When thousands of women come together to mark International Women’s Day on 8 March – either on the streets or at home or in the workplace – they will do so as part of a growing and very powerful force, one that knows that positive change can happen if we fight for it. And we will. They know that it is possible because “women hold up half the sky”.
They will come together knowing that the powerful vested interests shoring up the dying fossil fuel industry have been given a reprieve by President Trump in his first weeks in office, but it is not a sustainable nor acceptable one.
The odds may seem stacked against us and it would not be the first time that our rights have been eroded. But I am hopeful. More than that, I am fired up because so many are unwilling to go backwards and I know that these forces standing in our way are the last gasp of an energy system which is already changing. And it is women who are driving a lot of that change by standing up and speaking out in all corners of the world for our rights, our health, our families and our environment.
A water protector holds a feather at Standing Rock
I am inspired too, by the women of Standing Rock, who have faced threats and intimidation in their resistance to the Dakota Access pipeline which will cross their ancestral land. By women like Aleta Baun, who led 150 women in her village in Timor, Indonesia, in a peaceful protest against a mining company which was trying to exploit a mountain which is the source of water for her indigenous Mollo people. And by Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim who is working to contain the humanitarian and environmental damage caused by the drying up of Lake Chad – whose waters sustain 30 million people in the Sahel region of Africa.
These women are on the frontline of the fight against fossil fuels and for justice for those suffering the worst impacts of climate change, because it is their communities which are most affected. They show what women can do when we stand together because, as Hindou Oumarou says, “we know that the future — it’s coming from us.”
We can see the future and the hundreds of thousands of women who joined the women’s marches on January 21 are already fighting for it. It’s a future which embraces equal rights and care for our land, air and water – the life support systems that intimately bind the fates of people and our planet. The gates to this future are already open, women are streaming through and we will overcome those who stand in our way.
Women’s march in Austin, Texas, USA
And we know they will try. In his first few weeks in office, President Trump is rolling back regulations that protect land, air and water from pollution, solely in the interests of the fossil fuel industry. They will do everything to turn back the clock, undermine hard-fought victories that protect our rights and our common home.
This is a worldwide struggle and for too many people, the fight for climate justice has come at a terrible price. Nearly a hundred brave women and men have been murdered since 2010, 33 of them in 2015 alone, because they stood up to those who poison their air and water and who take their land and resources.
Just last month, an environmental lawyer on the island of Bohol in the central Philippines, Attorney Mia Mascariñas-Green, was shot dead as she drove through town with her three young children.
To her, death threats were part of the job. Yet this did not deter her to fight for the causes she held dear, including women’s rights and environmental justice. She remained fearless until the very end.
Last year, the Honduran Lenca activist and Goldman environmental prize winner, Berta Caceres, was murdered for her opposition to the construction of hydroelectric dams which are choking off her people’s water supply.
Berta knew the risks she faced. But she also knew why she had to fight. “We have no replacement planet, we have only this one,” she said. “And we have to take action.”
These assassinations will not stop women fighting for environmental justice. Because when the living world we all depend on suffers, because of the short term narrow interests of fossil fuel corporations and the impacts of climate change, it is often women who feel it first.
With women producing between 60-80% of food in many developing countries, we are the first to be affected by changes in weather patterns caused by climate change.
It is also women and girls who collect the water. So when rains fail, or water tables drop, they must walk further and further to find it. For every hour a girl must spend collecting water, she cannot be in school so her education suffers too.
The Rainbow Warrior joins International Women’s Day in Chile
So it is no surprise that from the grassroots to the highest diplomatic channels, women are fighting for the right to a healthy, sustainable future. We are leading, innovating and bringing about change.
And we will prevail. As the Indian writer Arundhati Roy wrote: “Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”
Bunny Mcdiarmid is Executive Director of Greenpeace International