Africa: Why We Must Act Now for Climate and Gender Justice

(File photo).

The time to address climate change has never been more urgent, and the fact is that each and every person plays an important role in finding solutions.

For us, as activists who have devoted our lives to gender equity, women's rights, and environmental justice, the concept of balance is especially important. Across the world, those least responsible for the causes of climate change are the most impacted by the consequences.

The injustice is widespread, as many who have lived in harmony with the environment for centuries suffer most from rising temperatures, droughts, flooding, and overall, a changing climate.

Women are disproportionately affected by the harmful impacts of climate change on water, land, and clean air. Women walk farther when water and firewood run out, work harder to feed their families when erratic weather wreaks havoc on crops, and die at higher rates than men when natural disasters strike.

There is hope. Through our partnerships with grassroots communities around the world, we have seen firsthand that solutions exist on the frontlines of the battle to save our planet, with women as leaders stepping up to the challenge.

We know that gender equity and balance are important when we talk about solutions to climate change. It is important that each and every person worldwide plays their part in addressing the causes and impacts of environmental degradation and global warming, protecting the planet for future generations. And it is crucial to ensure that each person can access their rights to clean water, air, and soil.

Despite being some of the key leaders in the fight against climate change, women still lack access to climate related decision-making, information, financial resources, and more. Together, we are committed to promoting women's leadership and equal access to rights, opportunities, and resources within the environmental justice movement and their cultural contexts.

For us, that means supporting projects that consider the gendered impacts of environmental damage and climate change, and that promote a more just and equitable society.

It is clear that women play a critical role in protecting natural resources, and have long histories of protecting forests, rivers, and oceans. Take, for example, a group of women in Ogoniland, Nigeria, who are restoring mangrove forests devastated by hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil spilled across the Niger Delta by Shell Oil.

Using just a few thousand dollars from Global Greengrants Fund, women are replanting the mangroves, and restoring a healthy and thriving ecosystem. This is just one example of how women help to lay the groundwork for future generations.

Across the world we see cases where women are working to address the impacts of climate change, leading to a safer, healthier environment for their families and communities.

In Vanuatu, a group of women have become resource monitors, measuring the impacts of climate change on their communities and their islands, and are implementing resilience and adaptation strategies.

And even under threat, women continue to stand up for the planet and a better world. Berta Cáceres was murdered for her efforts to protect the Lenca people of Honduras from the detrimental environmental impacts of the Agua Zarca dam. Many women just like Berta are under threat for their activism, yet continue to stand up for their rights to land, clean water, air, and soil.

Support for grassroots-led action on the frontlines is especially important. Communities that are not responsible for the bulk of environmental damage, but are most impacted by it, are working to implement solutions that will help us all, cutting carbon emissions by replanting forests, and building movements to change larger policies and challenge detrimental development projects.

Many times, women are taking the lead to move these solutions forward, yet often lack adequate resources.

Besides changing the overall policies and systems, it will take each and every one of us to drive change. Whether the solutions include planting trees, recycling waste, or challenging the destruction of rainforests for profit, unity, balance, and equity will be essential.

Today, and every day moving forward, there are ways to take action to address climate change and help to achieve climate justice for those who bear the brunt of the resulting impacts, yet are least responsible for the causes.

Take personal action, make demands of those with the most responsibility - governments and fossil fuel companies - and use your voice and your vote. And lastly, spend some time imagining the future we want, which will be healthier, more equal and one in which we all live in harmony with nature.

Acting together is more essential now than ever before. Rise up today to join the movement.

Mary Robinson is the former President of Ireland and Terry Odendahl is president of the Global Greengrants Fund

Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

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