and activist icon Gloria Steinem made special mention of WEDO’s founder, Bella Abzug, recognizing her pivotal role in the movement. Clinton, talking about the ground-breaking 1995 U.N. Women’s Conference in Beijing, remarked that ‘as usual, Bella was amazing.’

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