Women Deliver: Young Women Climate Warriors Speak

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Stella Paul – WNN Features

Young woman participant at Women Deliver

A young woman participant at the women deliver conference venue in Copenhagen. Photo credit: Women Deliver

(WNN) Copenhagen, Denmark, EUROPE:  Seven years have gone by since then, but Majandra Rodrigues Acha of Lima still cannot forget the day she saw the true face of a woman’s vulnerability. It was June 2009 and television channels across Peru were broadcasting the news of a riot that erupted between the country’s indigenous people and the police. In the riot, known as the “Devil’s Curve Battle’ 32 indigenous environmental activists had died defending their land rights.

A particular image on TV screen haunts her even today: “It was an old woman, pointing at the dead people on the street and trying to express her sorrows. But since she spoke no Spanish, nobody seemed to understand her. There was such an air of helplessness around her!” she recalls.

The battle at the Devil’s Curve was a direct conflict between the state police force and a large group of indigenous people who were protesting a government policy that made it easy to grab local’s land for large corporate. Although the protest was peaceful, it turned violent when the police began to crackdown on the protesters. Soon, shots were fired, 32 indigenous people and injuring over a hundred. Nine policemen were also killed in the riot.

Seven years later, it is such women victims of such environmental conflicts who drive Acha – now a known activist in Lima, campaigning for women’s right to a world freed of pollution, disasters and climate change. This week, Acha was in Copenhagen, at the 4th global conference of Women Deliver – world’s largest conference on women and girls’ health and well being. Alongside several others of her fellow activists, Acha was at the conference, drawing the crucial link between climate change and the well being of women around the globe.

According to Acha, climate change affects women and girls disproportionately. From drought and water shortage, land degradation, falling fish stock to decline in farm yield, women and girls are the worst sufferers of every climate-induced crisis. And since girls and women who traditionally have the least access to resources, they also have the thinnest defense against such crisis. “Do you know 70 percent of the people who died in the (2004) Asian Tsunami were women? Majandra reminds.

Acha’s thoughts resonates well with Betty Barkha, a 25 year old woman from the Pacific island of Fiji. In the Women Deliver conference Barkha was heard in a number of sessions stressing on the vulnerability of people in the Pacific islands and appealing for strong climate action. “Islands in the pacific are disappearing fast. We are fighting for our survival,” says Barkha who works to empower fellow grassroots women on climate resilience in the Pacific.

According to the 5th Assessment report by the Inter Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) , since 1993, sea level has been rising at a rate of around 3 mm yr, significantly higher than the average during the previous half century.

This has been posing a direct threat to most of the small island nation, including Fiji which have already begun to lose parts of the land to the rising sea. But, even as they fight for their survival, young people of Fiji are also ensuring that the government climate policies are brought in consultation with the youths. In Fiji, the government is now legally mandated to consult youths and women before bringing in any laws or policies. This is because we intensively fought for them,” Barkha proudly informs.

The Women Deliver conference that concluded on Thursday, saw nearly five hundred other young people participating from Africa, Asia and the Americas. Many of them have also witness women in their communities living in extreme environmental, economic and health vulnerability.

Alicia Moncada, project manager for Indigenous Women Organisation in Venezuela is one of them. The young firebrand woman has impressed hundreds of participants here with her fiery narration of on women’s rights to a safe environment. “Women are not just objectives and goals to achieve. They are human beings denied of their rights of equality in land, health, resources and dignity. They also lack full control over their own body and their voice,” Moncada was heard saying.

The young women have shared the space with renowned leaders from various spheres. One of these leaders is Marie Claude Bibeau – the young Canadian minister of international l development and fracophone who appears to be in full agreement with the young women. According to Bibeau, climate change is now an established scientific fact. For example, one in every 3 girls get married before they turn 18 and a majority of them in societies affected by poverty, environmental conflict and disasters.

“You need strong political leadership to act on the facts and empower women, so they can go from being the victims to a real power of change” she observes.

One of the most urgent actions, feels Acha, is to gather gender desegregated data. According to her, despite the common knowledge that women suffer more from climate change, there is no way to get a complete picture of that. “You have to go to 15 places and read 15 different reports because there is no gender-specific data. And without that data, you cannot create a policy framework. So, we need investments into collecting that data because that is the key to draw real policies that will address women’s issues in the climate change scenario, says the young activist who also trains young people in her country in climate change advocacy.

The power and the crucial role that it plays in development has been stressed upon by Melinda Gates – co-chair and trustee of the Bill& Melinda Gates Foundation who has pledged 80 million dollars to close gender data gaps and accelerate progress for women and girls. “We simply don’t know enough about the barriers holding women and girls back, nor do we have sufficient information to track progress against the promises made to women and girls. We are committed to changing that by investing in better data, policies and accountability,” said Gates at the conference.

However, Barkha cautions the world to not think of women activists or their communities as only people eyeing money. “We are not asking for charity or the money from the rich. What we are asking is those who are responsible for global warming, must take the responsibility.”

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Stella Paul is an India-based environment and development journalist. She independently reports to many leading global media outlets including Thomson Reuters and Inter Press Services. As a journalist, she looks at climate change from a gender perspective and tells the stories of women and girls who live amidst extreme vulnerabilities: climate change, disaster, conflicts, climate-induced poverty and exploitation. She believes, fair, solution-oriented journalism can truly lead the way to social change.

Several of her stories have already brought direct impacts. In her most recent impact, Laxmi – a marginal woman farmer forced into slavery in Hyderabad city was set free after a group of readers took action, demanding her release.

For her journalism, Stella has won several awards and honors. These include the Asian Environmental Journalism Awards 2015, 2014 and 2013, All India Environmental Journalism Award 2014, National Media Award (India), the Laadli Media Award for Gender Sensitive Reporting (India) and over a dozen global press fellowships. Most recently she received a Courage in Journalism award from the renowned International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF). 

Besides being a journalist, Stella is also a media trainer and an advocate for gender equality. She is a board member of World Pulse which is one of the largest global networks of women bloggers, activists and community influencers.

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Recognized by UNESCO for ‘Professional Journalistic Standards and Code of Ethics” WNN began in 2005 as a solo blogger’s project by WNN founder Lys Anzia. Today it brings news stories on women from 5+ global regions to the attention of international ‘change-makers’ including the United Nations and over 600 NGO affiliates and United Nations agencies.

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